Marin Master Gardeners
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Bare bones about bareroot roses

January 05, 2008
Nanette Londeree

If you've stopped in at your local nursery or home improvement center lately to check out the roses for sale, you may be a bit perplexed by what you find. Rather than healthy plants covered with voluptuous blooms, you face a veritable sea of lifeless looking, brown sticks wrapped in plastic and adorned with a picture of a sumptuous rose in bloom.

Don't be put off by the rose's winter appearance. Instead, join the legions of American gardeners who purchase nearly 60 million rose plants a year and buy them bareroot - you'll get a much better selection and big savings to boot.

Bareroot roses are dormant plants with all foliage and soil removed. The plants were harvested in the fall full of starch reserves that provide energy as they emerge from dormancy. They are light and transportable, easier to handle and plant, and generally less expensive. Dormant plants are available beginning in early winter, so you can get started planting earlier. They make a slower and better-paced transition into life in your garden as the season ramps up, adjusting without any transplant trauma.

Before you shop, think about where you want to plant the rose and the general size, shape and color. There are thousands of varieties of roses on the market, so doing a bit of homework can help you select the right rose for your planting situation. Once armed with your rose wish list, focus on the quality of the plant and its health.

Bareroot roses are graded according to the quality of their growth, their size once they leaf out and bloom and their productivity. More than 50 years ago, the American Association of Nurserymen, in association with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), developed grading standards for budded field-grown garden roses in order to standardize rose sizes and to eliminate the outrageous claims made by some retailers at the time. There are three grades: No. 1, No. 1 1/2 and No. 2. The grades identify the number and caliper (diameter) of canes on each type of rose.Ê

Specifications for Grade No. 1 require the bush to have at least three strong canes 5/16 inch in caliper or greater, branched not higher than 3 inches from the bud union (grafting point); all should have a well-developed root system. Grade No. 1 is the best; plants of this grade generally cost more than those of lower grades. While all grades will eventually grow to the same size for the variety of rose, it will take longer for the lower grades as they start with fewer, smaller canes.Ê Ê

Many nurseries and garden centers set their bareroot plants in damp peat moss or similar material that retains moisture. This allows you to inspect the entire plant before you buy. Check the canes first; they should be plump with no wrinkles, have good green color with creamy white interiors (pith) and no dried or discolored buds. The root system should be well developed, sturdy and undamaged, not dry or mushy. The entire plant should be free from damage and obvious signs of disease.

Don't buy dried-out roses. You may think that the rose bush will "perk up" when you plant it, but that's not necessarily true. Adjusting to a new environment takes a lot of energy on a rose's part. Putting it in the ground when it is already stressed decreases the odds of having a healthy, productive plant.

If you're buying a packaged rose, feel its weight. The more moisture the package holds, the heavier the container - probably a good indication that the roots haven't dried out.Ê

Some suppliers apply a thin coat of paraffin to the canes to enable them to keep the plants out of the ground and in transit for longer periods of time. Try not to buy waxed roses. They may look nice, but your plant has to grow through that wax and it may slow the development of bud eyes.

Roses should have tags to properly identify them. The tags are usually small (quarter size), weather-tough metal labels attached to the plant at the base with a twist of wire. The tag has the name of the rose (registered with the American Rose Society). Check the tag to make sure you're buying the variety you want.Ê

New varieties of roses will be patented and cost more than the nonpatented varieties. The owner of a rose patent charges the grower a fee or royalty for each rose sold, usually $1 or $2 per plant. It does not mean that the newer varieties are superior to older ones. There are many, many roses available whose patent has expired that are desirable additions to your garden. Bargain roses are always nonpatented varieties - with no royalties to pay, they can be sold at much lower prices.

For more information on selecting good roses for Marin, check out the Marin Rose Society Web site at www.marinrose.org or the American Rose Society Web site at www.ars.org.

The UC Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. The group's two books, "Bay Area Gardening" and "Gardening Among Friends," are available at local book stores. For more information about integrated pest management, contact the office at 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato, or call the Master Gardener desk at 473-4204.

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