Use bulbs and bareroots to get healthier, hardier plants
The evidence is overwhelming: Dormant plants such as bulbs and bareroots are the preferred choice for gardeners during planting season. They offer ease of planting, greater odds of survival and superior overall growth. We made the decision decades ago to ship our customers dormant plants almost exclusively.
What dormant plants do to survive the snow and bitter cold of winter is greatly reduce their metabolic activity, so when spring arrives, they re-emerge to thrive once more. Although it appears that not much is happening during this hibernation period, nothing could be further from the truth. In the fall, as the portions of these plants that are above the soil's surface are releasing blooms and leaves, those that are underground are storing energy in the form of large reserves of carbohydrates. When the weather improves enough for the plants to sprout, this energy is released and used to stimulate growth.
In this photo, both roses are seen one year after planting. The rose on the left, which began in a pot, is smaller and has fewer blooms than the rose on the right, which started as a bareroot. Dormant plants are more vigorous and establish more quickly.
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Bulbs and bareroots offer gardeners many important advantages over plants that begin in containers. When you receive a dormant plant, you can be sure you will have a chance to enjoy its first blooms and witness the emergence of its foliage. It will also perform better and mature faster. Conversely, transplanting an actively growing potted plant requires much more of your attention regarding timing and climate conditions. For example, it cannot be planted outdoors when the weather is too cold, too hot or too sunny for its overall health. This will cause the plant to suffer greatly—perhaps even kill it.
Dormant plants are not only the best for planting, they are also the best for shipping. We learned many years ago that the most reliable way to provide our customers with healthy, ready-to-grow products is to ship them dormant plants.
While there is some dry foliage on the dormant iris pictured above, it will not cause any issues when planted. Make sure you get large, well-hydrated iris rhizomes, like this one.
A smarter choice for gardeners
Dormant plants help create better gardens. Here are some facts about them:
Their roots adapt more quickly and more easily to native soil conditions than the roots of transplanted container-grown plants.
Dormant plants are less likely to become dehydrated. Their roots naturally seek water and nutrients in their native soil—even though it often provides less favorable growing conditions than potting soil.
There is no hardening-off process and no risk of sunburn, as there is with potted plants. Bulbs and bareroot perennials are ready to go.
Dormant plants are more likely to survive.
Planting during dormancy will help ornamentals like peonies and tulips to be healthier and look more vibrant.
The buds on the peony bareroot shown above are ready to explode with growth. As you can see, the buds are not yet breaking, which is a sign of proper dormant storage.
The case for dormant plants
There are lots of benefits to planting bulbs and dormant perennials—and just as many disadvantages to transplanting container-grown varieties:
As mentioned earlier, a dormant plant provides you with an opportunity to watch its first blooms open. On the other hand, a potted plant bought at your local store is already halfway through its bloom cycle and is more stressed than if growing in the ground.
Dormant plants cost much less than their potted counterparts.
Dormant plants have more potential energy for more vigorous growth. Their buds, stems and roots all possess large reserves of carbohydrates, which fuel the plant's explosive growth after going into the ground. As for container-grown plants, they have already used up these reserves by the time they are transplanted, so they have less energy for acclimating to their new surroundings.
The root systems of dormant plants are stronger and more developed, because pots have never limited their growth.
As the old saying goes:"Don't judge a book by its cover!" When it comes to gardening, good things come to those who wait. In short, all that's needed is a little faith in nature and to remember that our plants have been grown, cared for and stored properly to ensure your success.
Be patient when starting with dormant plants, and your patience will be rewarded. Like the fabled ugly duckling that grew to become a beautiful swan, incredible plants will grow from your humble bulbs and bareroots.
Understand what to expect when your package arrives. Keep in mind that discolored or twisted dormant plants are not dead or in ill health. Plants, like people, come in many shapes and sizes, and physical constraints do not limit their potential.
Overlook their looks
If you are used to buying potted plants, the arrival of your first bulb or bareroot perennial can be somewhat...disconcerting. Instead of receiving a starter plant with foliage and possibly even some blooms, you will instead unpack what looks like a clump of dried plant material. But there's no reason to panic. Many healthy dormant plants will look this way, such as the iris rhizomes below.
Each of these iris rhizomes is healthy
Dormant plants, such as these iris rhizomes, will arrive in different stages of dormancy depending on when they are shipped to you. Don't be worried, for example, if you see dry foliage, such as that shown here. All these irises will perform equally well.
Be certain your bulb or bareroot perennial is healthy
Judging the condition of a dormant plant can be tricky, especially for gardeners with little or no experience handling them. To make sure yours is ready to set into the ground, follow the steps below for your particular type of dormant plant.
Perennials and Vines
A healthy perennial should have firm, well-hydrated roots that are neither wet nor slimy. It will perform well if the root system and crown are not dried out.
Many, but not all, perennials have "eyes". Look for brightly colored ones (they can be white, green or other colors) that are firm and undamaged. The eyes should not be budding or elongating.
You may notice "storage mold" on your plant in splotches or light coatings. There's no need to worry as long as the roots are still firm. Storage mold will not affect growth.
Expect a healthy bulb to feel firm and to be an appropriate weight for its size. Don't plant any with rot or excessive mold.
While virtually all flowers are beautiful, not all bulbs are. But that doesn't mean they won't perform well, even if they're smaller or have some scarring like this tulip. Plant such bulbs confidently.
Watch for excessive mold, but light amounts of "storage mold" are harmless and will not affect performance.