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Dormant plants offer gardeners a better start

Use bulbs and bareroots to get healthier, hardier plants
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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.

Potted Dormant

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.

Dormant Rhizome

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.
Dormant Bloom

Planting during dormancy will help ornamentals like peonies and tulips to be healthier and look more vibrant.

Dormant Storage

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

Shipping Stages

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 before planting

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

  • Dormant Perennial

    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.

  • Dormant Vines

    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.

  • Dormant Perennial and Vines

    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.

  • Perennial Video

    Check out our comprehensive
    PERENNIAL PLANTING GUIDES
    for even more information and videos!

Shrubs

  • Dormant Shrub

    Shrubs are like all dormant, woody plants in that they should have strong, hydrated stems and branches. They should not be drying out or rotting.

  • Dormant Rose

    In the case of this rose, look for a well-hydrated plant with firm buds that are swollen but not yet ready to break.

  • Dormant Shrub and Rose

    To ensure its health, gently scratch away some of the shrub's bark at its base. You want to see hydrated flesh that's green or white.

  • Dormant Shrub Video

    Check out our comprehensive
    SHRUBS PLANTING GUIDES
    for even more information and videos!

Bulbs

  • Dormant Bulb 1

    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.

  • Dormant Bulb 2

    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.

  • Dormant Bulb 3

    Watch for excessive mold, but light amounts of "storage mold" are harmless and will not affect performance.

  • Dormant Bulb

    Check out our comprehensive
    BULBS PLANTING GUIDES
    for even more information and videos!

Tubers

  • Dormant Tuber 1

    A healthy dahlia tuber will be firm and feel as if its weight is correct for its size. Examine it more closely if it feels hollow or looks too dried out.

  • Dormant Tuber 2

    Some tubers, such as these dahlias, will not always appear healthy. But if they're well hydrated, issues like this "storage mold" will not affect their growth.

  • Dormant Tuber 3

    Tubers don't have to be large to perform well. Even small root systems like this one will do fine if cared for properly.

  • Dormant Tuber Video

    Check out our comprehensive
    TUBERS PLANTING GUIDES
    for even more information and videos!

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Dormant Miscellaneous 1

    Dormant plants can take many unique forms, such as the one taken by this iris.

  • Dormant Miscellaneous 2

    Don't worry if your dormant plant's foliage resembles this rhizome's. The plant will perform as it should as long as the fleshy portions of the root system are firm upon arrival.

  • Dormant Miscellaneous 3

    You might notice some "pups", or offshoots, on dormant plants like this iris. That's OK. In fact, the more pups, the better, because they help promote new growth more quickly.

  • Dormant Miscellaneous Video

    Check out our comprehensive
    PLANTING GUIDES
    for even more information and videos!

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