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Plant Bare-Root Shrubs and Trees

We will have the occasional warm days in March and it’s very tempting to start buying plants from the nurseries. The best woody plants to get now are dormant, bare-root specimens. Nurseries get their stock shipped bare root and sell them for less since they do not have to pot them up. Bare-root plants are the best way to see the root structure of the woody plants you want to put in your garden.


Often the cutting blades that are used to lift plants out of the ground will cut major roots, leaving bent or broken bits to support the tree or shrub. Look for at least three roots evenly spread around the main stem. Ideally, the main roots will be of equal size with a good spread of smaller feeder roots. You want there to be enough root length to support the top. Trim back any obviously damaged roots to reduce disease access. You may have to stake for the first year, but you want to do all you can to give the plant a good start.

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Photo by Eli Sagor, Creative Commons lidense.

Bare root seedlings of red pine, Pinus resinosa.

Prepare Vegetable Beds

Prepare your vegetable garden soil after it dries out enough that it doesn’t clump when you turn over a shovel full. Check your pH; garden vegetables generally prefer a pH of 6.0-7.0, with 6.5 being ideal. You can use lime if the soil is too acidic but put it on a month before you intend to plant.

Dig in well-rotted compost, otherwise known as organic matter (OM), to amend the structure of the soil along with providing some nutrients. If you put in a cover crop last fall, it needs to be turned over so that it dies and enriches the soil.

Use your garden notes to plan your vegetable garden. You don’t want to put crops in the same place they were planted last year because pathogens and insects will start to build up. Keep them confused by rotating things around. Remember that plant family members have similar pests. For example, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Bok Choi are all cole crops – members of the Brassica family – so don’t put them in the same place every year.


Root crops, even though they might not be closely related, will have soil-borne insects that use the cover to drill into roots unseen, so rotate them with non-root crops.


Some plants do very well as companion plantings (such as carrots and tomatoes) and others work well as “trap” crops. You want to keep trap crops away from your edibles.

Plan for a succession of plantings. If you planted peas in February, you could plant a second group now. That’s one way to extend your harvest of these cool-weather vegetables.


If you started warm-season plants in the house for later outside planting, they’ll be ready to pot up after they have one to two sets of true leaves. Some seedlings, like tomatoes, can be planted deep because they’ll form roots along their stems.


Putting a fan on low next to your seedlings not only improves air circulation, but the seedlings will grow robust stems as they resist the gentle breeze. You can search for specific vegetable care on the WSU website.

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Creative Commons CC BY SA 4.0,

Nasturtiums are often used as "trap crops" as they attract aphids and flea beetles, keeping the pests away from your veggies.

03 vegetable Garden with Corn-JP.jpg

Photo used with permission

Planning now will result in happy harvesting as the season progresses.

Authored by Deb Mitchell, Island County Master Gardener
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