Expert Tips

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From David Austin Roses comes the creamy white English Rose called Claire Austin.
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Michale Marriott, technical manager of David Austin Roses, offers tips on how to plant bare root roses.
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From David Austin Roses comes the English Rose 'Grace' with its apricot flowers.
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From David Austin Roses, gardeners now have the choice to order own-root roses.

Those unfamiliar
with bare root roses might be taken aback when first unpacking them. Far from
the lush, delicious rose bush envisioned, bare root roses arrive looking, well …
dead. Take heart – though that clump of sticks with roots attached might seem
vulnerable and uninspiring – once planted, these humble twigs grow fast and in
no time become leafy bushes ready to burst into bloom. To give them the right
start, just follow some simple steps.

“When planting
roses, care up front pays off over the long run,” says rose expert Michael
Marriott of David Austin Roses in Shropshire,
“Getting it right is so remarkably easy that it’s a shame to unwittingly spoil
the day.”

First and foremost,
bare root roses are all about root growth, says Marriott. “It’s critical to
plant during the right planting window for your region, not too early, not too
late, so the plant can establish strong roots before the leaves appear and
demand their share of energy.

“This is where
bare root roses have an advantage over container roses,” Marriott says.
“Container roses must adapt from being in a nursery pot where they are watered
regularly to being planted in the ground and probably not getting such a steady
water supply. Plus, bare root roses don’t have any leaves to support when first
planted. This allows the plant to focus on root development first, then shoots,
which is more leisurely for the plant.”

The right time
to plant says Marriott is once soil thaws and is still cool, not overly-wet and
clammy, and while daytime temperatures are still under 70 degrees F. Typically
the right time to plant bare root roses in any area is in the period spanning
six weeks prior to the last local frost through two weeks afterwards. Good
mail-order firms make it their business to ship bare root roses to recipients
at just the right time for planting locally.

Following are
additional bare root rose planting tips from Michael Marriott:

•           Check it Out. Upon receipt, open the
package to check the condition of any new bare root roses. The plant and roots
should arrive with an outer wrapping of plastic to retain moisture. The roots
must be damp (not dried out) at planting or the rose will not thrive.

•           Rewrap Until Planting. After
inspection, reseal the wrappings and store in a cool frost-free area until
planting day. Keep them as cold as possible without letting them freeze. Don’t
ever store in a heated room.

•           Clip off any damaged bits. Even
well-packed roses can be jostled in shipping. At planting time, clip off any
roots or stems that are broken or damaged.

•           Soak ’em High. When ready to plant,
remove from wrappings and soak the roses in cool clean water for several hours
or overnight. Submerge the roots totally. You can even submerge the entire
plant (roots and canes). If you don’t get your roses out of the drink right
away, don’t worry. While not optimal, it’s usually not a deal breaker if roses
end up in the soup for a few days, or even a week if circumstances dictate. Just
get them in the ground as soon as you can.

•           Choose a Sunny Spot. Says Marriott,
“Of course, roses love full sun but most will thrive and bloom happily with
four hours or more of good sun daily. Too many people worry that roses must
have full sun or else. But that’s one of those old rules that keeps getting
recycled and is just not relevant to shrub roses these days. Certainly for
English Roses, four hours plus is plenty.” For those planting in the hottest
driest areas, for example in Phoenix,
give roses some afternoon shade for best results, he adds.

•           Dig a good hole. Plant one rose per
hole, deep enough so that the rose can be positioned properly relative to the
soil surface.

•           About positioning. Most roses are
sold as grafted plants with a featured rose variety grafted onto the roots of
an exceptionally hardy rootstock, most often that of Rosa ‘Dr. Huey’. When
planting, the fat joint where the stem meets the roots should be positioned at
soil surface (in warmer areas) or two to three inches below surface (in zones
colder than USDA Zone 6). For those who choose roses labeled “own root” (an
option sometimes offered, especially in colder areas), position the juncture of
the main stem and roots at ground level.

•           Add Compost. When planting roses,
it’s smart to amend the soil from the planting hole with some well-rotted
organic matter (garden compost or manure). Per Marriott, this step is must do –
and make sure it is aged and well rotted, he says.

•           Fill in the soil. Once the rose is
positioned, back fill the hole with the soil and compost mix. Make sure the
soil is in contact with the roots by gently pushing the soil firmly around and
in between the roots. Says Marriott, forget that old “cone of soil” bare root
planting routine. The key is to work the soil with your hands to ensure
root-to-soil contact and eliminate any air pockets.

•           Spread mulch. Top the garden bed with
a layer of mulch two to three inches deep to help keep soil cool and retain
soil moisture while roots get established and throughout the growing season.

•           Water well. Roses are thirsty and
benefit from regular watering. Water in well when first planted (but don’t
overdo it and drown the plants! Roots cannot properly grow in super-saturated
muck). Once growth commences, water regularly. Depending upon rainfall in your
area, it is recommended to water roses at least once a week.

•           Feed periodically. Repeat-flowering
roses, such as David Austin English Garden Roses, consume large amounts of
nutrients. For optimal performance feed periodically with organic or slow
release fertilizers, following the product instructions.

•           Protect over winter. Especially as
winter looms in colder areas, USDA Zones 5 and below, add four or more inches
of organic matter around the base of each rose to provide winter protection.

•           Three’s Company. One last tip from
Marriott: If one rose bush is lovely, three is often more so, especially in
larger roomier gardens. “We recommend planting English Garden Roses in groups
of three, positioned in a triangle and spaced about 18 inches apart – or two
feet apart in warmer areas,” says Marriott. “Planting them like this allows the
three bushes to knit together to create one very full, lush planting. It’s
definitely a look I love for David Austin Roses. It’s excellent for most shrub
roses,” he adds.