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I've bought half a dozen bare-root silver-birches, each is perhaps just under a metre tall with a scraggle of roots. They came by post and arrived after 3 days looking pretty dry - in the past I've received things with some compost or damp cloth - so I hope they're OK and the fact they're dormant means it matters less.

I put them to soak in water yesterday but I've no idea if they need to be planted right now or can sit around dormant for some time now winter is here? What is the best thing to do? I'm in the North of England.

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As I recall, you're in the UK - the ground is not yet frozen, so get them in asap, having first dug the whole area over thoroughly, not just digging holes and inserting the trees, especially if you have clay soil. If they're going in separate areas, just ensure you dig over where you want to plant 3 times the width and length you need for actual planting. I rather hope you've done this preparation already, but if not, you need to do it quickly. If you haven't done the prep already, then tread down where you've dug over prior to digging a hole and planting, but not too heavily - there's not sufficient time to let it settle naturally over a week or two. Tread down fairly firmly round the trees once they're in position, and keep a check for wind rock - there's a storm coming in, and there'll likely be more where you are, and high winds might loosen the trees.

UPDATE:

It doesn't sound like you can plant within the next day, so it would be better to dig a trench, lay the roots of the trees in the trench (preferably without allowing the trunks to lay on the ground, more upright or at an angle) then heel soil back into place around them. This must only be a temporary measure - but it will give you a few more days to get organised and plant them out. If you have pots large enough to accommodate the roots without cramping or bending them, and some decent potting soil, pot them up temporarily, but its not ideal - these will have been dug straight out of the ground, and the ground is where they need to be.

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  • Thanks. How fragile are they while out of the ground specifically when dormant? Obviously growing plants sent by post need to be planted immediately but are dormant trees safe for a few days to soak in water? – Mr. Boy Dec 5 '17 at 14:44
  • To be frank, I wouldn't risk more than 2-3 days at the outside - root rot might become an issue. Usually, when bare root trees are delivered, the ground to plant them in will have been prepared beforehand, so they can be put in after a 2 or 3 hours of the roots being sat in water, if they're not burlapped or wrapped in some way, but even that soaking in water, at this time of year, isn't essential - unless your supplier said it would be. You'd be better off heeling them into the ground somewhere if you can't plant for a few days – Bamboo Dec 5 '17 at 16:13
  • As in just get the roots in some soil, maybe in a pot? – Mr. Boy Dec 5 '17 at 16:18
  • See updated answer – Bamboo Dec 5 '17 at 16:22

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