Bare-Root Tree Care Guide

Learn how to care for your newly planted tree

Congratulations on your new yard tree! You received a bare-root tree, which requires different care than other types of trees you may have planted before. This guide will help make sure you give your tree the best care you can to help it grow and flourish!

What to Expect from Your Tree

First Fall and Winter

Your tree was planted in the fall, during its dormant season. The tree isn’t growing right now, so it does not need to be watered yet, until the spring.

Early Spring

Once spring comes and temperatures start to rise, your tree will wake up. It will be disoriented by its new surroundings and will need lots of water for the first three weeks. When the first spring plants start peeking up through the soil, start to water your tree every 2 or 3 days. You want the soil around the tree to always be moist but never saturated. Your tree needs more water than you may think, so make sure to water even if it’s been raining! Keeping your tree nourished with a constant source of water helps it deal with root shock and allows its roots to get anchored into its new soil. Don’t worry if your tree doesn’t break bud yet – most of its energy is going into growing its roots!

When Will Your Tree Leaf Out?

Bare-root trees take longer to break bud in their first year after planting than many other types of trees. Don’t be surprised if your tree doesn’t produce leaves until late May, as the tree is putting its energy into growing its root system. Some types of trees feel this effect more than others, so if you received a shadbush or a hawthorn, you may have to be a bit more patient with those trees than any other new trees you have. In future years, you can expect your tree to leaf out and flower in line with other trees of its species in the area. If your tree still hasn’t produced leaves by June, reach out to us and we can come and check to see if your tree is still healthy.

First Two Growing Seasons

During its first and second growing seasons of spring and summer, your tree will need regular care and attention. Water your tree by filling up its watering bag once a week. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and give it a little extra water in times of drought. Your tree is still developing its root system for the entire first two growing seasons, so it may seem like it’s not growing at all. However, under the surface, it’s hard at work getting a source of long-term nutrients so it can shoot up in the coming years! Once its leaves have fallen in the fall, you can stop watering until next spring.

How to Care for Your Tree

Install the included tree guard

We’ve provided you with a tree guard, which protects the bark of your tree. As soon as you can, wrap this around the base of your tree’s trunk. This will stop hungry animals like rabbits from gnawing on and damaging your tree and will provide the tree with protection from the elements.


Water your tree

When and how much water:

  • Start watering when the first spring plants emerge and water until your tree loses its leaves
  • Water before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m. to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation.
  • For your first three weeks of watering, fill the bag with a minimum of 15 gallons every 2 or three days.
  • For trees two years old or less, give a minimum of 15 gallons of water per week per tree. During periods of drought or dry spells, be generous.

How to water with gator bags:

An image showing a hose inserted into a gator bag.

  • Many younger trees are equipped with green plastic bags that release water slowly to the tree’s roots. These bags usually hold around 20 gallons of water. Bags are sometimes attached to the post that the tree is tied to for support rather than the tree itself. This is not a mistake! Installing on the base of the tree may cause crown rot in some species. Do not move the bag from its original location.


  • To fill the bag, insert a hose or water container into the slot at the top of the bag between the two layers of plastic. You should not see the water immediately flow from the bag into the tree pit because the bag is designed for slow release. If the water is still in the bag after a few days, the holes at the bottom are most likely clogged with dirt and should be cleared. View an instructional video below:

Moving Forward

After the first two growing seasons, your tree should be mostly self-sustaining, but keep an eye on it to make sure it stays healthy! It also doesn’t hurt to continue watering for one more growing season. Check the bark regularly for signs of insect or animal grazing, prune off any dead branches, and water it in times of drought.