Columnists : Joan Swenson

Friday, Feb 06 2009 02:06 PM

Joan Swenson: Roses are easy, but have to pick the right ones

I see the bare root roses at the nurseries in the winter and I tell myself, no, no, no. No room for more roses — I have plenty.

If you have the space, roses are wonderful plants with a huge variety of flower shapes, colors, scents and plant forms, from the creeping ground cover roses to the hybrid teas and from miniatures to tree roses.

Roses are easy to grow. People in other parts of the country may have to treat their roses for fungi or protect them from the snow. In Bakersfield, the only disease I’ve had a problem with is a tiny touch of powdery mildew, not enough to bother treating. I get a few aphids in the spring, but they go away when it gets warm. Roses bloom beautifully in the spring and fall, although they slow down in the wicked heat of summer.

Mostly I see “bare root” roses with their roots tightly packed in plastic bags and sold on racks at nurseries these days, although White Forest Nursery still sells a huge number of “true” bare root roses (plus fruit and ornamental trees, some bare root vegetables including artichokes and a variety of bare root berries). Bare roots at White Forest are packed in wooden bins with moist sawdust. You pluck the plant out of the sawdust and have it packed in a plastic bag with some more sawdust to keep it moist for the trip home.

Roses pre-packed in plastic bags do well, too. Plants that are properly stored outdoors during bare root season are the best; they may have started to sprout some greenery, but aren’t producing lots of new, full growth. Stored outdoors, the roses will be acclimated and ready for your yard.

Some nonnurseries display and sell roses indoors, causing them to produce cold-sensitive foliage that may die back when you put the plants outside. I bought some half-price roses that had been stored indoors one year, which had grown lots of weak, soft foliage. The roses never did well; some canes died and I finally pulled them.

Some people say they want “patented” roses when they probably mean they want the highest quality roses available. A patented rose is one that’s been specially bred and, as a result, commands a higher price. When the patent runs out, any producer may grow the rose. Some of the most famous roses are out of patent, including famous “Peace.”

Roses are graded according to the number of canes and their diameter. Best is a Grade 1 or a Grade 11⁄2 . Grade 1 roses have three or more canes that are three-quarters of an inch or larger in diameter. Grade 11⁄2 will have two canes and will catch up in growth to the Grade 1 plants. Avoid Grade 2 roses.

Dig a hole for your rose big enough to comfortably fit the roots; build a cone-shaped mound in the middle to support the plant and arrange the roots over the mound. Backfill the hole, tamping it carefully and, if necessary, raising the plant so the bud union remains above the soil level. Build a watering trough and fill with water. Until it gets warmer, you will not have to worry much about watering. Wait until March to fertilize.

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