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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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For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

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

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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