Many trees and perennials are sold this time of year as bare-root plants. Bare-root plants can fool the eye because they may appear dead, but they are merely dormant, with the soil removed from the roots.
Buying bare-root plants has many advantages. They are substantially cheaper than potted plants, the selection is much greater, they are easier to handle and plant, and they establish readily. Fruit trees, roses, asparagus, raspberries and strawberries are commonly offered as bare-root plants. Mail-order nurseries usually schedule shipment so that the plant will arrive at the proper planting time for your region.
Check the plants upon arrival. The roots should be moist and plump. They should smell earthy, with no mold, mildew or slime. (With bare-root roses, also inspect for green canes.) Before planting, soak the roots in water for several hours to hydrate them. Dig the planting hole in advance, allowing enough room to accommodate the width and depth of the roots. Do not amend the planting soil with fertilizer to avoid damaging the roots. Plant them as soon as possible, keeping them wrapped in wet newspaper or paper towels until then. If you can't plant within a few days, dig a small trench in the ground, lay the plant horizontally in the trench and cover the roots with soil.
If you get bare-root plants from a nursery or home improvement store, buy them as soon as the shipments arrive in late winter or early spring. Avoid plants that already have leaves.