Bare-root roses are available in nurseries now and are cheaper than leafed-out plants, which won’t be available until late February or March. Though you won’t know what the roses will look like until they bloom, reference books such as “The Heritage of the Rose” by David Austin, “Classic Roses” by Peter Beales and “Roses” by Rogers Phillips and Martyn Rix are full of color photographs. Following are some suggestions on rose planting from Paul Green of Buena Park, who won a boxful of ribbons at local and regional shows as an amateur before becoming a professional rose grower:
Soak bare root roses for at least 24 hours before planting. (They can be soaked up to a week if you are unable to plant immediately.)
Prune back the frozen ends and any undesirable crisscrossing canes beforehand. Prune above the bud, at 45 degrees, angling outward in the direction you want the canes to grow, urging the plant into an attractive urnlike shape.
Dig a hole at least 2 feet in diameter and 18 to 24 inches deep before removing the roses from water. The harder the soil, the deeper the hole needs to be.
Mix the dirt you removed with good potting soil, half and half, sprinkling in some phosphate and bone meal. “It doesn’t do any good to sprinkle it on top when you’re finished,” says Green. “It will take years to reach the roots that way.”
Make a mound in the hole and spread the rose roots over and around it.
Fill in with dirt and tamp down, water, and tamp again until the rose stands up straight on its own.
Don’t begin fertilizing the rose until it has had two or three months to establish roots.
Have faith, says Green, and don’t believe all the myths you’ve heard. Roses are pretty sturdy; in fact, it’s tough to kill one once it’s established. “But the better care you take of them, the more they respond. That’s what makes them so rewarding.”