How to grow bare root perennials

Bare root perennials are an easy and cost-effective way to bring a host of colourful and attractive easy-care plants to your beds and borders.

A perennial plant flowers in late spring and summer year after year and when they are sent to you as a bare root type, they have a mass of soil-free healthy roots and are ready to be planted straight away.

Types of bare root perennials

There’s a wide variety of popular bare root perennials available, including classics such as agapanthus, astilbe, hardy geranium, bearded iris, verbascum, peony and eryngium.

Some bare root perennials prefer sunny or part-sunny locations, so check the care instructions with each variety that you buy.

When to plant bare root perennials

Bare root perennials can be planted in early autumn or early to mid-spring, when the ground has decent moisture.

How to store bare root perennials

In ideal conditions, bare root perennials need to be planted as soon as they arrive to you, or within a few days.

They can be kept for a week or so if stored in a cool place.

How to prepare the soil for bare root perennials

The roots will remain dormant until the soil warms from about April onwards. Bare root perennials are perfect for beds and borders, with some suitable for large containers.

If container planted, they may need planting into the ground later on when roots grow.

Prepare the ground soil several weeks before planting by digging in compost or manure and remove any weeds.

How to plant bare root perennials

Soak the roots in a bucket of cold water before planting to help hydrate the plant.

  • Dig a hole that’s deep and wide enough to take the entire root mass.
  • Place the plant in the hole so that the roots are below the surface, but the main stem will be just above, once the soil’s filled back in.
  • Firm the soil back in the hole around the stem, using your hand or your foot for larger perennials.
  • Mark the location and plant type with a label.
  • Give the plants a good watering.

How to space bare root perennials

Check the individual instructions of each plant for how far to space apart in the soil when planting.

Generally, if bare root perennials are placed too near to each other in the ground they can perform badly because they’ll compete for water and light.

How to support bare root perennials

Some tall varieties of perennials need support, such as canes, when they grow. Plants can be tied to these with twine to create a decorative feature and to help them flourish and last all summer.

How to water bare root perennials

Until they’re well established, the plants will need watering once or twice a week, or daily in hot weather.

Don’t let the plant become dry.

How to feed bare root perennials

Bare root perennials are very easy to grow and maintain and don’t usually need extra feeding if the soil has been prepared properly.

If the plant begins to look yellowy or is in poor health with little growth, a liquid fertiliser can be applied.

How to dead-head bare root perennials

According to each type’s instructions, some plants may need dead-heading in summer when flowers are appearing.

Dead-heading is the process of removing small or wilted flowers so that others can grow and flourish fully.

Use secateurs to carefully snip flowers that need dead-heading.

How to cut the stems of bare root perennials

Once the perennial has stopped flowering in the autumn, use secateurs to trim the stems back to about 1inch (2.5cm) above the soil. This can also be done in the spring if you prefer.

Cutting the stems back will allow the plant to grow and take shape again in the summer, as long as it had a successful first season.