Unlurking: Bareroot Rose ( Zone 10) question

DrPekeMomNovember 16, 2013

First off, thank you so much to those of you who post regularly. You've been tremendously helpful to me as I've been refreshing some old roses that came with the house and planting some new ones.

My question: am I just incompetent, or are bareroot starts really hard to keep alive in dry climates? I feel like I follow instructions. I soak them. I water them copiously once they are in. I put them in lovely soil. Then They die. Now, some roses just don't want to live here, and I can accept that (although I am a bitter, bitter woman about the Alexandra rose; but I am moving on gradually, as time heals my wound.).

But I have killed every single bareroot I've ever tried. Buy a container of the same plant, and those usually make it.
Any ideas?

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cecily(7 VA)

Bareroot roses vary greatly in quality. If you are purchasing them from big box stores, you need to be there on the day the roses are delivered: they dry out in the store. A new bareroot won't show any top growth -- don't buy bareroots with 'potato sprouts'. If you order bareroots from a reputable vendor, they will arrive at the appropriate planting time for your area and they tend to be larger plants. Honestly, I'd rather plant bareroots in March than canned roses in May. If you describe your procedure for planting bareroots, we can maybe figure out what you're doing wrong.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 8:16AM
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Bare roots can vary greatly in how well they have been stored. They must not be permitted to dry out, or they can very easily fail. Part of that issue belongs to the producer, part on how well they are packaged for shipping and part belongs to the person planting them. I have dealt with retail bare roots for more than three decades in the Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley/ Santa Clarita Valley areas. It's difficult to find climates much more arid than many of these can be.

What I have witnessed repeatedly has been people planting the bare roots in "good sun" without any thought given to keeping them properly hydrated until they are established. "Sprinklers", even attention with the hose, are often not sufficient when the sun is brilliant; the wind and aridity are strong; and temps can jump thirty to fifty degrees in just a few hours.

Bare root packages used to have instructions for mounding newly planted bare roots under soil printed right on them. They may still, I don't know as I've not looked at them in a while as I've not been in the market for any new budded roses.

If you live where temps remain lower, there is high humidity and it actually RAINS with any regularity, mounding is not as vital as it is where none of those assists can be relied upon. Here, mounding can make all the difference. Warm sun stimulates the plant to produce leaf, cane and flower growth. As long as there are ROOTS, not just those received attached to the plant but actual feeder roots, required to replenish the water and nutrients the plant is trying to use to grow, that's fine. But, when there are no feeder roots, the plant is going to attempt to grow instead of generating its "digestive tract", the feeder root system, utilizing the stored reserves it has to produce the feeder roots to push new leaves and flowers instead. Most often, they collapse.

Keeping the plant cool, dark and damp, the conditions usually found under ground where the plant is stimulated to produce the roots, encourages root formation instead of leaf, cane and bloom production. There are a number of different methods of mounding after planting, including methods of mounding in cans, but these few examples linked below give you the idea.

I've mounded new bare roots after planting until leaves were being vigorously pushed from the canes here for decades and I haven't lost a bare root since. Even if you receive a terribly dried out plant from a source, as long as it is still alive, it's possible to revive it simply by burying it in damp soil to help rehydrate it. Not that I would suggest not holding a source responsible for providing badly handled material, but it IS possible to save many which are thought to be finished.

Try mounding them as shown in the links below. It should help you save your efforts. Good luck. Kim

Home Depot -




Here is a link that might be useful: AARS rose planting instructions including mounding illustration

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:27AM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

I would follow what Kim posted.

I did what the local expert said, I used a paper bag instead of the trash can Kim mentioned. And the suggestion was to use mulch that had no soil in it to mound. Also suggested was to cover all but the tips of the plant (green above ground tips) and then slowly remove the mulch over the course of a month.

I will say I had much happier plants for the ones I purchased at the garden center and not the "body bags" like one might find at Home Depot or OSH.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:13AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Back in the "old days" of true bare root roses, you went out on a chilly January day and stomped around at a nursery looking for plants.

The rose plants were usually "heeled in" in big wooden shelves full of damp sawdust, and a good nursery made sure that they STAYED cool and damp, if the weather turned warm.

I haven't seen anything like that in years, but it was so cool! You could pull the plants up and choose the ones with the biggest, heftiest roots, and the plumpest, greenest canes.

Now, we get these plastic "body-bags." Inside the bag, the roots have been chopped off short (I've seen some as short as 4 inches!) and the bag stuffed with sawdust. THEN, they're laid out on shelves, inside a nice warm store. And, yeah -- some of them sit there, get some "potato shoots," and then turn black and die.

I've seen people standing in line at "big box" retailers with cartsfull of dead roses. And I learned, a long time ago, that it does no good to tell folks that the roses they're about to pay for are dead. Mostly, it just annoys them, and they buy 'em anyhow.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:52AM
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They still were through January, 2013 at Ventura Nursery on Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana. The gentleman who runs the place is, I believe, the son of the owners. His statement back in January was as long as they continued offering bare roots, this would be the way they do it. Let's hope so. Kim

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:54AM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Jeri, the local nursery I got the good bareroots from, they have rows of tubs of bareroots with damp saw dust, you can pick the one you like the best. They hand out a spreadsheets with the types they carry.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:57AM
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Thank you so much, particularly roseseek! I live in West Adams (by USC) so our temps are a *little* cooler and the water none more plentiful than Santa Clarita. I've been trying to keep the roses wet enough with the hoses, that's not doing it; I've also put up some filtered shade. Many of them arrive with the little 'potato buds' on them. I suspected there was just no way that I was keeping them wet enough, and I love the idea of the paper bag and the mounding.

Many thanks.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:58AM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

If you feel like making a drive in January up to Santa Barbara, La Sumida, off the Patterson off ramp of the 101, has the bareroots in the tubs like Jeri mentioned. You can pick the plant you want. On their website under events, they will list Rose Day when a local rosarian (usually Dan Bifano) will show how toos (free)

Usually they have Weeks, Star-Meiland and David Austin plants (not the whole catalog worth but last year about 175 different plants-plus bare root fruit trees)

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 12:38PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

I'm glad to hear of a few nurseries still offering true bare root roses. There's nothing like that, now, in our area.

Dr.PekeMom -- generally speaking, it's best to snap those "potato buds" off -- since whatever growing they do will be at the expense of the plant.

I'm REALLY hoping we'll get some rain, after the first of the year. That will make ALL of the roses happier.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 4:17PM
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You're welcome. If there isn't room where they're planted to mound them, you can also take tar paper, cardboard, even many sheets of news paper rolled into a cylinder then stapled to hold it together (or even tied with string) so you can slip them over the plants then fill with potting soil or amendment. You only want the top two or three inches of canes to poke out of the soil. Water the cylinder contents thoroughly to keep it damp and cool. When you see real new growth starting, you can gradually remove a bit of the soil every few days until you've exposed much of the canes and there are several inches of new foliage and canes. I usually then slip the cylinders off and use the remainder as mulch in the bed. If it begins raining, you can simply uncover them and let the rain do it for you. It's amazing how quickly a good rain settles the plant and successfully kick starts it into growth.

Ironically, it rained like crazy this morning on the 5 through the Newhall Pass. The 14 was bone dry and sunny and all three places I had for stops today were also dry, but the freeway, RIGHT where it's REALLY needed, was soaked. Go figure. Who knew concrete was magnetic for rain? KIm

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 7:46PM
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I'm approaching my first anniversary of growing roses in SoCal with mixed results. Here I found the soil to be horrible and in places it can be as hard as concrete so drainage can be bad. You need to do a lot of soil preparation and then use a moisture meter to check drainage and to make sure the roots are kept moist but not wet. The next problem is watering. I am positive arial watering in these conditions is not enough and it is wasteful and water here is expensive. It probably wastes at least 50 percent of the water. All my neighbors water their roses with arial systems like are used for lawns and their roses are mostly dead. I put in an emitter surface system that puts two gallons per hour at the base of the rose. None is wasted but it has to be run a lot because the water spreads out as well as sinks down. That inch of water needs to cover the entire area. It wont just stay around the roots. Third, you have to use a lot of mulch and feed with organic liquid fertilizer. I have been unable to find alfalfa pellets here but steer manure in water seems to work just fine. I have two large plastic garbage cans of steaming liquid steer manure that I use to feed my 100 roses. Once the soil is built up and humisy like it was for me in CT a lot of this wont be necessary but it is when you are first starting out. The other advice that has been given here about the quality of the bare roots was fine. I would never buy bare roots from a box store and you really can't be sure what you'll get from a mail order nursery. I got some real garbage from J&P in the past and last year I got some pretty bad ones from Hortico but they all survived and thrived if I was careful planting. Some were tiny and looked half dead but they turned into huge plants in six months.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 5:17AM
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