A rose growing in a pot looks like, as you might guess, a rose growing in a pot of soil. A bare root rose looks just like it sounds: short straight stems and a clump of roots without any soil (pictured above, left, next to a potted rose: both from the famous U.K. rose experts at Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk).
Which rose looks prettier to you? Probably NOT the bare root one - which likely explains why so many people end up buying their roses in pots.
But why wouldn't those people choose a bare root rose? For years, these were the most common way that most roses were shipped from the growers. Consumer demand for rosebushes in the middle of summer (quite possibly the worst time of year to plant a rose, by the way) led to what we see today in our garden stores: row upon row of roses sold in pots all summer long.
Here are a few tips about the differences between the two:
BARE ROOT ROSES come in a greater choice of varieties than roses in pots, and usually establish themselves quicker than roses in pots. This is because a bare root rose planted in the winter will be concentrating all of its plant energy into growing a strong root structure first. Very important! They're more environmentally friendly (no need for a plastic pot) and they have a smaller carbon footprint due to smaller and lighter packaging. And they'll require much less water during their first year of growth.
ROSES IN POTS that are bought and planted in the summer, however, will be putting their energy into flowering and new leaf growth. It's why a newly planted container rose will need a lot more regular watering and feeding until its root system is well-established. The only advantage to a container rose that I can see so far is that when you buy a rose that has some blooms already open, you can tell exactly what the flowers will look like compared to a colour photo on a plant tag that may or may not reflect the ultimate reality. For more on choosing appropriate pots, see Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots.
NOTE: please do not waste your money on bagged bare root roses stacked up at your local grocery store's garden display shelf starting in May. You MIGHT do okay, but you have no way of knowing how long they've been in those bags, or how healthy the roses will be, or even if they're already dead. Bare root roses can be ordered at any time throughout the year (my favourite son Ben and I ordered ours in the heat of last summer while we were feeling deeply intoxicated by Russell Nursery's gorgeous full-colour rose catalogue one afternoon out on Ben's back deck). But bare root roses won't be delivered until they are dormant, when it's safe to lift them out of the soil (typically from November to March ).
They really should be planted as soon as possible - which reminds me that THIS WEEKEND Ben and I are driving up to Russell's to collect our pre-orders.
The late Peter Beales suggests that if you happen to receive your bare root roses when you absolutely cannot plant them out in their permanent garden home/container for a few weeks (due to winter weather, or not enough time, or just feeling too exhausted at the moment), your roses can be "heeled in" by simply piling dampened compost/soil/sawdust on top of the roots and firming up the pile a bit to provide temporary protection and to stop the roots from drying out until you can plant them properly.
UPDATE: Ben owns what might be the longest-suffering "heeled in" roses in rosarian history by now. Find out what happened during our first May marathon 4-hour planting blitz in Ben's back garden and our (mostly) heroic rescue of his "heeled in" roses!
JULY UPDATE: Excitement this week (finally!) Read this to find out the thrilling news (plus photos!) Here's a little sneak preview from my balcony:
Meanwhile, please remember to s-l-o-w down and smell the roses. . .