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Bare your roots for roses

Now is the season to plant roses for beautiful spring and summer blooms

Posted: January 8, 2010 9:42 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Merrilee Glick examines bare root roses at Green Thumb International in Newhall. Consulting rosarians will be on hand today to advise homeowners.

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Editor's note: So, OK, people are freezing their buds off in other parts of the country - but right here in Southern California we are having the type of weather that all those people will be moving out here next year to enjoy. With this balmy weather, you may want to get out in the yard and prep things for the spring. Now is also the perfect time to pick out and plant your bare root roses because they are showing up in nurseries all over town. Such is the case at Green Thumb International in Newhall - and, today, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. there will even be rose experts from the SCV Rose Society there to advise you. Here, Master Rosarian Kitty Belendez shares her expertise on planting bare root roses.

It's that time of year again. Bare root roses have already arrived at your local nurseries and garden centers, and are just begging to be planted. Some of us have ordered our new bare root roses through mail-order catalogs, and many roses have already arrived, or are on their way. Time is of the essence, because once they arrive on our doorsteps these roses can't survive very long without being planted in soil.
New rosarians may be perplexed, or perhaps even fearful, about how to properly plant bare root roses. But, it's not so mysterious, nor are there many secrets to it.

What and where to buy
First, you need to decide which roses you want and where to purchase them. Depending upon which region you live in, it might be getting a bit late to place mail orders through catalogs. If that is the case, you will need to purchase bare root roses at your local garden centers and nurseries as soon as they arrive. Locate a good nursery that has a well-rounded selection of all types of high quality roses.

Would you prefer hybrid teas, floribundas, climbers, old garden roses, shrubs or miniatures? What colors do you like? Is fragrance an important factor? Are you concerned about disease resistance? Do you have space restrictions that would require smaller rose bushes? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before going to the nursery or ordering rose plants from a catalog.

When purchasing bare root roses, make sure they are fresh. Make your purchases as soon the bare root plants arrive at the garden centers.

Inspect the canes carefully. They should look green and healthy, and not dried up. But the roses should not be already leafing out.

The best quality plants are No. 1 grade. The higher the number, the lower the quality. For example, a No. 2 bare root rose is of fair quality and usually only has two canes; it costs less but takes much longer to mature. A No. 1 rose bush should have at least three nicely developed canes.

Avoid roses with waxed canes as they may never grow. Avoid buying the leftover plants at the end of bare root season, as they might have grown lots of foliage but no roots to support that foliage.

Where to plant
Before you order your new roses or go to the nursery, you should have a good idea of how much space in your garden will be allotted to the new roses. Will other plants need to be discarded to make room? You don't want to be caught in the predicament of bringing home more roses than you have space for. Roses love lots of sun, although some can survive in partial shade. A rose bed that has morning to midday sun with afternoon shade will provide protection from intense summer heat. Never plant roses directly underneath trees, because they will compete for nourishment and water, and the trees always win the competition.

Pre-soak your roses
As soon as you bring the new bare root rose bushes home, they must be removed from the package and soaked in water and a solution of vitamin B1 and bleach (one tablespoon of each per gallon of water). They should be soaked at least overnight, or for up to a week maximum.

The bleach helps to sanitize the plant and may prevent diseases like root gall. The vitamin B1 helps to get the plant off to a quick start and avoid shock.

Start in pots
I start all my large bare root roses in five-gallon pots filled with a light potting soil. I keep them there for three to six months before planting them into the ground permanently. This gets the roses off to a fast start because the warmth of the sun radiates around the sides of the pot, which stimulates fast root growth.

Soil prep, planting
When you're ready to plant the rose bushes, dig a nice big hole for each bush, approximately 12 to 18 inches deep and wide. Roses love good soil, so if your soil is too sandy or contains too much clay, you will have to amend it with a good planter mix or potting soil. Any brand will do. I buy whatever is on sale. Spread out the roots of the rose bush in the hole, toss in a handful of superphosphate (which is a good source of phosphorus for encouraging root development), and fill with a mixture of existing soil and potting soil. In warmer climates, do not bury the bud union of the rose bush - keep it above ground. In climates with freezing winters, you will do just the opposite: Bury the bud union of the rose for winter protection. Water the rose bush well, and if the soil sinks a bit you may have to add a little more soil or mulch on top.

The big mound
If you are planting your bare root roses directly in the ground while they are dormant, you should mound up the canes of each rose with a light mulch, such as redwood compost, for several weeks. This will keep the canes from drying out until the roots have a chance to establish themselves. The roots of the rose must be growing before they are able to support the growth of the foliage. You can practically cover the canes with compost. After several weeks, you can uncover the bushes and spread the compost around the rose bush.

When to feed
You can feed your new bare root roses when they begin to leaf out, which will be about four to six weeks after planting. Apply a well-balanced granular rose food, according to the package directions, spread around the base of each plant. Make sure the bushes have been watered well the previous day before fertilizing. For many large type roses, it can take two or three years for a bare root rose bush to reach its fullest potential.

Kitty Belendez is a master rosarian. Contact her at For more rose information, visit the Web site of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society at The Society will host a free Rose Care Seminar 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10 at the SCV Senior Center, 22900 Market St., Newhall.


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