GARDENING : Making Purchase Before the Bloom Is on the Rose


It's bare root season, when the 1992 crop of rosebushes and fruit trees are now available at local nurseries or through mail-order catalogues.

Ten million rosebushes, freshly dug from the growing fields in Wasco, Calif., are dormant for just a short time after being shipped to Southern Califoria's benevolent climate. This is the time of year to buy them in their bare root stage when the selection, quality and prices are at their best for the entire year.

The term bare root means the bush or tree has no soil around its roots. Many people prefer to buy their rosebushes in this stage, since they can see the root systems and like to choose bushes with well-developed roots as well as strong, thick canes.

Also, since the entire 1992 crop is dug at one time, the best selection is usually available now, although some nurseries, such as Armstrong Garden Centers, plant some of the bare root stock in containers and sell them in February or March. (Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar also pots up roses in containers and sells them in March.)

Buying bare root roses or trees is often based on research, recommendations or a previous wish list since there aren't any blossoms to catch the buyer's eye as happens in the spring. And with hundreds of varieties available, it's best to decide what to buy before going to the nursery.

Each year, the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) evaluates roses grown in test gardens throughout the United States and selects those judged as outstanding overall. The 1992 winners are Brigadoon, All That Jazz, and a miniature rose, Pride 'n' Joy. But growing conditions vary throughout the nation, and here in Orange County, only Brigadoon, a pink blend hybrid tea rose, and All That Jazz, an orange blend shrub rose, are recommended.

"I'd stay away from Pride 'n' Joy since it's very susceptible to mildew and this is especially true along the coast," said Chuck Bybee, manager of Armstrong Garden Center in Santa Ana. "Brigadoon and All That Jazz will do very well in Orange County."

He also recommends the following: Olympiad, a red hybrid tea with no fragrance but excellent disease resistance; Gold Medal, yellow grandiflora; Silverado, lavender blend hybrid tea; Double Delight, a red and yellow blend fragrant hybrid tea rose (although it is prone to mildew); Bewitched, a pink hybrid tea with fragrance; Plum Crazy, mauve floribunda; Queen Elizabeth, a popular pink grandiflora with good disease resistance.

Phil Miller of Roger's Gardens, also recommends Iceberg, the most popular white floribunda; Amber Queen, yellow floribunda; Show Biz, red floribunda; Gingersnap, orange blend floribunda; Pleasure, pink floribunda; New Day (his recommendation for the best yellow hybrid tea); Duet, pink hybrid tea; and Touch of Class, pink blend hybrid tea.

A variety new for l992 that will also grow well in this region is called Tootsie. This pink floribunda is a "painted" rose, an offspring of Angel Face and Old Masterpiece. Lightly fragrant with sprays of flowers that hold well on the bush or in vases, Tootsie will grow to 3 feet in height. It's offered exclusively through Armstrong Garden Centers and is in limited quantities this year.

Armstrong Garden Centers also offer 12 varieties of standard bare root fruit trees and 15 varieties of genetic dwarf fruit trees. Among Bybee's recommendations are two apple varieties, Fuji and Granny Smith, which are low chill varieties and grow well in Orange County. Two types of cherry trees, Montmorencey and Stella, will also fruit well in this area.

Some other new varieties of roses to consider are Columbus, a pink floribunda; Origami, a pink-blend floribunda; Great Century, a light pink hybrid tea; Orange Splash, an orange blend floribunda; Purple Tiger, a mauve blend floribunda, and Peppermint Swirl, a red blend floribunda.

Orange Splash, Purple Tiger and Peppermint Swirl are new types of modern roses--they're striped. Striping occurred in roses hundreds of years ago; the most famous is Rosa Mundi, a gallica rose of red and white striping grown in the 16th Century. Modern hybridizers are producing miniature and full-size roses with the gene for stripes and although still a novelty, they're becoming increasingly popular. Orange Splash, Purple Tiger and Peppermint Swirl are available by mail order from Jackson & Perkins in Medford, Ore.

Although it doesn't have any fragrance, Columbus is very disease resistant, holds well as a cut flower, and puts on a colorful display in the garden. Origami is also a cheerful garden rose with interesting two-tone pink coloration and good repeat blooming habit. Great Century produces very large flowers up to 8 inches in diameter, of pale pink color with light fragrance. These varieties are grown by Weeks Wholesale Roses. Weeks Roses are known by rose enthusiasts for producing very good quality roses.

Rosebushes are graded in their bare root stage by standards established by the federal government. The grading refers to number and size of canes and length of root system. Grade 1 bushes must have at least three canes; 1 1/2 grade bushes must have at least two canes; and grade 2 bushes one cane.

Grade 1 roses are the best purchases since the bushes are vigorous, hardy and can produce excellent flowers, depending on the care and cultivation provided by the gardener. Most quality nurseries offer only grade 1 and occasionally grade 1 1/2 roses. But according to Miller, the grade applies only to unplanted bare root roses. Once they're in containers, they're sold according to gallon-size of container (carefully check the number and quality of the canes when buying roses in containers).

Another important key to success with bare root roses is to make sure the bush is balanced. The roots and canes should be the same length. This may mean shortening the canes if the root structure is well developed.

Sources for roses are: Armstrong Garden Centers in Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana; Batavia Garden Nursery in Orange; Capistrano Gardens Nursery in San Juan Capistrano; Laguna Hills Nursery in El Toro; Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar and Santa Ana; and Jackson & Perkins Medford, Ore. 97501 (free catalogue on request).

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