Preparing for Bare Root Roses

Not a week ago the overnight low temperature was 4F, and the daily high was 23F. Today, though, the high will be closer to 60F and the low will be just a few degrees below freezing. It’s not yet time for spring planting, but it is definitely time to get prepared for it. The first thing to happen in the garden here is the arrival of bare root roses and fruit trees in early March. If there were just two or three of these, preparations could be very modest; but this year it looks like I will have more than four dozen rose plants and close to a dozen fruit trees. So we’re talking five dozen holes. That’s a lot of holes to dig in a day. Or in three days.

The problem with digging too many holes at once is that one gets tired. Then the quality of the hole suffers. And the plant gets off to a bad start from which it may never fully recover. Sometimes plants remember insults better even than friends or family. If I dig the holes at a rate of three or four per day for three weeks, there is a hope that I might do a good job of it and the new plants will thrive. The soil here is not very rich in organic matter, so part of the task is to amend the soil. I will be adding a mulch/compost mix at a rate of about 1/4 bag per hole. With seven bags on hand I’m about halfway stocked in this item. It’s crucially important, but it’s certainly not enough.

I also intend to provide some starting nutrition for the plants. But the problem is that it is well known that strong fertilizer can burn the roots of new plants. So my plan is to buy “Nutri-Paks” from A.M. Leonard. They are small plastic bags of balanced fertilizer designed so that the fertilizer leaches through the plastic bags and into the soil at a fixed rate. This means that there isn’t much of it available at any one time, but that the fertilizer is available in useful amounts over the course of a few months. My belief is that this will give the new plants a nutritional boost without any chance of damaging the roots.

I will be adding mycorrhizae to the holes, too. Here, again, there’s a method that makes measuring and delivery easier: little bags of the stuff which can be tossed into the hole right on top of the roots. Some garden writers scoff at the idea, declaring the mycorrhizae are already in the soil. But I suspect that some soils that are poor, dry, and almost devoid of organic matter are unlikely to be good at inoculating new roots.

The mycorrhizal tea bags and the tiny bags of fertilizer are on order. So, too are the plants. The weather is perfect for this kind of gardening right now. I better get digging.

A Clean Start – Soil Solarization

One of the most difficult and unpleasant jobs in gardening is dealing with weeds in a newly planted area of the garden.  They pop up everywhere.  And they keep doing it.  Some weeds one can just pull up.  But others tend to linger.  The easy-pull weeds tend to be easily eradicated from the garden, but the ones that you pull up over and over again tend to be a real aggravation.  Perennial grasses are an example.

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The Rose in Winter

The deer have moved south for the winter, and frost has begun to take what the deer left in the garden.  First it was the pumpkin plants about two weeks ago. Then it was the Dahlias. Most of the roses still have foliage.  Some will hold their leaves through most of the winter, here, hoping that the moist soil and bright afternoon sun will provide a return on their investment.

Some will win this bet using winter sunlight to stretch their roots ever further into the soil and be in a much stronger position next spring.  Others, though, will lose the bet and find their resources depleted when spring weather finally arrives.  In the three or four weeks prior to the last frost they will have committed the whole of their remaining strength to the promise of spring and will put out lush foliage.  Then, at the last frost, this tender new growth will freeze to death; and the plant will die. Continue reading

Frost Bytes: Autumn 2012

Frost lingers in the forecast:  light this time, but sure to get heavier soon.  The roses are still green with leaves, but they’ve stopped making new shoots.  And bambi has stopped nibbling them. Soon cold weather will complete the job bambi abandoned to move south for the winter.

The fall orders are already in at the trendy mail-order rose nurseries, even before some others got their catalogues on line for the season. Knowing that we can expand the boundary of the rose garden by placing a new bed  here or there, we dream of new roses blooming in the garden. Continue reading