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The Leaflet Archive

Selecting bare root roses

  • Like fruit trees, bare root roses are available in nurseries in winter
    Like fruit trees, bare root roses are available in nurseries in winter
    If you’ve stopped in at your local nursery or home improvement center lately to check out the roses advertised 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 these rose’s winter appearance! Instead, join the legions of American gardeners who purchase nearly 60 million rose plants a year and buy them bare root—you’ll get a much better selection and big savings to boot.

    What are bare root roses and why are they a smart choice?
    Bare root roses are dormant plants with all foliage and soil removed. The plants are harvested in fall and are full of starch reserves that provide energy as they emerge from dormancy. They are light and transportable, making them easier to handle and plant, and are generally less expensive than established roses. 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 go shopping, do some homework
    Before you head out to shop, think about where you want to plant any new roses and the general size, shape and color you’re looking for. 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 situation. Once armed with your rose wish list and ready to shop, focus on the quality of the plant and its health when choosing plants to purchase.

    The grading system for bare root roses
    Bare root roses are graded according to the quality of their growth, their size once they leaf out and bloom, and their productivity. Over 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: #1, #1½, and #2. The grades identify the number and caliper (diameter) of canes on each type of rose. Specifications for Grade #1 require the bush to have at least three strong canes 5/16 inch in caliper or greater, branched not higher than three inches from the bud union (grafting point); all should have a well-developed root system. Grade #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.

    Key things to look for

    Bare root roses are easy to transport and plant
    Bare root roses are easy to transport and plant
    Many nurseries and garden centers set their bare root 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; 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 just 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.

    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.

    Check out the tag
    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.

    Why new varieties cost more
    New varieties of roses will be patented and cost more than the non-patented varieties. A rose patent’s owner charges the grower a fee or royalty for each rose sold, usually a dollar or two 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 non-patented varieties: with no royalties to pay, they can be sold at much lower prices.

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

    Original article by Nanette Londeree for the Marin Independent Journal
    Edited for the Leaflet by Julie McMillan
    Photos courtesy of UC Regents