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Where's Fred? Talking roses — and bargains

Tips on buying bare-root roses now in stores

Fred Hoffman portrait
Fred Hoffman now devotes
his time to his "Garden Basics"
podcast. Hear him talk this week
with Debbie Arrington about
bare-root roses. (That's one of Debbie's
prize-winning roses, Marilyn Monroe,
below. Photo by Debbie Arrington)

Where’s Farmer Fred? And are those plastic-wrapped bare-root roses really a bargain?

Both those topics converge this week on “Garden Basics with Farmer Fred,” longtime Sacramento radio host and lifetime master gardener Fred Hoffman’s new weekly podcast.

With the new year, Hoffman left the airwaves and his “Get Growing” (on KSTE) and “KFBK Garden Show” to devote more time to his podcast. And coincidentally, "Debbie Arrington of Sacramento Digs Gardening" is this week’s guest, talking about bare-root roses. Listen to that conversation here: Peach colored rose

“People can also listen to it at the podcast service of their choice,” Hoffman said of his podcast. Links to those podcast services can be found at his buzzsprout page. (Find it here: .)

As for plastic-wrapped bare-root roses, sometimes they are a good deal, especially on older non-patent varieties such as Queen Elizabeth or Mister Lincoln. Those are named roses that were originally introduced more than 27 years ago and are no longer under patent. That means sellers can offer that rose for sale without paying royalties to the patent holder, which usually means a lower price to the buyer.

Look for “Grade 1” roses. Whether plastic-wrapped or offered in sawdust-filled bins, those bare-root roses meet certain standards of size and robustness established by the American Association of Nurserymen.

This grading system only applies to field-grown, grafted roses that are at least 2 years old. Considered best, 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. 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. (They’re the runts.)

Will a Grade 2 bare-root plant become a Grade 1 bush? It depends on several factors, but likely that smaller plant will take a few years to catch up (if ever). Remember: It originally grew under the same conditions as those Grade 1 bare-roots and didn’t develop then. Will it be different in your garden?

“One should consider the purchase of a rose as carefully as one would any other piece of merchandise,” wrote Mark Whitlaw in Rose magazine, the official publication of the American Rose Society. “Would you accept a factory second if you were purchasing a fine piece of furniture?”

Regardless of grade, what you do with that rose when you first get it home is the same: Re-hydrate it. Bare-root roses are dug up in October or November. Their roots have been wrapped in plastic (or stuck in sawdust) for months. They need water – now!

Before planting your new rose bush, soak the roots in a bucket of water overnight. That will help refresh the bush and get it ready for its new home in your garden.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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