From Georgia to Quebec to my currently frigid Wisconsin, it’s time to plant bare root roses.
If the ground is thawed and you can dig a hole, plant! April and the first two weeks of May are the perfect time, no matter where you live.
I prefer bare root roses, because there are infinitely more varieties available versus those growing in a nursery can. And, most roses grown on their own roots are only offered as bare root. Grafted roses (varieties or cultivars that are grafted on to a quick-growing, disease-resistant rootstock) die back to that rootstock during my harsh winters. The rootstock sprouts, but it’s not the rose I bought. Some winters even the rootstock will perish when it stays below zero for days. With own-root roses, the rootstock is the rose you buy when there is die-back.
Photo courtesy of David Astin Roses.
Tips & Tactics
• When you get your bare root rose, take it out of the package and soak it in a bucket of warm water for at least six hours, preferably overnight. Dig a generous hole about a foot wide and deep and create a soil mound about six inches high in the bottom of the hole. Spread the rose roots around the mound and fill in the hole. If you are planting a grafted rose, make sure the graft (knobby spot on the main stem) is at least an inch above the soil line. Otherwise, the rootstock will take over.
The only way I could have antique rose Therse Bugnet is a bareroot plant, grown on its on roots. A grafted one would have froze out during my frigid winters.
• Scatter rabbit food in around the bush and scratch it in. Rabbit food or pellets is popular among rosarians because it’s a cheap source of alfalfa meal, which supplies a hefty dose of slow-release nitrogen and trace elements to plants. Alfalfa also contains a growth stimulant.
• Scratch two tablespoons of Epsom salts into the soil around plants when they are in full leaf; the salts make flower colors more intense. The magnesium in them also helps to promote the formation of basal canes at ground level.
Epsom salts help roses like this Lady Elsie May in my garden to develop rich, deep colors.
• Dump coffee grounds and used tea bags around roses. They both slightly acidify the soil, which roses love. Banana skins can be buried at the base of plants, too, for a dose of magnesium. You can even bury entire, black mushy bananas when they are past the eating stage.
• If deer and gophers are a problem in your garden, confuse them with lavender. Grow plants among the roses to muddy the flowers’ aroma, which attracts deer. When planting rose bushes, throw a handful of dried, crushed lavender into the planting hole to thwart gophers.