4 Lessons learned about bare root plants
Upon opening the box, I saw why the plants were so cheap. They were bare root (also seen as one word as bareroot; or hyphenated as bare-root). In my novice years as a gardener, I had no idea what bare root plants were and in fact, thought they must have sent me the wrong thing despite the fact that the invoice clearly showed that moonbeam coreopsis had been shipped. I went back to the catalog to re-read what I had ordered. Though the description did not include the words bare root, there was a line across the top of the page that read "Bare root unless noted otherwise." I didn't see that when I placed the order. Lesson One: When ordering plants from a catalog, read the description carefully.
The roots were in plastic bags with saw dust. Sent to me at a time when it was okay to plant them1, I did just that - planted them right from the plastic bag. A day later as I was going through the packaging material. In addition to the invoice was a sales catalog and instructions on how to plant bare root plants. Ooops; I did not plant them correctly. Lesson Two: Look for and read the instructions!
Bare root plants need to be soaked in water for about ten minutes before planting. It had not rained so the only water the root got was when I planted it. As if admitting to not reading the instructions first wasn't embarrassing enough ... I pulled the roots out of the ground and soaked them. But wait, that's not the most embarrassing part. After the roots were hydrated, I realized that I had planted them upside-down. Lesson Three: Your success rate will be tremendously increased if you bury the roots below ground, not the top.
The proper way to plant bare roots is to first soak the plant. The hole you dig needs to be wide and deep enough to allow the roots to fan out on an angle. One way to do that is to a create cone-shape of dirt in the hole on which the roots are spread out on the top of the point of the cone. Fill in with dirt, pressing to force out air spaces. Top off with mulch. Water thoroughly at least weekly to encourage root growth.
Once planted properly, my coreopsis bloomed the first year. Lesson Four: Bare root plants can be less expensive than container plants, partly because their small size makes them cheaper to ship than a container plant. When I shop for flowers from a catalog or online, I now search for bare root first.
1 A general rule of thumb is to plant spring bloomers in the fall; late summer/fall bloomers in the spring.