Lightweight, bare root hedge plants save money on shipping costs.

How to Plant Bare Root Hedges

by Amelia Allonsy

The shrubs you unwrap from gardening catalogs and online are most often sad-looking dormant, bare root transplants that can dry out and die without proper care. Bare root plants are, however, a smart choice if you must plant a hedge by yourself because the lack of soil ball around the roots makes the plants lightweight and easy to move and planitng holes relatively small. Plant the hedge in spring as soon as the bare-root transplants arrive. If you have a general idea of the transplant size, prepare the planting area in advance of the delivery so you can put the transplants in the ground as soon as you receive them.

Lay garden hoses on the ground to plan the area for the new hedge. Space the hoses about 3 feet apart, ensuring a wide area of soil for the shrub roots to spread. Spray landscaping spray paint along the hoses to mark the ground.

Cut through the soil along the painted lines, using a digging spade. Push the spade straight down into the soil through the turf layer and pull back on the handle to pry any grass or weed roots loose from the soil. Repeat this around the perimeter of the planting area.

Remove the sod layer, leaving only the bare soil below. In addition to cutting along the planting area perimeter, you can cut the area into 12-inch-wide strips and simply roll up the sod layer. Use the sod to patch bare spots on the lawn, if desired, or give it to a neighbor.

Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches or deeper, if possible. Roots spread more easily through loose soil, so you can reduce transplant shock by providing a deep planting space of loose soil. Use a rototiller to loosen the soil or dig out the space, using hand digging tools such as a round-point shovel, hoe and mattock. If you have poor soil with little nutrients and slow drainage, mix up to 50 percent organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, with the native soil. Add coarse sand in addition to the organic matter to lighten heavy clay soil.

Remove the soil from within the planting area to create a trench about 3 feet wide and 12 inches deep, or about the same depth as the roots on the bare root transplants. Hold one of the transplants in the hole with the root crown even with the soil line to determine the depth of soil needed. Add or remove soil to achieve the correct depth in the trench. The root crown is the point just above the roots, usually identifiable by a bump on the stem.

Return some soil to the trench to create mounds in the trench for each shrub to support the roots, holding the root crown just above soil. The spacing in the mounds should follow the spacing required for the plant variety. Space shrubs for hedges at least 12 inches closer than their recommended spacing so they grow together as a single unit. Space them even closer in the case of dwarf species. For example, dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens "Suffruticosa"), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, grows to a mature size of 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, so you can space the plants 8 to 12 inches apart so they grow close together. By comparison, "Aurea Pendula" boxwood (Buxus sempervirens "Aurea Pendula"), suitable for USDA zones 6 through 9, grows 4 to 6 feet wide and can be spaced 3 to 4 feet apart in the hedge row.

Unwrap the bare root transplants as soon as you receive them. Use bypass pruners to clip off any brown, mushy roots, leaving only healthy, white roots. Place the transplant roots in a bucket of tepid water for about 20 minutes to hydrate the plants.

Set one plant on top of each mound in the trench. Drape the roots evenly around all sides of the mound.

Hold up one plant at a time so the root crown rests just at the surrounding soil grade. Back-fill the trench around the roots with the amended native soil. Use your hands to pack the soil gently around the roots just so the plant stays upright, but do not crush the roots. Repeat this process with the rest of the bare root plants in the hedgerow. The finished soil level should be even with the surrounding soil grade; do not push soil above the root crown.

Spread a 4-inch layer of bark chip mulch over the bare soil in the entire planting zone to eliminate weed competition -- saving you garden maintenance time -- and retain soil moisture. Do not push the mulch directly against the plant stems.

Water the soil deeply to a depth of about 12 inches, ensuring the soil in the planting zone is evenly moist, but not wet. Water about once weekly during the first year to keep the soil moist. Do not over-water the soil because this can cause the roots to rot. Increase watering frequency during periods of drought. Plants require frequent watering while the roots become established in the soil, but less watering is required as plants mature. Follow the watering needs of the plant variety.

Prune each shrub back to within 6 inches of the ground, using bypass pruners, to force branching so the shrubs fill out quickly. Prune at planting in spring and again in midsummer. Don't prune as severely in midsummer; cut back about 2 inches of the new growth. This is a general rule that applies to most hedge shrubs.

Items you will need

  • Measuring tape
  • Garden hoses
  • Landscaping spray paint
  • Digging spade
  • Rototiller
  • Round-point shovel
  • Hoe
  • Mattock
  • Organic matter
  • Coarse sand
  • Bypass pruners
  • Bucket
  • Bark mulch
  • Bow rake


  • Landscaping spray paint is basically a liquid form of chalk that washes away with the next rain. It doesn't harm surrounding plants, affect the soil, and most importantly, it's safe to use around children and pets.
  • If you can't plant right away, dig a trench in a shaded area and lay the plants on their sides at a 45-degree angle, Cover the roots with loose soil. This is called heeling in and can hold the plants for several weeks.

About the Author

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images