What is a Bare Root Rose?
Roses are grown for about eighteen months outside in fields, then lifted from the soil between late autumn and early spring. Bare root roses are sold without having been potted, so once lifted from the ground, the soil is removed, the top cut back and the rose packaged and sold. This can only take place when the roses are dormant, any attempt to do it during the growing season would mean a lot of plant losses.
Before the extremely cold winters of the early 1960s, nearly all roses were sold bare root during the autumn and winter. Pots were made of clay, DPD and Parcel Force didn't yet exist, and the postal service couldn't handle them. So when growers were left with their roses unsold (because the frozen soil meant that lifting was impossible), they had to think of something... They potted them up, grew them on and sold them in pots.
Bare root roses are:
- Less expensive to buy (no pot, compost and reduced labour) and cheaper to package / deliver
- More environmentally friendly (no plastic pot to dispose of and no peat based compost used)
- A proven way to buy roses which establish just as well as potted roses (so long as a few basic rules are followed)
There are a few drawbacks to rare root roses:
- The planting season is limited (usually between November and the end of February, depending on the weather)
- There can be occasional plant failures
- There are no leaves, shoots or flowers so they don't look as attractive as a potted rose (as a gift for example)
- They do not allow the gardener as much flexibility (and instant impact) as a potted rose
Tips for success when planting Bare Root Roses
It's important to remember that although a bare root plant looks pretty lifeless, they are just the opposite and need the same attention as a potted plant during planting for best results.
- It's all about the roots, they are the rose's lifeline, but they are also the most vulnerable part of the rose. The tops are more hardy and resistant to freezing weather.
- Open the packaging as soon as possible after arrival. If you can't plant yet, make sure the roots don't get dry and keep in a cool, dark place.
- Before planting, soak the rose roots in a bucket of water for a few hours.
- Dig a large planting hole, improved with manure / compost and with fertiliser added.
- Spread the roots out and backfill the hole with fine soil, making sure there is good contact with the root and firm the ground gently.
- Plant with the union of the rootstock and graft about an inch above finished soil level.
- Mulch around the plant with compost or manure if available to about 25/30 cm radius.
We're often asked about frost and bare root roses; people are concerned that the plant will get damaged. As long as the soil can be handled well, the plants are much better off in the ground because the tops are tough, but the roots less so. Suppose after planting there is a period of cold weather, the soil may freeze to a depth of a couple of inches, but below that the soil remains relatively warm, so there is no chance of root damage. In fact, even in cold weather, the roots will slowly start to grow, even though the top stays dormant, meaning good establishment ready for the rose to flourish in warmer weather.