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Desert Gardener: Bare root plantings of trees and roses

January 07, 2002|By Keith S. Mayberry, Imperial County-University of California Cooperative Extension adviser

Now is the time of the year that many trees (apple, peach, mulberry) and roses are sold "bare-root," packaged with damp moss or sawdust covering the roots. If you handle a bare root plant properly, it will perform as well as container-grown plants.


Select trees that have straight trunks and are free of cuts and scars. Before planting, remove packing material. Soak the roots in water no more than one hour and remove any that are broken.

Dig the planting hole just large enough for the root system to be spread in a natural position. Set the plant even with its original depth, which is indicated by a change in color on the young trunk. Do not add fertilizer to the hole. However, products sold as root stimulators, available at local garden centers, may be applied according to label directions. Thoroughly water the tree. Be sure that any air pocket in the hole is filled and that the soil is at the proper level at the base of the tree after watering.


Remove all tags and strings that may girdle fast-growing stems.

A fertility program should begin in late fall of the first growing season for ornamental trees. Fruit trees can be fertilized the first year after they leaf out in spring and begin active growth.

You may need to whitewash the tree trunk or cover it with paper or aluminum foil the first year to prevent sunburn.


Roses are least expensive if purchased as bare-root plants. Look for plants that have several large, bright green canes. Avoid plants with shriveled canes as they normally die. If the roses cannot be planted immediately, they may be kept in a cool location (35-55 degrees) for two to three days. This time of the year you should put them in the unheated garage or the shade on the north side of the house for storage. If an additional delay in planting is necessary, these roses can be kept for up to 10 days by submerging them in a bucket of water.

Select a planting site that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily and has good soil drainage. In general, the more sun a rose gets, the more flowers it will produce. Prepare planting holes about 15 to 18 inches wide and 15 to 18 inches deep. If the roses are to be planted in a bed, prepare the soil of the entire bed for the best results. If the soil is "clayey," mix organic matter such as a compost or peat moss, up to 25 percent by volume, with the soil removed from the hole. If an entire bed is prepared, mix organic material into the upper 16 inches of soil. Adding organic material will lighten the texture of the soil. Oxygen (air) must be able to penetrate the soil in order for the roots to grow. Without oxygen the roots will suffocate and the tops will not grow properly, producing few roses. Next, place some of the soil mixture into the planting hole, forming a cone-shaped mound that should approximate the conical shape of the rose root system.

Do not add fertilizer to the backfill or place any in the planting hole. (Doing this may result in the death of your new rose plant!)

Remove the rose plants from the shipping carton or bucket and cut off all binding strings and plastic wraps. Then prune the canes to 6 to 8 inches in length. The pruning cuts should be made just above dormant outward-facing buds (eyes), if possible. Then prune the roots lightly, removing any broken roots and roots that are too long to fit easily into the planting hole.

Place the rose over the cone-shaped mound of soil in the hole. Adjust the height of the mound to position the rose so that the graft union, that area where the canes originate, is even with the soil surface. When the correct height is established, spread the roots over the cone of soil and make sure that none is twisted or crowded. Begin refilling the hole with amended soil. As the planting hole is filled, firm the soil around the roots with your hands to ensure good soil-root contact.

When the planting hole is almost full of soil (about 2 inches from the top), fill the hole with water and let it drain away. The water will cause the soil to settle around the roots, thus eliminating any air pockets. Check to see if the rose is still at the desired planting depth. If not, adjust the height as needed. Then finish filling the hole with soil and firm the soil with your hands.

Bare-root roses are dormant when shipped and they must be protected from drying out until the roots become established. Even if the weather is cool, one sunny, warm day during the several weeks after planting can cause considerable damage to the newly planted rose bush. Therefore, it is necessary to completely cover the exposed canes with bark chips, compost, peat moss, straw or soil. This covering will protect the canes from drying out while the roots are becoming established.

In two to three weeks, sometimes longer, shoots will begin to emerge through the mounding material. It is then safe to remove the mounding material by carefully pulling it away from the base of the bush or by washing it away with a hose. If the weather is warm by this time, it may be best to remove the covering material in stages to acclimate the tender young shoots to the harsh environment. Water your newly planted rose bushes often to ensure they get a good start. When the rose blooms in about four to six weeks, it will be time for the first fertilization.

As the rose starts to grow the new shoots and leaves become a prime target for insect invasion, especially aphids. Use a systemic rose insecticide or spray the plants with insecticidal soap according to the label.

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