Do bareroot dormant plants need to breathe?

I have a bunch of random plants i want to bareroot and heel for the winter. I’m thinking that one option could be a large cooler, half full with dirt, set them in, close the lid, and wait for spring to come. Would the sealed environment be an issue?

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That sounds like a recipe for rot… but i am interested to see the answers myself.

If i may… i have a similar question- Do bare root dormant plants need water?

I bought a bunch of perennials from Hirts over the winter… and every plant came in dormant and the roots were dry as a bone…like zero moisture.

All lived and came back to life in the spring.

I have also bought bare root blackberries and raspberries that the nursery said that they keep them in coolers… so obviously no water there either. all lived.

Final note. I bought several bushel baskets of bare root blackberries from a local years ago. He just put them in straw and left them outside… all winter. All of them lived.

I put about 30 bare root blackberry plants in a tub with holes in the bottom and topped the tub off with leaves and left it outside all winter… all of them died and were rotted in the spring.

So hoping to dial in this science myself. So far i know that dry and straw works. Not sure of the other variables.

I’m in Alaska, they’ll be pretty much frozen for the duration so no much chance for rot.

Commercial growers have humidity controlled environments so even if they looked dry they were kept at the right humidity and dirt-less. For lack of one of those we rely on moist dirt.

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Yes they need water if humidity is low. You should never let roots dry out. Sure some seem fine but if left dry too long they will die.
As far as healing in they don’t really need to be sealed. One worries about creating an anaerobic environment. Make sure they are mostly horizontal to keep them dormant. For some reason when not vertical they tend to stay dormant.

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I’m thinking about closing the lid in order to keep temperatures more stable. I’m wondering about respiration because here it is over six months of dormancy.


I’d make sure they can breath. There’s some respiration going on even when they’re dormant. Metabolic processes are dialed way back, but not entirely stopped. Maybe put them in a covered trench if that’s an option?


Agree with Jay, the trench method uses the insulation quality of the earth. You could try healing them in with wet spagnum moss and allow an air space between the plants and ground surface to allow adequate ventilation. Top of trench could be easily covered with insulating materials. You may need to experiment with a couple methods to see what works best in your extreme climate.
Kent, wa

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The problem is that here once the ground is frozen chances are it will stay that way until May. And I mean frozen solid. If I heel them in a sunny area (one of my raised beds) the January meltdown flood them and put a cap of ice on top. If I heel them in a shady spot they will be frozen in place for the duration.

I figure using a cooler would allow me to access them earlier for indoor potting. I could drag it into the sun, or just throw in my small heat pad to slowly pump heat into it.

With dormant fruit trees I have found it is a balance with moisture. Too much moisture and the roots rot and destroy the tree. The first year I bought fruit trees I watered a lot due to me hearing fruit trees are protected by watering. I ended up killing 3/5 trees and when I dug them up there was a bunch of white fungus around the roots. If left to totally dry out they die. What I have learned to do is let the snow naturally water the plants and don’t grow them in terracotta pots. Terracotta is too drying and is too temperature variant. Nothing seems to survive terracotta but cold season annuals like cabbage or lettuce. If OP wants to move them I recommend getting large grow bags or plastic pots (grow bags are cheaper and less heavy) and water until winter. Once it is winter the snow will water it enough and it will come back out of dormancy come last frost date.

I do overwinter pots. I have an empty raised bed against a wall, Once it gets a blanket of snow they usually stay covered until the spring.

This is more for developing propagation techniques. The workflow I’m trying to sort out involves raising first year plants on propagation boxes, barerooting them for winter storage, then pulling them in the spring for either pots or propagation beds.

In the spring I actually started 40 to 50 willow cuttings for experiments Where I didn’t want to risk more desirable plants (sorry willows). I think I’m going to hermetically seal about half of them on a cooler, see how they like it come spring.

These are the volunteers:

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I still have around 10 or so wicking tubs from several years ago. I heeled in some mulberries and blackberries last winter and they all lived… The tubs are pretty cheap at walmart around $9 or so. I still dont know if having just the tubs with big holes in the bottom would be better or worse than the wicking tubs which hold about 4 inches of water in the bottom.

Still trying to dial in the medium… i know that straw works at least i have seen it work. Wondering if sawdust or sawdust manure would work. Woodchips?

Leaves did not work for me… but i did cover the whole plant with them… so maybe the breathing part of your question was why.

Sawdust is too dense and with a propensity to saturate, I would not use it. You basically want a soil with high moisture level but one that you can’t squeeze water out of it.

Honestly in ground is the most ideal; temperature and humidity control are provided by the soil itself. Just about any half decent media would maintain proper humidity levels. On-pot heeling is always problematic because they tend to dry out and are more susceptible to changes in temperature. All that can be dealt with but it means a lot more fussing over them.

If I didn’t have the issue where my soil is frozen solid until mid May I would just heel them all on my compost/dirt pile.

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