3. Balcony Roses: A Bare-Root Rose? Or a Rose in a Pot? (March)

  by Carolyn Thomas   ♥   @HeartSisters

A rose growing in a pot looks like, as you might guess, a rose growing in a pot of soil. A bare root rose looks just like it sounds: short straight stems and a clump of roots without any soil (pictured above, left, next to a potted rose: both from the famous U.K. rose experts at Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk).

Which rose looks prettier to you? Probably NOT the bare root one – which likely explains why so many people end up buying their roses in pots.

For generations, bare root roses were the most common way that most roses were shipped from the growers. Consumer demand for rosebushes in the middle of summer heat (quite possibly the worst time of year to plant a rose, by the way) led to what we see today in our garden stores: row upon row of roses sold in pots all summer long.Here are a few tips about the differences between roses in pots and bare root roses:

– BARE ROOT ROSES come in a greater choice of varieties than roses in pots, and usually establish themselves quicker than roses in pots. This is because a bare root rose planted in the winter will be concentrating all of its plant energy into growing a strong root structure first. Very important! They’re more environmentally friendly (no need for a plastic pot) and they have a smaller carbon footprint due to smaller and lighter packaging. And they’ll require much less water during their first year of growth (very important!) 

– ROSES IN POTS that are bought and planted in the summer, however, will be putting their energy into flowering and new leaf growth – not roots.  It’s why a newly planted container rose will need a lot more regular watering and feeding until its root system is well-established. The only advantage to a container rose that I can see so far is that when you buy a rose that has some blooms already open, you can tell exactly what the flowers will look like compared to a colour photo on a plant tag that may or may not reflect the ultimate reality.

NOTE:  Bare root roses can be ordered from most garden centres at any time throughout the year but won’t be delivered until they are dormant, when it’s safe to lift them out of the soil (typically from November to March ). They really should be planted as soon as possible after you get them.  The late Peter Beales suggests that if you absolutely cannot plant them out in their permanent garden home/container for a few weeks (due to winter weather, or not enough time, or just feeling too exhausted at the moment), your roses can be heeled in” by simply piling dampened compost/soil/sawdust on top of the roots and firming up the pile a bit to provide temporary protection and to stop the roots from drying out until you can plant them properly.

At planting time, just gently remove the roses from their hole. Soak the root ball in a bucket of water for at least 30 minutes before planting. Roses are heavy feeders all summer, but if you decide to add a bit of rose fertilizer when you’re first planting, add it to the bottom of a well-churned hole, then add a couple of inches of good soil so the roots will not be in direct contact with the fertilizer before adding the rose and more soil. Water bit by bit as the soil level increases; fill the soil to just at or below the bud union (the roundish swelling part where the bare roots meet the straight stems. Follow the rose fertilizer instructions for feeding your roses throughout the growing season.

Read the next essay in this series on balcony roses:

4. Balcony Roses: Planting my First Roses


Return to my HEART SISTERS  site, or find out more about my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease.  You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).


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