First few weeks of care for new bare-root patio roses?
April 30, 2021 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Hello, gardening MeFites! What should I do to care for these new plant pets? I've heard that roses are incredibly fussy, and am worried that I'm either over- or under-watering, primarily because I'm not seeing any evidence of growth after a week, and the canes look dryish. I'd love your advice on getting them off to a good start.

I bought three patio roses for my partner's birthday - two are bare-root, and one came with leaves in a pot. The most comprehensive instructions I could find were here. I followed their advice to buy large, tall containers (15"ish wide, 22"ish high, glazed ceramic, integrated saucer at the bottom), and used their recommended mix of potting soil, compost, composted manure, bone meal, and perlite, with mulch on top. The pots live on a concrete slab next to the back of the building (painted light yellow), and get 6+ hours of sun (we're in San Francisco, so we have some overcast days, but it's been pretty bright lately!).

What I'm doing: I've been watering them a bit every day (maybe this is too much?). I've picked aphids off the proto-leaves of one of the bare-roots' young, reddish growing bits, and pinched off dried leaves on the potted rose.

Why I'm worried: The potted rose, which came with leaves and buds, has had a couple of leaf-groups dry out, and the bare-root roses *look* dry, somehow (maybe I expect them to be more green?). That said, I see water pooling in the integrated saucers when I water them, and don't want to rot their roots out! The potted rose has put out some new green leaves, but the bare-roots don't seem to be doing anything. The reddish growing bits, which seem like they will eventually be leaves, haven't unfurled or gotten any bigger. I realize I may just be impatient!

In looking for advice online for the first couple of weeks with new roses, I've only come across this advice from the University of Illinois which recommends "sweating" bare-root roses by wrapping them in damp burlap for the first couple of weeks. I'm going to try this, but would love to hear if anyone has done it before.

Thanks for your help!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Best answer: I'm south of you on the peninsula, but it's been quite warm lately and my roses aren't loving it. I think your roses sound dry.

Where did you get bareroot roses at this time of year? I don't usually see them past Jan/February here. It's possible the roses are old or unviable. It's normal for bareroot roses to have slow starts (they're growing roots and leaves), and they're probably confused about how hot it is. Does the concrete get hot? Check midday.

In my experience it's sometimes possible to kill indoor plants by overwatering them, but I think most outdoor pots—at least here in the dry-summer climate—are underwatered.

In the Bay Area, roses are not that fussy, so it's okay to relax a little about that. Rusts and diseases aren't as common here as they are in more humid places. In pots, consistent watering is very important; they do not like to dry out completely. Maybe switch to a really good soak every two or three days? (Like, make sure everything is WET, not just a trickle out the bottom, really soaked.)

I would give it at least another week.

Good luck! Feel free to memail and send photos.
posted by purpleclover at 3:08 PM on April 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The few weeks after a bare-root plant goes gets planted are rough on the plant. The little fine roots that actually collect water/nutrients are all damaged. Keeping things moist is critical. Stick your entire finger in the soil about halfway between the plant and the edge of the pot, it should be damp enough that soil just sticks to your finger all the way down.

I would water twice a day for the first two weeks, wait until you see the water come out the saucer on the bottom and then keep going for another 30 seconds.

Never grown bare-root roses, but I've planted many bare-root fruit trees and it has taken up to a month for the first leaf to grow on some trees.
posted by gregr at 3:10 PM on April 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

(you know, as soon as I posted I regretted my suggested watering frequency. I mean, if you water in the morning and in the afternoon things seem really swampy, don't water more, but if it's dried out? Yeah, give it some more.)
posted by purpleclover at 3:15 PM on April 30, 2021

Best answer:
I've been watering them a bit every day
In general, it's best to water plants thoroughly when you do water them (water until you see water coming out the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot), and avoid overwatering by watering them less frequently.

Overwatering isn't about how much water you use, it's about how frequently you water.
posted by wesleyac at 10:03 PM on April 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Overwatering isn't about how much water you use, it's about how frequently you water

This. Roots need oxygen, and the only way oxygen gets into soil is by being drawn into it from above as water drains away. So the idea is to put a lot of water into the soil - make it really really wet - then give it time to have sucked in as much air behind it as possible, so that all the little pores in the soil are filled with air instead of water, before watering again. Soils with a lot of clay in them have teeny tiny pores and take longer to aerate than sandier types.

This is also why mulch is a good idea. Battering away at the top layer of a soil with gushes of water can compact it, making it less easily permeable to air. Mulches absorb most of the physical battering and greatly slow the flow rate of water at point of soil entry.
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on May 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agree with deeper watering, less frequently, but I also agree that it's awfully late in the season for bare-root roses here. It's possible these were in cold storage and may take a bit longer to come out of dormancy. A week is not actually a long time for healthy bare-root roses to not show signs of life, and as a Bay Area gardener who has grown both my own roses and entire blocks of bare-root roses while working in a nursery I don't think the burlap thing is necessary at all. Unless you're saying that you have drying winds at your place? In that case get a mister for your hose and mist them a couple times a day, without watering them. Only water when the top two inches of soil have dried out, and then water until it runs out the bottom of the pots.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:06 PM on May 2, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you all for this helpful advice! I am switching to a heavier-but-less-frequent watering schedule, added even more mulch to the tops of the pots, am misting them a couple of times a day, and have moved the pots to a corner that I am hoping is a bit sheltered from the wind. Crossed fingers!

purpleclover, the roses came from Jackson and Perkins, who I found online when looking specifically for patio roses. I started looking only in April, so the primary responsibility for poor timing definitely rests with me. ^_^
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:52 PM on May 3, 2021

Oh! They should be okay, then, if somewhat confused. My concern was that they'd been sitting around in some nursery for four months, drying out, which would test their viability. I'd reasonably expect a big mail retailer to send them in pretty good shape.
posted by purpleclover at 10:30 PM on May 3, 2021

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