You could start with a pip, I guess, but it’s a long fruition, thus if you want to plant a tree, perhaps the simplest and by far the cheapest way is to buy one with bare roots. Bare-root perennials, shrubs and trees can be up to half the price of their potted counterparts. They are particularly economical for hedging, orchards and other mass plantings. For fruit trees, there’s always more variety on offer than potted trees.
They are sold from late autumn to early spring, when the plants are dormant and don’t mind being uprooted for a little while. We’re coming up to the last moment to order. They are sold naked, no pot, no soil, just the twigs above and the roots below. This means they are easier to post. Less packaging, less plastic, less freight weight makes them a more environmental choice, too. You tend to get slightly bigger plants, particularly in perennials, and despite what appears to be a brutal method, sending them out unclothed, they are known to establish easily. From their perspective they weren’t out of sorts for long. They went from soil to soil in a dream-like state.
If your plants arrive in the post, unpack them immediately and ideally get them into the ground that day or the next. However, you might not be able to do this. Bare-root plants are tough, but they cannot be planted in the ground if it’s very wet or frozen. Thus you might need plan B and even plan C, if you have to wait more than a few days to plant. Plan B is to soak the plants in warm water for 30 minutes after unpacking. Drain them and leave somewhere cool but frost-free, a shed, say. If you have hessian sacking you could loosely wrap this around the roots, likewise if the plant came packed in straw, keep this and pack it back loosely around the roots. If your plants came in a bundle, take them apart, inspect them and then bundle them up again. The trick here to make sure the plants don’t dry out: anything that will keep them damp helps, but they cannot sit in a bucket of water.
Plan C, if the weather sets in, is to temporarily pot them up. Use a tub trug, keep them in a bundle and cover them loosely with compost. The compost should remain moist; they can be stored this way for several weeks, if the weather allows. If it warms up and it’s late in the season, they will break dormancy and will not like being stored in this way for more than a few days.
Before planting, soak them in water for half an hour. The soil should be well prepared. Add homemade compost (it doesn’t need to be dug in first) grit and mulch with more compost or bark to keep weeds down and moisture locked into the soil. Bare root plants will not thrive if they dry out in their first few months, particularly if we have another dry, hot April this year.