January sees the arrival of 1,450 bare root shrub roses

Employees at Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville prune and pot nearly a thousand and a half plants.

A lot happens behind-the-scenes in a garden center in January. Most of it isn’t very glamorous and, frankly, is just plain hard work. The weather is always cold, usually wet and sometimes snowy.

But there’s one January activity that is arguably the most looked forward to by garden center employees — the arrival and planting of bare root shrub roses. Some would even say it’s a rite of passage.

Even after 30 years in the nursery business, I still get excited when it’s rose time. A semi-trailer truck delivers 1,450 rose shrubs in 10 humongous boxes — the roots come in bundles of five per variety — and we start potting them up. This ritual (which is truly a labor of love) always marks the beginning of the new season for me and my staff.

While the task isn’t complicated, it still takes a team of five or six to make it all happen in an orderly and efficient manner. The first step is to finish pruning the roses.

You see, back in the fall, these roses were ripped out of the ground from some farm — usually in California — where all the remaining soil was washed off the roots and they were sorted by grade.

They were then labeled, bundled and run through a giant cutter (think of a machine like a paper cutter) where the roots and the tops were chopped down to a manageable size to fit into boxes for shipping. After all this abuse, they were packed into a cold storage unit until it was time to be shipped.

Our experienced team prunes off any broken branches or roots and reduces the limbs to three or four strong stems that are 8- to 10-inches long. They then pot each bare root shrub rose into a specially formulated potting mix and top dress them with a slow-release fertilizer.

Admittedly, the roses don’t look like much at this stage. But by now the crew has bonded with each plant and formed a relationship that will continue through the first new signs of growth in spring until they come into full bloom in late May or early June — at which time we all hope an enthusiastic gardener will take them home.

You could say it is a love-hate relationship: We are just as excited to see them go to a new home as we were back in January to see them arrive.

Our team can pot up to 500 roses per day and, despite sore backs and cold, bloodied hands, once the roses are potted we have a good deal of pride in them. They are now our “children” — and we will nurture them for the next five months until they are “adopted” by someone who loves plants as much as we do.

If you want to introduce some summer color and fragrance into your gardens, roses are hard to beat. With the proper care, they will bloom from May into late November — and sometimes even in December. You get a lot of bang for your buck with today’s modern roses.

And believe it or not, this is the best time to select and plant them. When they are still dormant, they can easily be removed from their pots and planted in your garden. Give them a little love, like we have, and they will flourish for years to come.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Spring pruning

Attend a free class on how to prune your plants (the good, the bad and the ugly) for spring at 10 a.m. Jan. 19 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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