Holding bare-root roses

Judith Adam

Updated on:

'Felicite Parmentier' roses. (Photo courtesy of Pickering Nurseries)

During this past week of wind and freezing temperatures, my order of bare-root roses arrived, including double pink ‘Felicite Parmentier’ (4 x 4 feet / 1.2 x 1.2 m, Zone 5), a hardy Alba that tolerates light shade. (I selected non-remontant, summer-blooming shrubs, because they bloom before Japanese beetles mature and become hungry.)

'Felicite Parmentier' roses. (Photo courtesy of Pickering Nurseries)
‘Felicite Parmentier’ roses. (Photo courtesy of Pickering Nurseries)

The soil had a frozen crust, the midday temperatures hovered around freezing and there was lots of wind—not the best circumstances for planting roses! I want to hold the roses for about five days before planting, so they needed some careful handling. I opened the box in the garage and found the roses wrapped in two layers of heavy plastic bags. Their roots were moist and healthy, and some of the canes had started growing, with sprouts two inches (5 cm) long.

First, I dampened some newspaper with a spray of water and wrapped it around the roots to provide a moist atmosphere, and keep them away from the plastic. Then came the hard part—removing the shoots. Growing shoots will try to draw moisture from the roots, and while out of the ground, roots have little ability to service emerging new growth. Removing the shoots relieves stress on the rose shrub, and there are plenty more buds on the canes that will sprout once the plants are in the ground.

I put the shrubs with their wrapped roots back in the plastic bag and loosely folded the top over, leaving plenty of open folds for air circulation. In the dark, unheated garage, they’ll be held at about 4°C and likely won’t mind a little more sleep before making their garden debut.

When I do start planting the roses, I’ll be sure to spread a protective leaf mulch over their crowns and short canes to prevent wind and sunburn. They need to harden their surface tissues to withstand the turbulent spring air. I won’t provide any fertilizer, as they don’t have foliage to process it, but will add composted manure and alfalfa pellets to the soil, and give them a big drink of water. Those Japanese beetles are going to be so disappointed!


Other posts by Judith this week:

Posts by Judith last week:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 thoughts on “Holding bare-root roses”

  1. Hi Judith,

    When I went to prune my climbing Blaze rose I found that on almost all of the horizontal canes, the shoots were all smaller than a pencil in size. In the Garden Making magazine re. pruning, you say to cut off all of these? Will new buds come from the thicker horizontal canes that will flower?


    • Hi Eleanor (April 10),

      Well, that might seem like a dilemma, but I think it will probably work out fine. Look along the main horizontal canes for any reddish buds that haven’t yet sprouted. If you find some, those will definitely grow when stimulated by cutting the smaller shoots. There will also be dormant buds on the thicker canes you can’t see, and they will also sprout when stimulated by pruning. Cutting the thin sprouts should stimulate new, heavier growth from the horizontal canes. But if you’re uneasy about that, you might like to hedge your bets, and cut half the thinner shoots, leaving the other half to develop flower buds. You can watch how the shrub reacts.

      It sounds like this ‘Blaze’ shrub could use some beefing up with fertilizer in May, hopefully to produce thicker wood. I would also be sure to give it a cup of Epsom salts, scratched in over the roots, which should trigger new wood growth. ‘Blaze’ likes to grow in a bright, sunny location, and that will also contribute to strong wood growth.

      So much of rose pruning is a balance between the gardener’s tender concerns, and the shrub’s pragmatic plan to produce seeds any way it can. No matter how ruthless you are in pruning, that rose is going to persevere and make flowers. Pruning influences how many flowers, and where they will appear. If the main canes are held at a near horizontal angle, you should get lots of blooms.

      I have a soft spot for ‘Blaze’ roses. I once lived in a neighbourhood where many ‘Blaze’ had been planted in front yards. It was wonderful to walk around in early summer, and see them all blazing away!

      — Judith

  2. Hi Pam,

    I feel your pain! I have similar problems with Japanese beetles, and there are no easy or effective ways to eliminate them. But there are some strategies that can make your garden less attractive to them.

    First, remove plants that they are absolutely devouring. In my garden, that was the aronia shrubs, which were completely skeletonized. The beetles were also eating every rose blossom, so I removed the repeat-blooming roses that flower all season, and replaced them with summer-blooming roses that flower only once, early enough to miss the beetle feeding stage.

    Try to plant the garden with food the beetles don’t favour. Ohio State University offers this list of plants that Japanese beetles don’t eat: ageratum, arborvitae, ash, baby’s breath, garden balsam, begonia, bleeding heart, boxwood, buttercups, caladium, carnations, Chinese lantern plant, cockscomb, columbine, coralbells, coralberry, coreopsis, cornflower, daisies, dogwood (flowering), dusty miller, euonymus, false cypresses, firs, forget-me-not, forsythia, foxglove, hemlock, hollies, hydrangeas, junipers, kale (ornamental), lilacs, lilies, magnolias, maple (red and silver only), mulberry, nasturtium, oaks (red and white only), pines, poppies, snapdragon, snowberry, speedwell, sweetpea, sweet William, tulip tree, violets, pansies and yews. Of course, there’s no telling what a hungry Japanese beetle will chew on, but these plants purportedly aren’t to their taste.

    Don’t use the Japanese beetle traps! They are meant for monitoring large areas, and will attract hordes of beetles with pheromone lures contained in a bait bag, far more insects than you would normally have in your garden. From the time you first notice the beetles on plants, they will be feeding for 30 to 50 days. You can go around the garden once or twice a day, knocking the beetles into a can of soapy water. If female beetles are allowed to survive, they are each capable of laying 50 eggs!

    Invite birds (and their nestlings) into the garden by providing bird baths. I have three, and that ensures lots of nesting birds with babies just waiting for juicy beetles.

    Japanese beetle populations are affected by environmental conditions. They overwinter under lawns and, unfortunately, with the warm winter we’ve had, many will survive to enjoy a good meal in the garden. Get ready!

    — Judith

  3. I love your columns Judith, as well as the magazines, which are read over and over again.
    You mention Japanese beetles. They swarmed my poor garden last year eating everything in sight. Can you give me some ideas to control them? Thank you.


Leave a Comment