Heeling in Bareroot Plants & Trees Before Planting (Video)

How to Heel In Bareroot Plants

In this video, we walk you through the dos and don'ts of "heeling in" bareroot plants. This keeps them in top condition if you cannot plant for some time after receiving them, which is often the case in freezing or soaking weather.

This applies to any bareroot plants, whether it's a fruit tree, soft fruit bush, rose, hedging plant or large ornamental tree.

Heel in plants at a 45 degree angle. This serves a vital purpose: you will remember that they are heeled in, rather than planted!


In this video, we show you how to heel in barerooted plants. We use hedging plants in the film, but the same principle applies to trees, soft fruit and so on. You need to heel plants in if you will not be able to plant them in 7 to 10 days of receipt. For example, if the ground is frozen. Heeling in is best done in a cool, well, shaded spot, ideally out of the wind. Between November and March, plants can happily stay heeled in almost indefinitely: 10 to 12 weeks is perfectly normal.

To heel in your plants, you will need a spade, unfrozen ground that does not water log (see the second half of this film if the ground is hard) and your plants. To begin, dig a trench that is large enough to take the roots of your plants easily. If you have a large number of plants already in bundles, you can heel them in without being untied.

If you have smaller numbers of plants, or they are individually quite large, such as Yew, or the bigger hedging Beech sizes, it is better to untie each bundle, and arrange all the plants so that their root collars are at roughly the same level. Then, pack them close together into the trench and return the soil over their roots.

You are not planting, so this can be done quickly.

Firm the soil down gently and water well. No further care is needed until you are ready to plant.

If the ground is frozen or cannot be dug for some other reason, then heel in using any container large enough to hold both roots and compost. Start by putting some compost in the bottom of your container, in the same way as you would do in open ground, arrange the plants to their root collars are all about the same level.

Then, put the roots in the container, making sure you tuck any loose ends in. Cover the roots with the remaining compost until you have reached the level of the root collar. Give the plants an occasional jog to help settle the compost around them. By the way, if you do not have compost, saw dust will work as well.

Firm the compost down gently and make sure all the roots are covered.

Put the container somewhere cold and shady; an outhouse or against a North facing wall are both good places. Water well, and leave the plants alone until the freeze has gone, and the ground is soft enough to dig.

Just to recap: you heel in bare root plants if the ground is frozen, and you cannot plant. Heel in plants in a cool, well, shaded spot. Put heeling containers somewhere cold and out of the sun.

Between November and March plants can stay heeled almost indefinitely.

More Tips on What To Do When it Snows or Freezes 

Un-planted Plants

1. Leave potted plants exactly where they are. A covering of snow will insulate them.

2. Bareroot plants that have not been planted can be heeled in, as explained above, or just put them, in their wrapping, somewhere out of the sun and wind. A garage, lean-to or the like is ideal. But under some snow, against the north side of the house, out of the sun will work perfectly well.

Whichever course you follow, leave them alone until the freeze has gone and the ground is soft enough to dig before disturbing them again: frozen roots are brittle and will not appreciate being moved around.

Everything Else

The main concern is the weight of snow (surprisingly heavy, given its light and fluffy first appearance). So, with a broomstick or brush, gently dislodge snow from plants, bushes and trees (don't forget any hedging) to prevent branches being bent or broken. Brush upwards to avoid damaging branches (drawing them down might break wood made brittle by the cold), and don't just madly shake a shrub – all that snow at the top is going to drop like a stone onto the branches below. 

Before the snow falls, it's a precautionary measure to tie cord, string or even netting around ornamental conifers to prevent their branches being pulled down and out. If this does happen, there's usually no remedy but to cut them out once the bad weather is over, as they tend not to spring back. 

Remove snow from netting and fleece to prevent it breaking. Harrod Horticultural offer cunning "Frame Saver" clips which allow netting to fall to the ground, rather than tear when weight or wind come to bear. 

Speaking of netting, are your brassicas protected? Snow isn't the problem here, but pigeons are. They will be seeking easy sources of food if the ground is buried from sight. 

Remove snow from greenhouses to let the light in and take some weight off the roof. For the same reasons remove snow from shed roofs (it can also slide off onto a vulnerable plant below). If you're clearing a path, don't just dump the snow indiscriminately on nearby beds (OK, as if you would) but make sure you avoid plants, as these won't appreciate the extra weight or the extra length of time it'll take for the heap to thaw. 

Try not to walk on your lawn or beds as you risk damaging the grass and soil beneath. We all know how those compacted footprints last long after the fluffy stuff has disappeared. 

Snow really isn't so much of a threat to plants. Far worse is prolonged waterlogging or a long, deep freeze during which they can suffer from drought. Snow insulates plants and the ground from further falling temperatures, often saving them from damage, and a gradual thaw means that plants get a steady watering as it melts.

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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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