A healthy bare-root perennial will have roots that feel solid and plump without mushiness. Some of the roots may be broken during shipping. There could be traces of light white to gray mold on the surface of otherwise firm roots. This happens when perennials are enclosed during shipping, and is not damaging to the plant. If roots feel mushy and soft, and have a foul smell, the roots may have already rotted and died.
- Unpack the plants as soon as they arrive and carefully remove all loose packing material. Be sure to match plant labels with the right plant.
- If any roots are frozen from shipping, let them thaw slowly in a cool room before handling. Check the root system. Roots should be firm, dry and light brown.
- Carefully shake the roots loose and trim away any broken or moldy roots with a clean, sharp knife or pruning shears.
- Trim off very long roots.
- Before planting, soak the roots in a bucket of lukewarm water for around 30 minutes, or longer for larger plants. Re-hydrating the plants will enable them to become established more quickly.
If planting will be delayed, store bare root plants in bags loosely closed, in a cool, dry area for 2–3 days. The ideal temperature is around 40–45°F. A cool, unheated garage, covered porch or basement will work. If you have to store plants for more than a few days, “heel them in” outdoors: dig a shallow trench in your garden, lay plants on their sides with the roots in the trench, and cover with moist soil. When conditions are right, transplant carefully to their permanent spots.
Plants should emerge in 4–6 weeks after planting.