Order bare-root plants now

By Rebecca Jepsen
for the Mercury News
December 12, 2008

Even the most casual gardener knows that plants come in pots or can be grown from seeds. But gardeners in the know also turn to a lower cost alternative: bare-root plants. Various types of vegetables, roses, fruit trees and other perennials are sold as bare roots, with their roots wrapped or packed in wood shavings or peat moss. December is a great time to order them.

Not only are they less expensive than potted plants because they are lighter to ship and the grower does not have the expense of potting them, but bare-root plants also often get established more quickly once they are planted, because the roots have not been compacted for weeks in a pot.

Many varieties of vegetables (artichoke, asparagus, onions), fruit trees (peach, nectarine, apple, figs, cherries, pomegranate), perennials (day lilies, clematis, ferns) and roses are available in bare-root form. Pre-ordering them allows you to select from thousands vs. only being able to purchase what a nursery might choose to stock.

When ordering fruit trees, consider what varieties you like to eat, of course, and also where they will be planted. Sun exposure, soil conditions and chill hours (the number of hours below 45 degrees during the dormant season) should all be considered.

Roses come in virtually every size, shape, color and scent, with one online site offering more 1,000 different varieties. Hybrid roses are the most popular; they produce one flower at the end of a long stem better known as long-stemmed roses. Floribundas and grandifloras produce clusters of flowers per stem.

Climbing roses do just that and are a good choice for fences, trellises, or walls. Old Garden Roses, some dating back to the Roman Empire, are a favorite among many rose growers, revered for their beauty and fragrance.

Fragrances can vary with the variety of rose and a person's sense of smell. Roses can smell sweet or spicy, with hints of citrus, clove or apples; others have that classic rose scent.

To check out the color, shape and plant size of a rose, it is best to literally "stop and smell (and view) the roses" to ensure you pick out ones that suit your tastes. Take a walk through your neighborhood, visit local nurseries or tour the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, where there are more than 3,500 varieties.

Most roses do best in full sun, which means a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sun each day. This is especially important in areas with more moisture, such as Palo Alto, where roses are more susceptible to diseases (rust, powdery mildew and black spot). In Gilroy, with its hot, dry climate, roses will be less susceptible.

For a list of recommend roses for Santa Clara County go to www.sccrose.org/resistant.html.

Most local nurseries are taking orders now for delivery in January and February.

Look for detailed planting instructions in next month's column.