Friday, 17 February 2012

Out of hibernation straight into spring panic and last minute bareroot ordering

I have been roused abruptly from a comfortable hibernation and inactivity induced by the nasty cold snap and it has been quickly replaced by a familiar, seasonal panic. An alarming email from a nursery proclaiming ‘time is running out for bareroot planting’ and ‘spring is just around the corner’ was given more weight as I worked in the garden yesterday in the company of singing birds and swelling buds. The nursery were right; though there were patches of snow on the ground just last weekend, here at least, spring is definitely on the starting blocks, ready to sprint away at any moment. How will I ever keep up? No matter how much I plan and prepare the spring panic always strikes.
Top of my to do list was ordering the last few bareroot plants I need. I ordered some trees and a stretch of hedging as soon as bareroot plants became available at the end of last year, but I have decided to fill a space I was saving for an asparagus bed with more soft fruit: Autumn raspberries because they are a complete luxury requiring bargain basement care. When all the other soft fruits are over and incredibly expensive in the shops autumn raspberries reward minimum effort with a fantastic, delicious crop. A layer of mulch and chop them to the ground about now and they provide fruit from August to the frosts. Blackcurrants because they are a favourite for jam making and with few more bushes I can avoid considered, careful pruning (to which I am not naturally suited!) and stool the bushes in rotation every three years. As they have most fruit on one and two year old growth this regime works well. Tart Blackcurrants also have the advantage of being one of the fruits that actually make it to the kitchen in great volume- sweeter fruits get grazed as people pass by. I also fancy trying flavouring vodka with blackcurrants, my previous winter warmers, bramble brandy, raspberry vodka and sloe gin proved very popular in the cold snap!
I have chosen the blackcurrant ‘Ebony’ an early cultivar with extra large, sweet berries and the autumn raspberry ‘Joan J’, new to me but the nursery write up claims it is bigger and tastier than ‘Autumn Bliss’, an old favourite, so it has to be worth a try.

Autumn fruiting yellow raspberry  'Fall Gold' in the garden last year. Prolific and flavoursome.

Choosing bareroot plants has huge advantages, there is normally a far greater choice of varieties and the cost savings are considerable plus less water, fertilizers and fuel are used in their growing and delivery. Admittedly what arrives in the post can look a little alarming to the uninitiated, dead sticks with a tangle of roots but I don’t think I have ever had a bareroot tree or shrub fail and I am not the type to lavish them with care! The stock friendly hedge I planted over Christmas is already budding-up nicely. Thanks to a faulty electric fence the stock, (the wily equines Frank, Stan and Sillas) have already sampled it and are still standing. Their diligent nipping out of the tops should mean they shoot nicely further down. The hedge includes hawthorn, crab apple, dog rose, dogwood, field maple, guelder rose, hazel and the wayfaring tree and so it should be a haven for wildlife as well as stock proof once it is established.

A barrow load of bareroot stock friendly hedging

 Running from November until March, the bareroot season is actually a very wide window of opportunity, all the more galling that I am only getting my act together now, as planting earlier, before the very cold weather gives plants the best start and you the best chance of getting the varieties you want. Stocks do run out, having said this the tardy can sometimes pick up a bargain or at least cut price delivery as nurseries try to shift stock before it is all too late. This is where I came in: my plants are now ordered and should arrive in the nick of time. Now there is just the seed box to sort, plug plants to order, the perennials to chop, mulch to spread...
Some tips for bareroot planting:

v Get the plants in the ground as soon as possible after they arrive if the soil is not water logged or frozen.
v The plants look lifeless but can still be damaged by frost and drying winds so if the ground is frozen when they arrive plunge the roots in a sack of compost or pot stuffed with straw and stash them in a cool shed. This can be tough with larger trees, last year I was caught out by weeks of freezing temperatures and kept a clutch of bareroot fruit trees alive by wrapping their roots in layers of newspapers, old duvets and carpets.
v If the weather is reasonable but you are just not quite ready heel the plants in. Dig a trench large enough to accommodate the roots of the plants, lay the plants in the trench at an angle and cover the roots with soil. The plants should be fine for a few weeks but should be planted properly before spring.
v Buy from a good nursery - the way your plant is grown, lifted, stored and transported will all affect how well it gets away in the spring.
v Most bareroot plants should be planted at the same level they were growing at the nursery, look for the soil mark on the stem. Blackcurrants can be planted a couple of inches lower to encourage them to shoot while raspberries will fail if planted too deeply.
v When planting fruit trees ensure the graft, this looks like a swelling or raised ridge around the trunk where the fruiting tree has been cleverly ‘welded’ onto the roots of another to control its growth and vigour, is above ground level.
v Soak the roots in a bucket of water for a while before planting.

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