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Sat, Jan. 18

Get that rose garden ready

Wow, what a turn-out. The gardeners in the community must be hungry for gardening tips. Last weekend we had more than 75 gardeners show up to the Watters gardening class on "pruning."

If you showed up even a little late it was standing room only. The next garden class will be today at 10 a.m., here at the garden center and is on "The Joy of Rose Gardening" with rose expert P.J. Ames.

If you can't make the garden class I'll share a few words on how to buy a good bare-root rose and the best techniques for planting them. First, there are four different types of roses available at most garden centers: hybrid teas, floribunda, grandiflora and climbing roses.

Hybrid teas are the long-stemmed roses you buy from the florist for Valentine's Day. They have large buds that open to a spectacular single rose on the end of a cane. This is by far the most popular type of rose sold here at the garden center.

Floribunda roses are some of my favorites. This rose is much easier to care for, and looks great out in the landscape. Large clusters of flowers shoot up from the end of a cane. Each flower is smaller in size but this robust bush makes up for the size of each flower with a plethora of roses in each cluster.

Grandifloras are for those gardeners who just want it all. There are several large roses on single stems much like a hybrid tea, but also has showy clusters of flowers. These bushes can be larger, so be careful where you place them in the yard.

Climbing roses are just what they say. Big beautiful vines that can be trained to climb up trellis, walls, arches or running down a fence line much like my "Cecile Brunner" climbing roses.

When my climbers are blooming in late spring it is an absolute pleasure to drive home and pull into the driveway. Inevitably, I need to drive away a few deer from my bushes but I'll cover that in just a minute. I have just the ticket for deer.

At my garden center we like the bare-root roses that come in a ready-to-plant box. I just like the way they start rooting in the soil mix so you can get a jumpstart on growing, and there is less transplant shock for the bush. It is easier for us to keep the canes healthy and moist so the bush will grow and push roots right through the box and into the soil.

The planting tricks I'm about to share work on any type of bare-root rose. Even those that have absolutely no soil with them at all, or maybe a little saw-dust in the bag.

Roses like a hole that is wide and not that deep, about 14 by 24 inches wide. You need to get rid of the rocks. Rocks in the hole will come back to haunt you in June when they heat up and act like mini ovens baking your roses right in the soil.

Roses love rich soil heavily amended with compost or mulch. I usually add about 1 cubic foot of mulch to the pile of soil I just dug out of the hole. At the same time I will throw a cup of "Treble Super Phosphate" for bigger blooms, a cup of "Soil Sulfur" for a richer color, and a cup of "Gypsum" to help with drainage in the soil. Mix this soil, mulch and amendments together and your new rose bush will be delighted.

Surround the root ball of the rose bush with this rich mixture of soil. If you are planting boxed roses, place this soil mixture right around the box; don't take the box off. Use your foot to firm up the soil around the root zone. This will eliminate any air pockets that might be around the roots.

I have brought things back from the dead with "Root Stimulator." This liquid has a rooting hormone that encourages new roots to form and promotes a healthy, vigorous root system. I'll water my new plants in with this solution every two to three weeks until I see them doing really well.

I grow a lot of containers and do a lot of planting during the year, like any good nurseryman should. My favorite plant food for this application is "Start-N-Grow" by fertilome. This is a slow release plant food that will feed your bush every time you water over the next three months. Sprinkle about five tablespoons or one handful on top of the root zone when planted.

Now that the rose is planted, here are the two secrets for growing beautiful bare-root roses. The first is watering. Most folks want to over water their little babies. Remember that these roses are still dormant and don't require frequent watering. Water thoroughly about once a week. You'll be tempted to water more, but resist the urge.

The second is mulching the canes that remain out of the ground. At this point the graft, where all the canes start at the base, should be out of the ground with good air circulation. What I have noticed over the years is that the cold, dry winds of early spring tend to dry out the canes, reducing the buds I see forming on the canes.

The best way to protect the canes is to use a box or paper grocery sack and cut the bottom out to form a cylinder or collar. Place this collar around your new bush and then fill it with mulch. The collar will hold the mulch up around the canes. The canes should be poking out of the mulch into the sunlight.

Now water the mulch around the canes. This extra moisture at the cane level will make all the difference. You'll have twice the buds forming along the canes that will later become a beautiful bush covered with flowers.

Keep this mulch around the canes until the first of May. Your roses will be so happy that the new growth will be shooting up out of the mulch, but keep the collar and the mulch on until May. At that time, cut the collar off and spread the mulch out around the bush and enjoy the beautiful flowers to come.

The rose winner of 2004 is "Sundance." The vivid orange pink flowers grow on its own rootstock and makes it beautiful and hardier than grafted bushes. The colors on the box are stunning.

"Flirtation" is the florabunda rose of the year. It boasts of lavish clusters of fruity scented blooms with delicate pink and yellow stripes … very fragrant.

The one I'm thinking of planting is "Habitat for Humanity." Available only for 2004 and then gone. This gorgeous yellow spicy scented flower has plush, cupped blossoms. Ten percent of net sales will be donated to Habitat for Humanity International.

Go out there and get that rose garden ready. It's time to plant bare-root roses.

(Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona-certified nursery professional and master gardener.)

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