The Buy Of The Week
Planting roses has not always been on my agenda. It’s funny the progression my gardening philosophy has gone through. It used to be “I’ll only grow it if I can eat it.” Then it was “Other than my veggies and herbs, anything I plant has to take care of itself because I won’t.” Finally I’ve accepted the fact that I enjoy plants for lots of reasons and sometimes a bit of TLC is good for both the plant and me. Especially when my sons, ages 7 and 2, are busy tearing the house apart. This week I bought my first non-shrub type rose: a ‘St. Patrick’ hybrid tea.
Selecting A Rose
There are lots of rose categories to sift through if you are just getting started. Shrub roses are a good starting point if you are not interested in pruning or maintenance, as many will rebloom without much pruning (although they may ultimately outgrow their allotted space without pruning) and have a high degree of disease resistance. Climbers are grown for their long trailing canes which must be supported by an arbor, trellis or fence. Floribundas produce clusters of blooms. Grandifloras produce their flowers singly at the ends of the stems. Hybrid tea roses, as the name implies, are crosses of species that are selected for various flower attributes such as form, color or fragrance; or for qualities of the plant such as heat tolerance, disease resistance, or even the color of the foliage.
When you know the category you are going for, make sure the particular specimen you choose is right for your needs. Before you buy it, ask these questions:
- Does it bloom once per season (if so, how long?), or is it a rebloomer?
- How large does it grow?
- Is it disease highly disease resistant?
- Will my climate affect the bloom color, or length of bloom (heat can fade the color or make the blooms “cycle” rapidly)?
- When and how should I prune it?
Bare Root Roses Versus Potted Roses
When you are planting roses, there are two choices: bare root or potted. Bare root roses are a year or two old, that is they have grown for a year or two after the root and scion were grafted. Good bare root roses will have a well healed graft union (the swollen area where the roots and stems meet), and have a relative balance of root mass and cane. If you have your choice, buy roses with canes that fan out evenly. They should be planted in fall, winter or very early spring while they are dormant.
Potted roses are usually about the same age, maybe a year older than bare root roses. They will normally be grown out when you buy them, so it may be difficult to see cane structure. Look for a well shaped plant that is not loose in its roots, meaning if you wiggle the top of the rose the pot should wiggle too. Never buy any plant just because it’s loaded with flowers. Potted roses may be planted year round, as long as the soil is not frozen.
If you buy a rose in a “plantable pot,” as I did, don’t try to remove the pot. Two reasons for this are (1) the rose may not be well rooted and the rootball will fall apart, or (2) the rose may be well rooted and grown into the walls of the pot, in which case you will damage the plant. Take care to cut through the fiber in several places to speed up the deterioration of the pot and allow roots to freely explore the surrounding soil. Plant the pot so that the soil surface within the pot is a touch above the surrounding soil. Otherwise site preparation and planting are the same as for other potted roses.
Preparing The Site
Roses prefer full sun, but some varieties will tolerate a fair amount of shade and still perform well. Dig the hole 2-3 times the width of the pot (or root mass of bare root plants), and an inch or so less than the depth of the pot. (I always dig a shallow hole to hedge against soil settling which would create a depression.) Add equal parts mushroom compost and soil conditioner to the native soil. Use a starter fertilizer according to manufacturers directions (I use Sure Start directly in contact with the roots).
Container plants are removed from their pots (except for plantable pots), the roots gently teased out to fray the rootball. Place the rootball in the hole and backfill with amended soil, firming the soil as you go. Form dam around the perimeter of the newly planted rose to retain water.
Bare root plants should have their roots fanned out in all directions. Place the rootmass on a mound of amended soil so that the graft will be above the soil line when planted. Backfill the hole with amended soil, firming as you go. Form dam around the perimeter of the newly planted rose to retain water.
Remember to Mulch
Mulch is particularly helpful in cooling the soil, retaining soil moisture and hindering weed growth; until you mulch, you haven’t finished planting. Roses benefit from organic mulch, as it gradually decays and provides food and shelter for beneficial critters that live at and under the soil line. Gardeners in cooler climates may prefer stone mulch, but in the South it may retain and radiate too much heat for roses.