• Carolyn Thomas

Planting the first roses out on my balcony

Updated: Jul 4

Yesterday was THE DAY, a damp yet mild west coast morning out on the balcony. I pulled on my green gardening gloves, my ancient red gardening jacket and my yellow Crocs - then filled a big bucket with water. I was ready.

A few days earlier, I'd already emptied the four big pots lining the balcony railing of their previous occupants, potting up the assorted over-wintered spring bulbs and vigorously spreading clumps of Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica) in 4" pots to give away. (By the way, this is the first time ever I've done what experts tell us to do: dig and prepare the hole BEFORE you come home with a new plant!) My four bare-root Drift® roses were carefully unwrapped, roots untied and soaked in a big bucket of water for 30 minutes, arranged inside the four pots on "hills" of fresh soil (with a nice dollop of bone meal worked in), watered gently, tucked into place firmly with more soil until the soil level was just at or under the 'bud union' (the roundish bulbish part where the root ball meets the emerging stems), and watered once more. For more on choosing suitable pots, see: Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots

Halfway done - roots firmly in place over the 'hill' of soil, before adding water and more soil

I'd never planted bare root plants before. I'm used to whacking a plastic pot a few times and sliding out an established pot-shaped root ball that gets plunked into its new hole and tamped down with new soil before getting a good soak. Like most new experiences, the first pot I planted felt a bit weird. Was I planting the roots deep enough - or too deep? Was I spreading them out correctly over the 'hill' as directed? By the second pot, I relaxed. By the fourth, I felt like a Master Gardener. See also: A Bare Root Rose or a Rose in a Pot?

Tags for the four Drift® roses I chose: Red, Coral, Apricot and Sweet Drift (a lovely pink, a last-minute substitute for the suddenly unavailable yellow and white Popcorn)

Meanwhile, a few blocks away from the balcony, my favourite son Ben was eyeing his own four bare root roses, picked up at Russell Nursery at the same time. For his back yard garden, he'd ordered one red climbing rose (Don Juan, up to15' tall), one orange pillar shrub rose (Tangerine Skies™ Arborose®, 8'), one rose standard (tree) rose grafted onto a 3' trunk (Violet's Pride) and one red groundcover shrub rose (Flower Carpet, 3'). Because of still unpacking their new home, being crazy-busy at work, getting ready for incoming house guests next week (plus, of course, playing with our adorable Baby Zack), Ben knew he wouldn't have time to plant his bare root roses right away.

If this happens to you, here's what to do: it's called "HEELING IN". Heeling in is what you do if you get your bare root plants during bad weather, or when the ground is still frozen, or if, like Ben, you just won't have time within the next week or so to plant them. Just gather your bare root plants together, pack their roots in moist (not soggy) soil, mulch, compost, sand or sawdust until planting time.

In the SPRINGTIME, plants can remain heeled in for up to a month. In the AUTUMN, heeling in will let you overwinter your plants - as long as they're planted early the following spring.

UPDATE: Find out here how my favourite son Ben managed to somehow ignore that "up to a month" instruction for "heeling in" his bare root roses.

If you garden on a balcony or patio, you could pack the plants together in a large box or 5-gallon bucket. If the ground's not frozen in a larger yard, dig a hole about a foot deep in a shady area. Untie and soak the root ball for 30 minutes in a big bucket of water. Then lay the roses on a 45-degree angle into the hole and cover all the roots and the bottom third of the plant with moist soil, mulch, etc. Check this covering layer often to make sure that the roots will NOT dry out. Add water if necessary. At planting time, just gently remove the roses from the hole. Soak the root ball in a bucket of water for at least 30 minutes before planting. Roses are heavy feeders all summer, but if you decide to add a bit of rose fertilizer when you're first planting, add it to the bottom of a well-churned hole, then add a couple of inches of good soil so the roots will not be in direct contact with the fertilizer before adding the rose and more soil. Water bit by bit as the soil level increases; fill the soil to just at or below the bud union (the roundish swelling part where the bare roots meet the straight stems. Follow the rose fertilizer instructions for feeding your roses throughout the growing season.

Already, those straight stems of my newly-planted bare root roses already look robust and healthy, with bright green swelling buds sprouting along each ste,. All I have to do now is to water occasionally, and wait patiently for them to explode into bloom by early summer. I'll post more pix as exciting things happen out there.

SAD UPDATE on the CRUEL ENEMY of ALL ROSES: Yes, it has happened to my balcony roses! Despite the fine and easy-care disease-resistant reputation of my red/coral/apricot/pink Drifts, I did discover the dastardly BLACK SPOT lurking on a coral rose leaf - ironically the first of its sister roses to show some lovely colour as the buds began to open! Read this sad story only if you dare. . .

HAPPY UPDATE IN JULY: Hurray!! All four of my Drift roses out on the balcony are finally in bloom, all at the same time! Read more about this thrilling development, albeit a month later than they usually behave. Here's a sneak peek:

Meanwhile, remember to s-l-o-w down and take time to smell the roses no matter how late they start blooming. . .

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