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.