I bought some bare root plants and I’m really having trouble identifying which end to put in the ground. Is it the many strong brown stem-like ends or the short sprouting end?
Based on your description I’d say that the brown stems are the top of the plant and the short sprouts are the roots. The roots should be fleshy and firm to the touch, while the stems may feel dry and brittle.
When live plants arrive, the first thing to do is get them out of the box immediately. Make sure everything you ordered has arrived. For plants that come already potted up, make sure that you get the outer wrapper off and see to it that the soil is moist. You may even have to put some soil back in the pot. Then place them in a shady environment for a week to ten days, until they become acclimated. Then you can plant them in their new home.
When I get bare root plants, I immediately unwrap them and check the roots for damage, which can look like anything from fungus to being dried and withered. Then I soak them in water for a few hours.
When I plant my new arrivals in the garden I give them an application of root stimulator to get them off to a good start. Just follow the directions on the root stimulator package.