It’s bare-root rose season, when lovers of these romantic blooms order their bare-root varieties for planting during the dormant period between November and April.

Some argue, however, that it’s better to buy containerised roses – so which should you choose?

Breeder and nurseryman Markus Kobelt, managing director and founder of Lubera, favours containerised roses, while Michael Marriott, senior rosarian at David Austin Roses argues that there are definite advantages to buying bare-root varieties.

Unsure which to go with? Here, Kobelt and Marriott argue their case for both options.

Bare-root vs. container roses

Pros and cons of an early harvest

Kobelt says: “For an autumn planting in November, bare-root roses usually have to be harvested too early, before the wood is mature. They are then vulnerable to winter damage.

“The subsequent long storage in a cold room, with the associated fungal infections or possibly even a systematic lack of humidity, leads to failures when planted in the spring.”

Marriott disagrees. “We only started lifting the roses two to three weeks ago. You cut the crop back. You have to be a bit careful with a few varieties, like Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’, but we know about those so we lift them as late as possible, so that they are as mature as they can be.”

Regarding storage complications, Marriott adds: “It depends on how well you store them. We go to huge lengths to make sure they are well stored. In spring and through early summer, we sequentially pot roses that have been in the cold store, some for as long as six months. Once they are released from the cold store, they spring to life and grow like mad. Within a few weeks, they have flowers on them. There are very few failures.”

Deterioration in packaging and transport?

Could bare-root roses be damaged in transit? (David Austin Roses/PA)

“Bare-root roses suffer particularly from packaging and transport. Everything can have a negative influence, too hot, too cold, too long,” says Kobelt.

Marriott counters: “Roses are incredibly tough. We might get the odd one that’s damaged, but you could say a potted rose could be just as susceptible to damage in the post as a bare-root rose.”

As for packaging, he adds that bare-root types are kinder to the environment. “When we send them out, you haven’t got all that plastic,” says Marriott. “The rose hardly weighs anything when it’s bare-root, whereas a container rose is in a plastic pot and is much heavier.”

Potted roses can be planted at any time

Containerised roses can be planted all year round (Thinkstock/PA)

Kobelt says that containerised roses have a much longer planting season in that they can be planted all-year-round. Often you can see blooms appearing if you buy them in early summer, so you will know exactly what you are getting.

But bare-root roses can be lower maintenance

Planting in the rainier months may mean less watering (David Austin Roses/PA)

If you plant a bare-root variety from November to April, during the dormant season, it’s more likely to catch the autumn and winter rains, whereas roses planted in summer are likely to need more watering.

“The soil now is nice and damp. You still need to soak the bare-root rose for an hour or overnight before you plant it, but unless the soil is dry you shouldn’t need to water it in. Then you can forget about it. It will grow away at its own pace,” Marriott explains.

Are roses in containers more robust?

Are roses in containers stronger? (Thinkstock/PA)

“The rose has already grown in the pot. The next step is the growth in the new location, which it masters 99% of the time. When planting in summer and autumn, the container rose simply has a larger body weight and more volume. This helps it to overcome stressful situations,” says Kobelt.

Marriott disagrees. “Roses aren’t grown from scratch in containers. At this time of year we get a bare-root rose and put it in a pot. It doesn’t really grow roots until the spring comes, so you are essentially buying a bare-root rose with loose compost around it. If you carefully turn it upside down and take the pot off, it’s effectively a bare-root rose.

Bare-root roses need to be soaked before planting (David Austin Roses/PA)

“At this time of year, it won’t do any harm but you have to be careful in spring because the roots and leaves start to grow, then the compost can drop off when planting and that can do a certain amount of harm. A few roses are started off in containers, such as patio roses and ground cover varieties, but the vast majority are grown in fields, lifted, put into pots and allowed to root through.”

Bare-root roses are cheaper

Bare-root roses are cheaper (Thinkstock/PA)

Marriott points out: “You will spend about £5 less on a bare-root variety than a potted rose from us.”

There’s also a wider range of bare-root varieties

Choice of varieties might also be a factor. “If you want something a little bit unusual, you are more likely to get it as a bare-root rose than in a container,” says Marriott. “If people rarely buy a particular variety, it would only be viable as a bare-root because the cost of containerising them is quite high, with the pots, the compost and the labour.”

Whatever you go with, the planting regime is basically the same

You need a big planting hole with plenty of added organic matter (David Austin Roses/PA)

Whatever the season, soak the container rose or bare-root for an hour or overnight in a bucket of water, let it drain for half an hour and then plant out, keeping it well-watered.

Bare-root or container roses?

The shrub rose ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ (David Austin Roses/PA)

If you want a cheaper rose to plant out, bare-root gives you value for money and more choice of species. Planting it in the cooler months involves less maintenance during the rainy season. But you may go for containerised come spring and early summer if you want to see the colour of the rose you’re buying and you’ve missed the dormant period.

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