Our Spring Plant sale layout at the Pagoda in Pt. Defiance

Buying Roses Made Easy

by Lou Little, of the Fort Vancouver Rose Society, Vancouver WA.

Many people avoid buying and planting roses because they think they are too much work:  they believe roses are fragile, delicate plants that won’t survive without umpteen hours of hard labor every week.  Maybe they’ve tried to grow roses before, only to have them die with the first cold snap.  Well, if you put the same amount of care and attention into buying a rose plant as you plan to put into taking care of it, you may be pleasantly surprised with the result. 

Before you buy your rose plant, consider these factors: 

  • The location where you want to plant the rose  
  • The amount of sunlight available  
  • The drainage in that location  
  • The type of rose plant you want to grow  
  • The variety of rose plant you want to grow  
  • The grade and rating of the rose variety you select  
  • The kind of rose product you want to buy  

Consider the location where you want to plant the rose. 

Does it get full sun or does it have lightly dappled shade part of the day? 
Does it have deep shade most of the day?  (If so, don’t get a rose for this area; get a shade-loving plant instead.)  Roses like at least 6 hours a day of full sun, but those with fewer petals (such as the floribundas ‘Playboy’ and ‘Playgirl’) can take a little more shade. 
In fact, some people think that a little bit of shade makes the bright colors of these roses more intense.  Morning sun is better than afternoon sun, and the more petals the rose has, the more sunlight it needs to open properly. 
Does the area have good drainage?  Roses like plenty of water, but they don’t like to have their roots continually damp.  Do you have a way to get water to the roses?  There are many ways to water your plants, and in a long hot spell, you may not feel like lugging buckets of water to your roses. 
Prepare the location before you buy the rose, so you’ll have an idea of how many plants to purchase.  Most hybrid teas and floribundas can be planted with 30 inches of space between plants; miniatures can be planted more densely, and shrubs and Old Garden Roses require much more space.

Do you have a preference as to the type of rose plants? 

Some roses, such as Old Garden Roses and shrubs, need a lot of space to spread out.  The beautiful pink polyantha ‘The Fairy’ can be kept pruned to a smaller size, but looks best if it is allowed to grow into a large mound about 10 feet in diameter.  ‘The Mermaid’ looks nice growing up the side of a house, but if you’re not careful, it will take over!  The fragrant damask ‘Rose de Rescht’ can be planted in a bed with hybrid teas and floribundas, though I’d recommend giving it a little more space. 
When it comes to garden roses, most people opt for hybrid teas, floribundas, and miniature roses.  In the past 20 years, the modern shrubs (such as the David Austin roses) have become very popular, but they do require more space. 
Climbers are always popular, but they require fences, trellises, and a lot of attention to help them climb.  Climbing roses don’t “climb” by putting out tendrils that grasp and hold them in place.  They put out long flexible canes that you have to train along a fence, up the side of a house (providing something to tie them to), or up and around a trellis. 
Old Garden Roses can provide a huge blast of color (check out the O. O. Howard House Heritage Rose Garden in May), but they can require a lot of space.  Some of them bloom only once, others will repeat bloom in the fall. 

Next, it’s time to determine the color roses you want, and the variety.

Do you want an all-red rosebed, or one that shades from white through pink to deep red? 
Do you want shorter roses in front and taller ones in back?  The bookstores and garden centers have books about roses that can help, but one of the best ways to make this decision is to go to one of the Fort Vancouver Rose Society pruning demonstrations [or the ones in your area.] The society has created a free list of roses that do well in this area.  Members can help you determine which ones will do best for your particular applications. 

Once you have decided on the type/color of rose you are looking for, it’s time to consider the actual plant. 

Many of the roses will have been graded as to their quality: 

·  A #1 hybrid tea, for instance, has at least three or more strong canes, well-spaced around the plant.  
·  A #1 ½ hybrid tea has two or more canes, and takes longer to develop.  
·  A #2 hybrid tea has two or more small, thin canes and will require extra care.  
The #1 rose plant will cost more than the #2 plant, but with roses, you get what you pay for. 
The #1 plant will most likely grow into a more satisfactory garden rose than the #2 plant. 
Other types of roses are also graded, with slightly different definitions, but the idea is the same.  The packaged rose may not have a grade marking, but knowing how to rate them gives you an edge when you make your decision. 
The American Rose Society (ARS) has rated most of the roses available in stores and garden centers throughout the country.  Roses are not rated in their first year on the market, but over the next three years, they go through a nationwide rating process by the ARS membership. 
The roses are rated on a scale from 1 to 10, both in terms of their garden qualities and their exhibition qualities.  Roses which rate 6.0 or lower are not recommended, and, indeed, they won’t survive long in the marketplace. 
Good roses get scores of 7.5 or higher, with very good ones in the 8.8 – 9.3 range.  Again, the package may not have this rating, but many books include the ARS rating, as does the FVRS list [or your local Society’s list.] 

You may have one more decision to make:  bare root, box, or potted roses? 

Bare root roses have been dug from a field, their roots have been cut back, and they have been stuffed into a plastic bag with a damp sawdust-like compound to keep the roots moist.  If you buy bare root roses, you should take them home, cut away broken or damaged roots, soak the roses in a bucket of water for several hours, and then plant them.  Don’t let them sit around and dry out. 

Roses in boxes and pots are essentially the same, at least at this time of year. 

They have been dug from the field and planted into a box or pot.  They do not have to be planted immediately, but don’t let them sit around either.  If they do have to sit a while, be sure to water them.  Disregard the grower’s claim that the box or pot is ‘biodegradeable’ – it may be, but not in your rose’s lifetime.  Remove the box/pot before you plant the rose.
Later in the spring, you may find blooming roses in containers at the local nurseries.  Sometimes, the roses come to the nursery this way, other times, the nursery takes the roses that didn’t sell early in the year, pots them, and lets them grow and bloom.  It’s one way to be sure this is the bloom you want before you buy. 
Also, be wary of waxed roses.  Some rose growers dip the canes in wax, claiming it helps the plant retain moisture and repel diseases, and that the new growth will burst through the wax coating.  In warmer climates, that may be true, but here in the Northwest, our weather isn’t warm enough early enough for these roses to do very well. 
If you desperately want a particular rose and the only plant you can find is waxed, go ahead and buy it, but be sure to plant it in full sun, or maybe on the south side of your house, where it will get reflected heat.  You can always move it later. 

If you want to know more about selecting and planting your new roses, plan to attend one of the Spring Pruning Demonstrations held by the Fort Vancouver Rose Society [and your local Society] in February and March.  These sessions are free, and the discussions cover all aspects of rose growing you might encounter during the spring and early summer. 
If your belong to the ARS [and you should], you will receive an annual Handbook for Selecting Roses, which lists most roses in commerce, giving details such as their color, rating, etc.  FVRS [and your local Society] has a few extra copies of this booklet for sale. 

ARS 2008 ‘Award of Merit’ Winning Article

From Ring Around the Roses, newsletter of the Fort Vancouver Rose Society, edited by Lou Little, January 2008.
*Minor edits added for web clarity are in [brackets], but this article has stood the test of time, as well as winning accolades from ARS.

Sources: Fort Vancouver Rose Society, of the Pacific Northwest District, of the American Rose Society

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