Heeling-in bare root trees and hedging
If you can’t plant your tree or hedging on the same day it’s delivered, don’t worry. Here’s what to do.
Temporarily plant your trees/hedging in a (well-drained) hole or trench, covering over with earth, compost or sand. This is called heeling-in. Try to shake the trees a little to make sure the earth etc. gets between all the roots. No need to unbundle multiple plants if they arrive tied up together, but it can be easier to untie larger trees.
The idea is to stop the roots drying out and protect them from frost, so you could also keep them in a big pot filled with soil/compost, or even damp woodchip if this is available. As with planting, try to avoid burying the trunk at all – you just want to cover the roots. If rabbits are a problem, use suitable protection.
If using a trench, you can put the trees at an angle, just covering over the roots. If space is limited and you have to keep them upright, you may need to use something to tie the trees into – perhaps a conveniently located fence post?
In the case that the ground is completely frozen, just keep the trees in their polythene bags (adding a little water if they look dry) in a cold but frost-free place such as shed or garage. This is a last resort, not as good as heeling-in, but will suffice for a short time until you can heel-in or plant.
Trees in containers
Trees and shrubs in containers can be kept in their pot for a few weeks, though you will need to water every day in spring and summer. Smaller pots tend to dry out more quickly, so especially keep an eye on them. Keeping things upright when the wind is blowing is another issue – try to brace them somehow, making sure the trunk won’t be rubbing on anything that could damage it (use rubber ties, not string).