Garden Detective

February 8, 2014

Garden Detective: Bare-root rose can benefit from TLC

Moist peat moss packed around the canes can help bring dead-looking bush back to life.

I bought a bare-root rose and planted it in the ground. It looks dead. Is there anyway to save it?

– J. Roger, Sacramento

This dry winter has been hard on bare-root transplants. They need consistent hydration and we’ve had precious little rain to keep the soil and air moist.

Before planting a bare-root rose, soak the entire bush – roots and canes – in a wheelbarrow filled with water for at least 24 hours. That can help re-hydrate the bush. But what about a bush that’s already in the ground?

According to master rosarian Sue Magill, “Some roses need an extra bit of preemptive support in order to jump start their development.”

Magill uses the “peat-cone technique,” a method popularized locally by master rosarian Muriel Humenick.

This technique gives our new roses – especially the bare root ones – an encouraging environment to transition from cold storage to garden, Magill said. Bare-root roses are kept in cold storage for several weeks, sometimes months, before they’re shipped to nurseries and gardeners.

The idea of the peat-cone method is to provide a consistently moist environment, so the rose will break dormancy and start the natural growing process.

“Often bare-root plants are quite dehydrated from months of cold storage and reluctant to start growing,” Magill said. “By surrounding the canes with constant moisture, the rose is more likely to push out new growth. We have even used this technique later in the season when a rose seems to be struggling to make progress.”

All you need is peat moss and something to hold it around the bush’s bare canes. That could be a cardboard box, paper grocery bag or a large peat pot (the kind many nurseries use to grow small shrubs including roses).

Soak the peat moss in a bucket of water until it is thoroughly wet. Cut the bottom out of the peat pot, box or bag. The point is to contain the peat moss that will be mounded around and up the canes of the rose.

Pack moist peat moss around and up the canes of the rose bush. It is important to keep the peat moist. Place box, bag or container over the rose, making sure the peat moss is secure around the rose. “We sometimes cut one side to make placement and removal easier,” Magill noted.

Then, wait. Water the peat enough to keep it moist but not soggy. Also remember to water the bush.

“Leave it alone!” Magill said. “Now would be an appropriate time to speak gentle words of encouragement or even do a little rose dance for its benefit.”

Watch it from afar until you see new growth pushing through the peat moss, she added. “This might take a while – be patient.”

Once the bush looks like it is successfully pushing new growth and leaves out through the peat moss, carefully take the container off but leave the peat moss in place. The peat moss will settle away and can be left where it falls – its job is done! The peat also will help mulch the bush.

“We have been quite successful using this technique with new roses and roses that have needed more time to establish,” Magill said. “This year, we’re going to try it on two of last year’s (new bare-root) roses that never seemed to thrive.”

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