So you want to add some roses to your garden but don’t know which type to choose. Is bareroot better, or will container-grown roses suit you best – and is there even really a difference? The answer is yes, one type may actually suit your needs better than the other. So let’s learn which one works best for you.
As long as you give your roses a good start and proper care, it doesn’t matter whether you bought them bareroot or container-grown.
Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller
Bare-root roses lack beauty when you buy them but produce gorgeous blooms just the same.
Photo Credit: Bailey Nurseries
A well-cared-for rosebush will reward you with amazing blooms!
Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller
Many gardeners find they’ve actually got more versatility with bare-root roses. Sure, they look like they’re practically dead – just a worrisome mass of sticks and roots – but the fact is you’ll likely have a wider variety of roses to choose from than container-grown selections.
You can sometimes find bare-root roses at garden centers early in the spring, but you’ll be limited to the few dozen varieties in stock. They’re typically packed into plastic bags or cardboard boxes with their stems sticking out. (Be careful of these roses sold later in the season when they’re temptingly marked down. They’re cut-rate for a reason. And if a bare-root rose has well-developed leaves on it, don’t buy it! It’s getting too far along in its growth and will have trouble getting established once you plant it.)
Most often, gardeners purchase bare-root roses by mail. (They’re much easier to ship than container roses, and the selection is practically limitless). When they arrive, the roots will be packed in sawdust, a straw-like material or very loose soil or mulch – all of which is then wrapped in plastic to keep the roots moist. The top part will look like fat sticks, several inches to a foot or so long. They may show almost no sign of life other than some red bud-like growths that will turn eventually into stems.
One of the great things about bare-root roses is they can be planted earlier in the growing season since there are no leaves to get nipped by frost. However, they can’t be planted too early or the rosebushes will languish in the cold, wet soil. That said, be careful not too sink them in the ground too late in the season either, or they won’t take off.
As a rule, bare-root roses can be planted as early as six weeks before your region’s last average frost date in spring and no later than two weeks after that date. The last average frost date is roughly in March for the southern third of the country, April for middle of the US and May for the northern regions. If you’re not sure about timing for your area, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service, a knowledgeable gardening neighbor or your local garden center professional for regional specifics.
As long as you plant your bare-root roses at the right time, they’re likely to take off faster and better than their containerized counterparts. That’s because these wonderful plants can focus their energies on good root development instead of working to support extensive leaf growth during the stressful time of planting.
Unlike bare-root roses, container-grown roses usually have good looks on their side. These plants are typically sold in 1-gallon sizes or larger. You’ll find them in springtime at all kinds of garden centers, and they’re usually nicely leafed out and may even have flowers on them. Beautiful as those flowers are – and as nice as it is to have a live visual of what they look and smell like – the blooms are actually a bad thing because the bush’s energy naturally goes toward sustaining the flowers instead of focusing on root development. If you can’t help yourself and just have to buy that blooming plant, steel yourself and trim the flowers off before planting the bush in your garden. (You can always put the flowers in a vase to enjoy indoors.)
When buying container roses, look for plants with well-developed root systems. The roots shouldn’t be bursting out of the pot, but they shouldn’t be practically nonexistent either. To find out what lies beneath the soil, grasp the rose’s main stem and give it a gentle wiggle. If it pulls right out of the pot with just a few or weak roots, pack it back in and don’t buy it. A rose without a good root system isn’t likely to thrive. It’ll probably struggle through the summer and die out over winter.
One of the advantages of buying container-grown roses is that they’re easier to keep healthy if it’s going to be a while before you can plant them. Just be sure to keep your plants well-watered and in a sunny (but not baked) spot.
Another good thing is that container roses can be planted later in the growing season – anytime after the danger of frost has passed. (Just avoid planting them in very hot weather when daytime temperatures exceed 90 degrees F.) In fact, you can add container roses to your garden into fall – but no later than six weeks before your region’s frost date. They need some time to get established before extremely cold weather hits. (Six weeks before the first frost date is roughly September for the northern regions, October for middle sections and November for southern areas of the country. But again, consult an expert who lives in your area to be sure.)
No matter which type of rose you choose – bareroot or container-grown – just be sure to give your plant a good start. If given proper care, your rosebush will thank you with years of gorgeous blooms!