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How to shop for a new rose bush

Look at the roots — if you can

red rose
This beauty is an Olympiad rose. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Bare-root season is when rose lovers go shopping. Now appearing in local nurseries (or coming soon) are bare-root rose bushes, ready for planting.

“Bare-root” means just what it says; the roots are bare and free from soil. Since roots will determine the strength of future growth, it’s an opportunity to check them out – as well as the above-ground portions of the plant.

These mature rose bushes, at least 2 years old and often older, were “harvested” in October or early November. That’s when they were dug out of fields, often here in California’s Central Valley. (Arizona and Texas also are major rose bush producers.) After harvest, the bushes were placed in cold (not freezing) storage with their roots loosely packed in sawdust or straw. That helps the roots retain their moisture.

Displayed in nurseries, the bare-root bushes often are still standing in sawdust. When browsing, choose a bush with at least three strong canes. Then, pull it out of the sawdust and look at the roots. Ideally, there should be at least three strong roots to match the canes above ground.

What if you can’t see the roots? That’s the case with plastic-wrapped bare-root roses, sold at nurseries as well as home improvement centers and supermarkets. That’s when you have to rely on grades.

Field-grown grafted rose bushes are graded on a scale established by the American Association of Nurseryman. “Grade 1” roses are considered the best.

Under these rules, the Grade 1 standard for hybrid teas includes at least three strong canes (with two at least 18 inches long), well spaced around the graft – where the rootstock connects to the budwood. Grade 1-1/2 roses have two strong canes. Grade 2 roses are overall smaller in size with at least two canes, 12 inches long.

Wrapped or unwrapped, what you do with that rose when you first get it home is the same: Re-hydrate it. That bush is thirsty.

Before planting your new rose bush, soak the roots in a bucket of water overnight. If weather conditions or your garden soil are too wet to plant, the bare-root bush can stay in water for several days.

For more on roses including new varieties, check out the American Rose Society website at .


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Nov. 27

Before the rain comes later in the week, take advantage of sunny, calm days:

* This may be your last chance this season for the first application of copper fungicide spray to peach and nectarine trees. Leaf curl, which shows up in the spring, is caused by a fungus that winters as spores on the limbs and around the tree in fallen leaves. Sprays are most effective now, but they need a few days of dry weather after application to really “stick.” If you haven’t yet, spray now.

* Rake and compost leaves, but dispose of any diseased plant material. For example, if peach and nectarine trees showed signs of leaf curl this year, clean up under trees and dispose of those leaves instead of composting.

* Make sure storm drains are clear of any debris.

* Give your azaleas, gardenias and camellias a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim chrysanthemums to 6 to 8 inches above the ground after they’re done blooming. Keep potted mums in their containers until next spring. Then, they can be planted in the ground, if desired, or repotted.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while dormant.

* Plant bulbs for spring bloom. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Other suggestions: daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas.

* Seed wildflowers including California poppies.

* Also from seed, plant sweet pea, sweet alyssum, bachelor buttons and other spring flowers.

* Plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from winter rains.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cool-season greens can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* If you decide to use a living Christmas tree this year, keep it outside in a sunny location until Christmas week. This reduces stress on the young tree.

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