Buying Roses

You’ve been pouring over catalogs, making lists, seeing how many new roses you can squeeze into your garden. Now it’s time to decide about actually buying the roses. There are a few things you have to decide before you go any further –

Do I buy bareroot roses or roses potted in containers?
Should I get budded roses or those growing on their own roots?
What about patented vs non-patented varieties?
And what about the grade of roses?
What should I be looking for when choosing a bareroot rose?
Should I buy from a catalog or from a nursery?

You are about to join the legions of American gardeners that purchase nearly 60 million rose bushes a year from garden centers and through mail order, so it is a big business with lots of choices to make. To help you be an informed buyer, read on…

Bareroot roses or roses in containers

Bareroot roses are dormant plants with the soil removed to reduce weight for shipping. While they may look disconcertingly like a bundle of dry sticks, don’t be deceived by appearances. The plants were harvested in the fall when they were full of starch reserves and will live off these as they emerge from dormancy and begin life in your garden. Dormant plants are available for earlier planting so that you can get started planting earlier and they will make a slower and better-paced transition into life in your garden as the season ramps up, adjusting without any transplant trauma.

Also, as they have no soil, are light and transportable, they are easier to handle and plant. They are generally more affordable since you aren’t paying for materials or labor to plant them.

The downside is clearly that you are getting a plant without flowers and you have to wait for a few months to realize the beauty of the plant. Roses in container provide immediate satisfaction, and you can be sure that you got the variety you wanted.

Budded or own root roses

Budded vs own root roses describes the manner in which the rose was propagated. Budded roses are grafted plants grown on roots of a completely different variety; the swollen knob that all the desired canes emerge from is the bud union. A T-shaped slotted cut is made in suitable rootstock low on one cane. A dormant bud is cut from the desired plant are placed into the slot. Once the bud takes hold and canes sprout out of them, the top growth of the rootstock is completely cut off. These roses are field grown for two years.

The rootstock used for budded roses varies based on resistance to diseases and pests, and suitability to certain soil types.  Dr Huey is popular in our area and the southwestern U.S.; if you purchase from suppliers in other parts of the country your rose may be grafted on other rootstock. Most all Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, and large flowered climbers, as well as shrub roses are sold as budded plants; old garden roses and minis are grown on their own roots.

Own root roses are true clones of the original plant. Cuttings are taken from a mother plant and individually rooted then raised in a controlled environment (greenhouse). They are transplanted to successively larger containers until big enough to sell, generally 2 – 3 years.

Budded roses have well developed roots and are more mature when sold. As a result they will bloom the first year and may live for 5 – 15 years. As the budded variety may have less resistance to cold than the rootstock, the rose can be killed by extremely cold weather. And if you have a very aggressive rootstock, it can overwhelm the budded variety and eventually kill it.

If you purchase own root roses, they are generally smaller / younger and may take 2 – 3 years in the ground to catch up to the budded roses. They may live longer than budded roses and growing on their own roots may survive cold temperatures better. If the variety growing on its own roots is vigorous, it may spread by suckers like many old garden roses.

Whether you buy bareroot or own root roses, overall, you’ll find there is really very little difference in the performance of the plant once it is established.

Patented vs non-patented roses

Of the hundreds of thousands of plant cultivars in commerce or in plant collections, only a relatively small percentage has been patented. A plant patent is not a seal of approval by the federal government or any other agency – it is a federal grant of an exclusionary right that provides a means of control for the patent owner over a new plant’s propagation, use, and sale during the life of the patent.

In 1790, US patent #1 was awarded to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont. The patent process was established by Congress to encourage citizens to be creative and for them to profit from their vision and creativity. The patent act was expanded to include plants in 1930, and patents are granted for a 17-year period. Prior to receiving a patent, a plant label may indicate PPAF, which stands for patent pending/applied for.

The owner of a rose patent charges the grower a fee or royalty for each rose they sell, usually a dollar or two per plant. Without the protection of a patent and the resulting royalties, a rose hybridizer would have little interest or inclination in developing roses – ones with new colors, richer fragrances or better disease resistance. Royalties also help fund rose mosaic virus disease eradication.

Generally speaking, new varieties of roses will be patented and for that reason will cost more than the non-patented varieties. It does not mean that the newer varieties are superior to the older ones. There are many, many roses available that are no longer patented that have been in commerce for more than seventeen years and are desirable additions to your garden. The rose remains the same when the patent expires, except a royalty is no longer collected. Bargain roses are always non-patented varieties so they can be sold at much lower prices. Some famous rose patents include #1 – New Dawn; #455 – Charlotte Armstrong; #591 – Peace; #2370 – Mr Lincoln; #3847 – Double Delight; #5177 – Gold Medal and #14398 – Marilyn Monroe.

Grading of roses

Bareroot roses are graded according to the quality of their growth. Grades also designate the near-future size and productivity of the rose. Over fifty years ago, the American Association of Nurserymen, in association with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), developed grading standards for budded field-grown garden roses in order to standardize rose sizes and to eliminate the outrageous claims made by retailers as to the quality of their roses. Their specifications for Hybrid Tea, Tea, Grandiflora, Rugosa hybrids, Hybrid Perpetuals, Moss and climbing roses are:

Grade #1 – the bush must have at least three strong canes 5/16 inch in caliper (diameter) or greater, branched not higher than 3 inches from the bud union.

Grade #1 1/2 – the bush must have at least two strong canes of 5/16 inch or greater, branched not higher than 3 inches from the bud union.

Grade #2 – the bush must have at least one strong cane with a caliper of 5/16 inch or greater and at least one other cane of 1/4 inch.

For all the grades, all canes must be sufficiently hardened-off throughout and have a length before harvest of at least 16 inches. The specifications for Polyantha, shrub, landscape and low growing Floribundas are the same as above except for 1/4 inch being the minimum caliper for a strong cane. The standards also specify that all grades should have a well-developed root system and have proportionate weight and caliper according to grade and variety.

What to look for when buying a bareroot rose

If you are purchasing your roses at a nursery or garden center, you’ll have the opportunity to inspect the plant before you buy. True bareroot roses at nurseries are set in damp peat moss or similar material that retain moisture so that you can remove them and inspect the entire plant. Check the canes first and ensure that they are plump with no wrinkles, have good green color with creamy white pith; no dried or discolored buds. The root system should be well developed, sturdy and undamaged; not dry or mushy. The entire plant should be free from damage and obvious signs of disease.

When buying packaged roses, you can’t inspect roots, but you can check the canes so the recommendations above apply. You can also feel the weight of the container; if the plant is held in moist sawdust or other similar material, it will weigh less if it is dry than if it is moist, so a heavier container is probably a better buy. Some suppliers apply a thin coat of paraffin on the canes to reduce moisture loss and enable them to keep the plants out of the ground and in transit for longer periods of time. Don’t buy waxed roses. They may look nice but your plant has to grow through that wax and it may slow the development of bud eyes.

Don’t buy dried out roses. You may think that the rose bush will “perk up” when you plant it. That’s not necessarily true. Adjusting to a new environment takes a lot of energy on a rose’s part. Putting it in the ground when it is already stressed just decreases the odds of having healthy, productive plants.

Buy your bareroot roses early in the season before the plants leaf out. You want to conserve their energy to do their leafing out in your garden once they are in the ground.

Make sure your roses have tags so that you can properly identify them. Tags are usually small (quarter size), made out of weather-tough metal and attached to rose plant at the base with a twist of wire. The tags contain standard key information – the first line will have the name that has been registered with the American Rose Society to protect it from being used on another rose; the second line is a code name that identifies and credits the hybridizer (in CAPS) then lower case letters that follow may flag the roses’ parentage or be a unique code. This is the identification of the plant before it was given a popular name for introduction into commerce.

Buying Mail order

You can buy roses all year round, through many types of outlets – rose specialist nurseries, general nurseries, garden centers, the Internet, supermarkets and big box stores. Most of these carry roses during the bareroot season, and through the spring. Mail order provides the greatest selection of roses, often debuting exciting new varieties that are not produced in enough quantity to make it into national distribution. While you can’t inspect before purchase, as long as you buy from reputable sources that guarantee safe arrival and successful growth and will replace plants that are unsatisfactory, you have little risk.

In addition to the best selection, when buying by mail order (or the Internet) there is no middleman, there is less handling as you are generally getting the roses directly from the grower; the plants are likely to be fresher and better quality and it is a shorter trip between their field and your garden. As specialists, they can provide top quality because they best know-how to harvest, store and ship their product. You get a guarantee – they are ready, willing and able to stand behind the quality of their product. You can also get reliable information and expert advice.

Many times we want to support our local businesses and that is a good thing. This gives you the chance to select exactly which plant we want. You can find a good selection of roses at most nurseries and garden centers, home improvement and discount stores. Go into this purchase in the same way you would for anything else – as an educated shopper. But remember, growers that sell bargain roses have a big need to reduce costs and little need to control diseases, viruses or be concerned about quality. Remember the wise words – “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

After growing roses for nearly twenty years, I’ve learned that roses are hardy plants, and you can’t go too wrong if you buy a good healthy plant, give it a good location with sun and water and get ready to watch it perform!

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