Planting Bare Rooted (Field Dug) Trees

There could be nothing simpler and more satisfying than planting field dug trees and shrubs.

For thousands of years, nurserymen have cultivated shrubs and trees and dug and distributed them as bare-rooted young plants. In Australia millions of fruit trees, roses and ornamental plants are still grown, dug, and distributed in the bare-rooted form. From a horticultural point of view, this is by far the most economical and best way to produce and distribute plants. It means the buyer gets a bigger, better plant for less, as nurserymen have lower production costs as pots and their associated costs are not involved.

In winter there is a larger selection of plant varieties available in the bare-root form, from small to larger sized trees and shrubs including stock that is not available at other times of the year. The dormant field digging season is the time to get planting in the garden, field dug trees are cheap and easy to transport and plant.

As long as you follow these simple rules you can expect your inexpensive bare-rooted trees and shrubs to flourish with little effort.


  • Newly planted field dug trees require good drainage. (Please ask for our Wet Feet Kills information sheet)
  • Discard packing material.
  • No trimming except for broken roots or branches.
  • Plant trees and shrubs to the correct depth in the ground.
  • Don’t use fertilizer until the trees are growing.
  • Stake appropriately.
  • Exercise proper watering, fertilizing, and weed control procedures after planting.

What are dug, ball, and bare-root trees?

Balled (left) and Bare Rooted (right) trees.

Field dug trees are trees that have been grown in a cultivated field then once they are dormant (not growing or after leaf drop) they are dug, and either have their roots shaken bare of soil (bare rooted) or their roots kept in a ball of soil and wrapped in hessian to hold the ball together (balled/burlapped). Root balling is the preferred method for lifting hardy evergreen trees as it minimizes root disturbance.

Bare rooting is applied to very small evergreen trees and shrubs such as English Box, Pine, and Spruce, and small to medium-sized deciduous trees and shrubs like Roses, Lilacs, Fruit trees, Birches, Maples, Oaks, etc.

Purchasing your Trees

Once you’ve chosen your trees, pull them out of the sawdust and take them to the wrapping area. We will wrap them in moist sawdust so that they can be transported and stored for a week or two at your home if necessary before they are planted. If you are planning to keep them in a wrapped bundle for a long time, please inform our staff and they will put extra sawdust in your bundle to prevent them from drying out. There are so many choices of trees available, our staff will be happy to help you choose the right trees for your requirements.

Storing your Field Dug Trees

If you are not planting your balled or bundled tree for a week or two, place your bundle in a cool moist spot ie. Against a southern wall of the house, under your carport, or under a shady tree. Keep your trees out of the sun. If you are going to store your plants for several weeks or months heal them in, (bury their roots with sawdust or soil). This involves digging a trough in a well-drained garden bed or a heap of builders’ sand and burying healing in bed by the 15th of September. Unwrap the bare-rooted trees before burying, keep balled trees wrapped.

Most dormant trees and shrubs can be held in a cool store between 1-3 degrees for several months if they are packed and stored before the end of August. A lot of professional growers use this method to take advantage of winter bargains and warmer drier spring planting conditions. If you are planning to cool store your trees tell our staff as they will need to specially pack your trees.

Planting Instructions

Planting a bare rooted tree

  1. Remove grass and weeds from the planting area.
  2. Inspect your soil. The biggest loss of trees in the Melbourne area is due to poor drainage caused by planting into impervious clay and compacted soil. If you are unsure as to how your soil drains, dig a hole and fill it with water from the hose several times. If the water stays in the hole for hours then you have a tree death trap. (Please read our Wet Feet Kills information sheet)
  3. When you plant your tree unwrap the plastic wrapping and shake the sawdust free, discard all packing materials.
  4. Wipe at the base of the tree to see the color change on the trunk from dark to light. This line just above the roots is the original soil level of the tree, plant the tree to this depth.
  5. Spread roots in the hole to break up the soil and spread freely around the roots. If the soil is heavy clay or prone to wet feet some Devotion™ Planting Mix For Wet Feet, Heavy & Clay Soils can be mixed through your original soil, or if the soil is sandy some Devotion™ Planting Mix For Sandy & Loamy soils may be added to original soil to help retain moisture.
  6. Lightly compact the soil with your hands or toes. Water your plants in.
  7. If planting a balled tree in hessian follow the same procedure but cut the hessian away from the trunk, and lower the ball into the hole using the corners of the open hessian. Leave the hessian around the base of the ball, it will decompose in the hole. Plant the top of the ball level, with the soil level.

    Planting a balled tree.

  8. Stake appropriately. A small birch seedling or tiny weeping tree may not need a stake. An 8ft Elm or Oak may need two 6ft stakes. A 15ft advanced tree in a windy spot may require 3 star pickets and guy ropes.
  9. Once established keep weeds and grass away from the base of the plants, keep at least a 4ft-circle weed free either by mulching or hoeing.
  10. Occasional deep watering is the best way to water newly established trees, once the ground has started to dry out in mid-spring or early summer.
  11. Do not use fertilizer when planting bare root trees or balled trees and shrubs in the dormant months as they are dormant and don’t require fertilizer.
  12. Fertilize in spring with a slow-release fertilizer such as Devotion™ Time Release Fertiliser. Work it into the surface of the ground, and follow up with several applications throughout the year. Between Spring and January, many planted trees and shrubs respond well to the application of foliar feed. This can be mixed as per instructions. It should be applied with a watering can or spray pack to the foliage & stems, and respray every week or two. This is best done in the cool of the morning or evening when evaporation is low.

Hello Hello Plants Bare root planting guide