Choosing and planting bare-root roses
Everyone loves a rose, and November to mid March is a good time to plant bare-root roses, so that they romp away when the warm weather comes. The trick for choosing them and growing them at their best is to pick the right position for the right rose for your garden.
There are so many roses that it’s no wonder people get confused. What’s the difference between a rambler and a climber, or a modern shrub rose and an old rose? What is an ‘English rose’? Is there a rose that be grown by the sea, or on a steep bank, or as ground-cover? Are any roses suitable for hedging? What conditions do roses like? What about pruning? And how do you plant bare root roses? I’ll try to answer these questions in the rest of this blog
Rambler Roses have long, flexible stems, and tend to flower in one awe-inspiring flush at midsummer, although some, like crimson Excelsa, repeat sporadically. They bear masses of small, pretty, often double flowers; many, like salmon-pink Albertine, are highly scented. These are the roses to grow up a sturdy tree or over a large pergola. Most are large – pink Paul’s Himalayan Musk can reach 36’, and white Kiftsgate can top 50’ – but smaller ones, like Excelsa, Albertine and white, single-flowered Francis E Lester, can easily be trained on along a wall. With their naturalistic habit, these roses are gorgeous in large or wilder gardens. Ramblers are easy to look after – apart from a little tying in to help them on their wild way, they can be pruned by simply cutting out a few older stems at the base. And don’t write off the once-flowering kind; simply grow a late-flowering viticella-type clematis through it to take over flowering duties in late summer; choose one with a colour to suit the rose, as they can overlap – a stunning sight.
Climbers are generally smaller, although the lovely, thornless Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae Lutea) is absolutely enormous. Climbers usually repeat in flushes, and come in every colour, shape, scent and size. These are the roses to train on a wall, either as a fan or along horizontal wires; this encourages flowering. They usually have a stiffer habit than ramblers, making a permanent framework from which flowering stems grow. Some, like richly scented, salmon-pink Compassion are so stiff that they are better grown up pillars or pergola-supports. More flexible ones, like pretty, silver-pink New Dawn, often seen on house walls, can be also trained over an arch or pergola. If you want a rose for a (big) north-facing wall or other shady spot, try creamy-white, pink-flushed, beautifully scented Mme Alfred Carrière. Zéphirine Drouhin, much smaller, thornless, and fabulously scented, repeats well and is a wonderful shocking pink; this rose also tolerates shade and is better trained up a pillar than on a wall. Climbing roses do need to be trained and pruned, and, like all repeat-flowering roses, must be dead-headed if they’re to repeat well.
Modern shrub roses – hybrid teas, with their beautifully shaped buds and flowers borne singly on the stems, and floribundas, with masses of clustered flowers, were developed from the repeating, more variously coloured China roses. They come in a huge range of colours, flower-shapes and sizes, and repeat in flushes. These are the roses for a formal rose-garden, and for borders, where they’re especially attractive when under-planted with sun-loving perennials and sub-shrubs like hardy geraniums or dwarf lavenders; this is particularly important for hybrid teas, which can be leggy. Peace is a good, healthy hybrid tea rose, soft yellow with warm pink edges, and copper-orange Just Joey is very fragrant, repeats well, and, at just over 2’, can be grown in a container.
Floribundas are the ones to choose for colour all summer long, although many are unscented or only lightly scented. Double, apricot-yellow Easy Going has a light scent of honey. Leafy white Iceberg is good in formal plantings, although it is almost unscented. Tall pink Queen Elizabeth, with its long stems and beautiful buds, is a popular floribunda, particularly good for cutting. Many modern shrub roses, like reliable, white Iceberg have a climbing form, so be sure to choose the right one.
Some of the loveliest roses of all are the old shrub roses, with their beautiful, highly scented rosette flowers – the little 3’ gallicas, and taller (5’) albas, centifolias, Bourbons, and the ancient damasks, the most beautifully scented of all roses. These roses are mostly once-flowering, in one gorgeous midsummer flush, and the white, pink or crimson flowers often fade beautifully (as they don’t repeat, you don’t have to dead-head them). They are very tough and healthy, often tolerating shade and poor soil; the gorgeous white Jacobite rose, Rosa alba maxima, can often be seen as the sole survivor in the garden of a ruined cottage. Ispahan, a deep pink, richly scented damask, will flower for a good six weeks, and the repeating Bourbon Mme Isaac Pereire can be trained as a short climber. Smaller at 4’x4’ is Old Pink Moss, with its bristly (‘mossed’) buds and exceptional fragrance. These roses are ideal for larger gardens, although the little gallicas, like cerise-fading-to-violet Belle de Crecy, could find a place in the smallest garden.
In the last century the English rose breeder David Austin decided to breed roses that had the scent, health and beauty of these old roses but were repeat-flowering and in a wider range of colours. He has produced some stunning shrub, climbing, hedging and pillar roses, many with the RHS Award of Garden Merit, and has called them English Roses. Some of his shrub roses, like the gorgeously scented, deep pink Gertrude Jekyll, can be used as a pillar rose or fan-trained as a climber on an 8’ wall – ideal for smaller gardens. Teasing Georgia is a reliable, healthy, rich yellow shrub rose with a powerful tea-rose fragrance, and Graham Thomas, slightly smaller, is an even richer yellow, with a strong scent of tea-rose and violets. Tough, shade-tolerant, rose-pink Hyde Hall, with a lighter scent, is particularly good as a tall, intruder-proof boundary hedge.
Ground cover roses are low, weed-suppressing roses, usually repeat-flowering; low-maintenance, they are especially suitable for steep slopes and banks. The new Flower Carpet series comes in a range of colours, and are notably free-flowering and disease-resistant, with glossy evergreen leaves. The pretty, white, native Burnet rose, tough as old boots, is also worth considering, especially on acidic, sandy soils. Bonica, a beautiful, pink, semi-double rose, is taller, at 4’, but wide-spreading.
For a seaside garden, Rugosa roses are the ones to go for; they tolerate coastal exposure, often have good autumn colour and huge, round hips in autumn and are not just disease-resistant but bomb-proof. They are good inland, too; some of the taller ones, like the single-flowered, pink species Rosa rugosa and its white form Rosa rugosa Alba, are ideal for making an impenetrable hedge – they’re very thorny! The species do not repeat, but many rugosa cultivars do; one of the loveliest is Blanc Double de Coubert, with white, semi-double, very scented flowers which repeat; it also tolerates some shade and poor soil. Fru Dagmar Hastrup has pretty single pink flowers, and Mrs Anthony Waterer has double, rich crimson blooms.
Species roses, like the Banksian rose, or tall Rosa Moyesii with its single, scarlet flowers are particularly suitable for large and wilder gardens, while beautiful Rosa glauca, with stunning blue-grey foliage and single pink flowers with a white eye, is smaller at 5’, and looks well integrated into a border or along a path. They don’t repeat, but produce lovely hips in autumn. For wild planting, don’t forget our native dog rose, lovely planted through a hedge or up a tree, and the low-growing burnet rose. Modern hybrids of Rosa persica, with their semi-double flowers with deeper coloured ‘eyes’, are small enough for any garden, or even a container.
When you’ve chosen the type of rose you want, check out the relevant page on the Future Forests website to pick the cultivar which will suit you and your garden best.
How to plant bare-root roses:
For climbers and ramblers, start by putting up the support it needs; wires should stand at least 1” out from the wall, as good air circulation will lower any risk of mildew.
Plant your bare-root rose as soon as possible after it arrives, but not if the soil is frozen or waterlogged; in this case, lay the roses on their side and cover the roots with damp potting compost or wrap the roots in a damp sack to keep them from drying out. As soon you get a dry, mild day, soak the roots for two hours in a bucket of water and prepare the soil by digging a hole about 16” wide and 2’ deep (roses often have long roots). Fork over the base of the hole to encourage deep rooting, and incorporate a good quantity of organic matter – well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost – into the excavated soil.
Lay a bamboo cane across the hole, to indicate soil level, then get someone to hold the rose upright in the hole with the graft union (the swollen bit between the roots and stems) just below the level of the cane. Spread out the roots, sprinkle in mycorrhizal fungi if you like, and gently backfill with the excavated soil and organic matter. Tread the soil in lightly, add more soil if necessary, and water the rose in well to settle the soil round the roots. Water well in dry weather in its first year.
by Deborah Ballard
- Alan Taylor