Heeling in? What do you mean by that?
I’m telling people that they can temporarily “heel in” plants until they are ready to deal with them and this often confuses people. Why do I need to do that?
There are a lot of reasons for heeling plants in, but the reason that we do it most often is because we have plants that we need to get dug before they break dormancy in the spring. So as soon as the weather permits we get everything dug that we need to dig before the plants make leaves.
Once plants leaf out in the spring, the digging/transplanting season is over. We never mess this up. As soon as spring breaks all we concentrate on is getting things dug that need to be dug. Because once plants make leaves in the spring (usually late April here in Ohio), the digging season is over until after Thanksgiving.
This spring I had thousands of rooted cuttings that I had to dig first thing in the spring but there were so many that we couldn’t get them all potted right away. So we dug them, root pruned them, top pruned them, and heeled them in large nursery pots like you see at the top of this page. They can stay that way for a few weeks until we get caught up.
When we ran out of large buckets we just heeled them in the bed of sand where they were originally rooted. You can see them in the above photo labeled and tied in bundles awaiting their turn to be potted.
I also heel in bare root plants that I buy from large wholesale nurseries.
When I buy bare root plants from other wholesale growers I often have them shipped here in February because I want them before they leaf out. That way I can put them outside and not have to worry about them freezing. I simply heel them in the ground, in a pile of soil, or I make a wooden frame that just sits right on top of the ground, put the bare root plants in the frame and cover the roots with potting soil or sand.
Heeling in Japanese Maple Trees
This spring Duston and I dug around 100 Japanese maple trees early in the spring. We tied them in bundles and simply buried the roots in My Huge Pile of Potting Soil. All we have to do now is keep them watered until we get them all potted. We’ll probably finish potting them today. I”ll get another photo of them all potted up waiting to be adopted to new homes.
Mike, I’m moving and I want to take my (whatever) tree with me, but I’m not moving for another month!
I get this question a lot and the answer is simple. Dig the tree in the spring before it makes leaves and heel it in until you are ready to move. Keep it watered, but at the same time when a plant is heeled in, you have to know that the plant thinks it is planted and quickly goes to work to establish itself in it’s new home by make roots and trying to anchor those roots into the ground.
So heeling in plants is very much a temporary thing. You can prevent them from rooting into the soil below simply by laying down plastic before you heel in the plant. Just make sure the plastic does not trap water. The water has to be able to run off of the plastic.
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