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"Bare Root Roses have arrived," by the Whistling Gardener

A lot happens behind the scenes in a garden center in the month of January. Most of it isn’t very glamorous and frankly is just plain hard work. The arrival and planting of bare root roses is one of those activities that is probably the most looked forward to for garden center employees.
Bare root roses arrive at the Garden Center in January. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

A lot happens behind the scenes in a garden center in the month of January. Most of it isn’t very glamorous and frankly is just plain hard work. The weather is always cold and usually wet, sometimes even snowy. And yet, the arrival and planting of bare root roses is one of those activities that is probably the most looked forward to for garden center employees - a rite of passage some would say.

Even after 30 years, I still get excited when the 53 foot long semi delivers our ten humongous boxes of roses and we start potting them up. This ritual (which is truly a labor of love) always marks the beginning of the new season for me and my staff.

The process isn’t complicated but it takes a crew of five to six hardy souls to make it all happen in an orderly and efficient manner. The roses come in bundles of five per variety and the first step is to finish the pruning.

You see, back in the fall these roses were ripped out of the ground from some farm - usually in California, but also Arizona, Canada, or the Midwest - where all the remaining soil was washed off the roots and they were sorted into number one grade or below. They were then labeled, bundled and run through a giant cutter (think of a machine like a paper cutter) where the roots and the tops were chopped down to a manageable size to fit into boxes for shipping. After all this abuse, they were packed into a cold storage unit for the remainder of the winter until it was time to be shipped.

Once the roses are removed from their boxes, our experienced team prunes off any broken branches or roots and reduces the limbs to three or four strong stems that are eight to ten inches long. They are then potted into a specially formulated potting mix and top dressed with a slow release fertilizer.

Admittedly, they don’t look like much at this stage, but by now the crew has bonded with them and formed a relationship that will continue through the first new signs of growth in spring until they come into full bloom in late May or early June (at which time we all hope an enthusiastic gardener will take them home). I guess you could say it is a love/hate relationship in that we are just as excited to see them go to a new home as we were back in January to see them arrive.

Our crew can usually pot up around 500 roses on a good day, and despite sore backs and cold, bloodied hands, once the roses are in place there is a good deal of pride in the end product. They are now our “children” and we will nurture them for the next five months until they get adopted by someone like you who loves plants as much as we do.

For gardeners who want to introduce some summer color and fragrance into their gardens, roses are hard to beat. With the proper care they will bloom from May into late fall, and sometimes even in December. You get a lot of bang for your buck with today’s modern roses and believe it or not, this is the best time to select and plant them while they are still dormant and easily removed from their pots to be plunged into your garden. Give them a little love, like we have, and they will flourish for years to come.

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class, “Pruning: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”  Saturday, January 19th at 10 am at Sunnyside Nursery.  More information about the class can be found at www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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