Experts are ready to help

by Rebecca Jepsen
for the Mercury News
January 12, 2008

I would like to introduce myself and my 300 (give or take a few) family members. We're the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners.

In this new monthly column in the SV Life Home and Garden section, we'll try to answer your questions and provide up-to-date, useful and interesting information about gardening.

The Master Gardeners are a group as diverse as the population, plants and politics of Santa Clara County. What brings us together is our love of gardening. Some of us are happiest when we have our hands in the dirt; some like to teach gardening skills through presentations and demonstrations.

Others enjoy research: experimenting with new cultivars, seed trials and the like. We have been around since 1982. You may never have heard of us, but we truly are right here in your back yard.

We have demonstration gardens in Cupertino, Los Gatos, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto. We staff a telephone hotline, weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., where you can call in your gardening questions. All Master Gardeners are trained through the University of California Cooperative Extension Program; we are a volunteer organization here to serve the residents of Santa Clara County.

Check out our Web site at www.mastergardeners.org/scc.html. There, you'll find information on growing your own fruits and vegetables and eco-friendly, water-wise, native landscaping. Upcoming classes and clinics are listed on our monthly events calendar at www.mastergardeners.org/events/index.html.

Q: My mom gave me a bare-root rose for Christmas. The package says to keep it moist. But then what?

A: Bare-root roses are dormant plants, sold with no soil around the roots. The roots are usually packed with moist wood shavings or peat around them. Healthy roots will be symmetrical around the trunk. If roots are knotted, broken or appear diseased, the plant should be discarded or, if possible, returned or exchanged.

It's best to plant your new rose as soon as possible. Choose a site that offers at least six hours of sunlight a day as well as good air circulation -- roses don't like to get too ''up close and personal'' with each other or other plants. You will appreciate this when it comes time to prune.

It's best to soak the roots in a bucket of water for two to 24 hours just before planting. Dig your hole 12 to 18 inches wide and deep (with unconditioned or ''poor'' soil, it's best to make a larger hole). Amend the soil you have removed with organic material that equals 1/3 to 1/2 the amount removed, and mix thoroughly. Mix 1/2 cup bone meal or super phosphate into the bottom of the hole. Then make a cone-shape mound, using amended soil, in the bottom of the hole to help support the plant and encourage proper root growth. You might need to do a little trimming of the plant; ideally your rose bush will have three to five six-inch long canes, with three to five buds on each. Prune off crossing canes.

Now for the planting. Set your rose in place and spread the roots out over the mound. Hold the rose upright and place amended soil around the roots. As you fill the rest of the hole, use your hands to firmly press down the soil in order to remove air pockets -- but not so much that you compact the soil. Continue filling the hole to the original soil level, and add water to help settle. Make a water basin slightly wider than the root system, and fill with water. The bud union (where the root stock meets the roots) should be at or above ground level.

You will want to keep the soil moist for the first couple of weeks; use a moisture meter to check the soil so that you don't over or under water. Once your rose is established, deep watering once or twice a week should be sufficient.

In approximately six to eight weeks, add a layer of mulch. Make sure to keep it about six inches away from the stem. The mulch will help conserve moisture and keep the weeds away.

Once your new rose blooms, usually within eight to 12 weeks, it's time to add a little plant food. There are many liquid or granular choices. Buy one designated for roses, and follow the directions. For more details, go to http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5673/14708.pdf