How to pot up bare-root perennials

Do it:

Jan, Feb, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec

Takes just:

one hour

At its best:

Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug

Bare-root plants have no soil or compost around the roots and little top growth. They are grown in open ground, then dug up for despatch and planting during the dormant season (November to March). Shrubs, trees and roses are often supplied as bare-root plants, and perennials can be planted this way too.

Bare-root plants tend to be cheaper than pot-grown ones, making them an economical choice. Another advantage is that they can have larger clumps of roots, which continue to establish over winter.

Discover 10 perennials to buy bare-root

During a mild winter you can plant at almost any time, but a cold snap could kill the new, unsettled plants overnight. So you could pot them up when they arrive, then harden them off in spring before planting out. Growing bare-root plants in pots makes it easier to look after them, and allows them to develop a good rootball in the soft compost, without having to battle with weeds, pests and more established plants. Harden them off in spring before planting out, then enjoy beautiful flowers in spring and summer.

You will need

Bucket of water

Pots of suitable sizes

Multi-purpose compost

Coldframe (or frost-free place)


As soon as the plants arrive, give them a good soaking in a bucket of water. You'll need to do this even if they have been packed with damp peat or moss to keep them moist.

Choose a suitable size pot for each plant. For many, this might mean a 7cm or slightly larger pot, although the larger plants such as peonies could go into 2L pots. Use a multi-purpose compost and tap the pot as you fill to settle it around the roots. Firm it down, then water well.

A cold frame is the perfect place to keep a close watch on your plants. Or put them in a shaded section of the greenhouse, as long as it's kept frost-free. You'll then need to harden them off over a few weeks in spring before planting in the border.

Harden the plants off over a few weeks in spring before planting in the border.


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