What do I do if my plants have come but I can’t plant right away?

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The goal is to keep the bare root plants cool and dormant, and protect the roots from freezing or drying out.

You can generally hold the plants up to two weeks in the bags they arrived in, in a cool (35-45º F) location. Check the bags for moisture a couple times, the shredded paper around the roots should be moist and there should be humidity present on the inside of the bag, standing water more than a 1/2 inch or so is undesirable.

Alternatively, you can heel (temporarily plant) the dormant plants in a loose pile of soil or compost outdoors (in the shade if temperatures are on the warmer side) until you are ready to plant.

Potted dormant plants (evergreen or deciduous) can also be held in a cool location, or buried outdoors, to the rim of the pot, in the compost pile. Potted hardy plants that are showing new growth are no longer dormant, and that new tender growth will probably be damaged by temperatures below 30-32ºF. Keep them in a cool (35-60ºF) but bright location to slow new growth until most danger of frost is past, harden them off, and plant.

If late frost threatens, you can provide temporary cover to protect them. If the new growth is damaged by cold temperatures another flush of growth generally occurs within a few weeks. Hold frost tender plants at a moderate temperature, 50-65ºF, with bright light, until all danger of frost has passed before taking them outside for the summer.

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A tip for those of you in cold winter areas who are receiving our potted plants

Planting Out Non-Dormant Hardy Potted Plants: 
Sometimes you might receive cold hardy plants that are no longer dormant but you are still experiencing winter conditions.  Our hardy plant greenhouses are kept to a minimum of about 28-30 degrees F at night, but late winter or early spring day time sun can warm them up well into the 70’s. The resultant new growth is tender and can be damaged by freezing weather, especially below 28º F for more than a couple of hours. Most plants will put on a second flush of new growth after early frost damage, in about 4-6 weeks. To prevent frost damage on non-dormant potted plants you have received here are a couple of options:

Keep the plants where they will receive bright light and remain cool, but above freezing, until danger of frost is past. If you can keep the plants cool (32-50ºF) their growth will be slowed down, so they won’t stretch as much, and the leaves will be a little tougher. Fertilize them lightly with a low to medium nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish fertilizer with kelp to supply micro nutrients, or maybe compost tea. The kelp fertilizer may improve plant tolerance to cold temperatures.

As the day time temperature you are holding your plants at increases so will the rate of growth of your plants. Provide supplemental light if the plants seem to be stretching or getting leggy, fertilize lightly as above.

If you are expecting night time temperatures to be mostly above freezing, with an occasional frost still possible, then you could go ahead and plant outside. Be prepared to put some frost protection over your new plants if necessary. A paper bag, spun-bonded floating row cover (such as Reemay), or a blanket (with support) will provide a couple degrees of protection.

Plants that have been actively growing indoors need to gradually get used to being outside in the direct sun and wind to continue to perform their best. Put them outside in a partially sunny location for a few hours a couple of days, and over the rest of the week gradually increase the time and decrease the shade until they spend the full day outside. Then plant following instructions in the Raintree Nursery Owners Manual.


Planting in Cold or Warm Spring Weather

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So long as the ground is not under water or water-logged, frozen, or covered with snow, and the weather is above freezing when you plant, you can plant dormant potted or bare root plants. For optimal results planting bare root plants, day time temperatures should be below the mid-60’s for several weeks following planting (to give roots time to establish before top growth becomes too demanding). Follow the basic planting instructions in the Raintree Owners Manual we send with each order. If you did not receive one, or have misplaced it, you can also view it on our website on the top bar under Growers Info.

Planting In Cold Climates:
If you live in an area that is still experiencing winter weather, bare root plants that are still dormant when received can tolerate brief exposure to temperatures down to the lower 20’s after they are planted. If you are not ready to plant when you receive your order, refer to the front page of the Raintree Plant Owners Manual which is included with each order or can be found on the Raintree website.

Planting In Warm Climates:
Those of you living in the southern and southeast U.S. may be regularly experiencing day time temperatures in the 70’s. If this is the only time you can acquire particular plants, follow the late planting instructions in the Raintree Nursery Owners Manual or the following tips to ensure success with your new plants, or pre-order plants to be shipped to you at your optimal planting time early next spring. If your day time temperatures are regularly in the 80’s plan to receive bare root plants next season.

1) If you choose to plant out in a permanent location right away, mulch the soil surface well after planting, irrigate regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, not soppy wet, and provide shade until the plants are well-established. Warm air temperatures encourage faster shoot growth than root growth in the cool soil, creating water stress in the tree. Shade helps to reduce the water needs of the plant and give the root system time to catch up with the top of the plant. Follow the same techniques when planting out our dormant potted plants. Providing shade when planting will help these plants adjust to the change in environment.

2) Plant your new plants in a temporary, shady location, mulch, and water regularly through the summer. In the fall, when the worst of the summer heat has passed, move the plants to their permanent location. By the following spring they will be well-established and ready to perform.

3) Plant your new plants in containers, if receiving potted put in somewhat larger containers, maintain them in a protected location, and plant in their permanent location in the fall when the worst of the summer heat has passed.

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Try elderberry flower fritters. Delicious!

Ripe Elderberries. (Photo: Stephen McKay, Wikimedia)

I found two versions of Elderberry Flower Fritters for you to try when your elderberries come into bloom.

One was shared with me by a customer who grew up in Denmark, where elderberry is a traditional culinary and medicinal plant. He told me to expect the fritters to taste like the fragrance in the blossoms. He recommended the green leaved Sambucus nigra elderberries (the type he grew up with), which he felt had more pleasant smelling blossoms. You might also enjoy the lemony fragrance of the Black Beauty S. nigra, while others may prefer the blossoms of the American cultivars, S. canadensis or S. caerulea.

Roger Yepsen, in his book “Berries” provides recipes for many of the unusual fruits offered by Raintree Nursery, including elderberry flowers.

Elderflower fritters (From a Danish Raintree Nursery customer)


  • Blossoms (clip at full open, fully fragrant stage, keeping a stem on the back)
  • Thin crepe batter (use your favorite recipe)
  • Vegetable oil

Directions: Dip the blossoms in the batter, using the stem as a handle. Fry in oil in a skillet until browned, still using that handle, there is no need to flip. Enjoy with powdered sugar, jam, or plain.

Elderflower Fritters from “Berries,” by Roger Yepsen (#S042) pg. 93

6-10 elderberry flower clusters
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup unbleached white flower
whites of two eggs
maple syrup
cooking oil as needed

Find Berries, by Roger Yepson at Raintree Nursery

Directions: Mix the milk, vanilla, egg whites, salt and sugar. Stir in the flour. Pour a few tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet. Dip the flower clusters into the batter, and fry over low heat. Add more oil as necessary. Serve warm with maple syrup.


Check out irrigation systems from Dripworks

Greenhouse irrigation system from DripWorks.

Now is a good time to look over your stored irrigation equipment and order replacement parts, or parts for new plantings going in this year.

In warmer drier locations it may already be time to install (or re-install) systems and start irrigating.

Regular irrigation of new plants is essential for establishment, and may also be necessary for mature plants to thrive. Provide enough water to penetrate the soil to 1 foot deep, then wait to irrigate until the soil has begun to dry out about 6” below the surface.

Check the moisture content of the soil by poking your finger in to a depth of about 4-6”. It is hard to sense wet or dry with your finger, but it is easy to sense temperature. If it feels cooler than the air temperature there is generally plenty of water available, if the soil feels closer to air temperature then it is time to water again.

Mulching the soil surface with bulky material, such as wood chips or straw, reduces moisture loss from the soil surface.

We purchase a lot of our drip irrigation equipment from DripWorks. Call them at 800-522-3747 and they will help you pick out what you need. The following images were provided to us by DripWorks.