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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 Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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