Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

300 Choosing, Planting Bareroot Roses

January 12, 2024 Fred Hoffman Season 5 Episode 2
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
300 Choosing, Planting Bareroot Roses
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today, we present a double dose of the Debbies on the Garden Basics podcast. First, Master Rosarian Debbie Arrington has tips on what to look for when selecting those bare looking roses that are hitting the nurseries this winter. Some garden center them packaged in plastic wrap, some nurseries will pot up the bare rose plants in containers, and some nurseries with have plunged those bare root roses directly into a bed of sawdust. Debbie Arrington has advice on how to tell if the rose you are selecting is healthy. 

Then, America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture professor, Debbie Flower, answers a listener’s question about a very aggressive weed that’s taking over the yard. What is it, and how do you control it? Debbie Flower has bermudagrass control techniques.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!

Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and transcripts at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout.

Pictured:  Master Rosarian Debbie Arrington with her “Marilyn Monroe” rose competition winner

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Farmer Fred  0:00  

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.

Farmer Fred 

Today, we present a double dose of the Debbies on the Garden Basics podcast. First, Master Rosarian Debbie Arrington has tips on what to look for when selecting those bare looking roses that are hitting the nurseries this winter. Some garden centers offer them packaged in plastic wrap, some nurseries will pot up the bare rose plants in containers, and some nurseries with have plunged those bare root roses directly into a bed of sawdust. Debbie Arrington has advice on how to tell if the rose you are selecting is healthy. Plus, tips on planting bare root roses.

Then, America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture professor, Debbie Flower, answers a listener’s question about a very aggressive weed that’s taking over the yard. What is it, and how do you control it? Debbie Flower has bermudagrass control techniques.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!

Choosing Bare Root Roses

Farmer Fred

It's that time of year. It's winter. And one of the first plants to arrive at nurseries in the wintertime are roses. Here in California, they arrive in early winter. If you live in a colder climate, it’ll be late in winter. Those roses will be hitting the nursery shelves and also the shelves at the big home stores as well. How do you pick out what's called a bare root rose. And are they really bare root? Well, not so much anymore. It depends on where you shop. So what are some good basic tips for selecting and planting bare root roses? We are talking with Debbie Arrington. She is a master Rosarian with the Sacramento Rose Society, also their vice president, responsible along with Kathy Morrison for the daily Sacramento Digs Gardening newsletter. But roses are her first love. Interesting, Debbie, that bareroot roses aren't as bare root as they used to be. It seems like more and more nurseries are potting them before offering them for sale. 

Debbie Arrington  2:37  

Yes, because they can make more money that way.

Farmer Fred

There you go. 

Debbie Arrington

 And also, when they're potted up already, you don't get a chance to look at the roots. Because one of the things about bare root roses is it gives you an opportunity to look at the whole plant. Usually when you go to a nursery, you're only seeing half the plant, the part what's above ground. But during bare root season, you get to evaluate both above and below the soil line. And what goes on underground can be just as important to the plants overall success as what's above ground.

Farmer Fred  3:08  

And there are things you can look for above the soil line level and below the soil line level, as far as that rose goes, to determine if it is a good rose or not. One of the old options for picking out roses, and it’s it's still around in some of the cut rate stores, if you will, are roses that are sticks. Basically roots all wrapped up tightly in plastic. And those are still widely available. There aren't too many nurseries or businesses left that are actually plunging their bare root roses into a bed of sawdust for you to pull out and examine.

Debbie Arrington  3:44  

I know. And that's unfortunate. Because when they were inside this sawdust bed, you had a chance to look at the roots. Ideally, when you buy a bare root rose or any new rose if it's potted up or in those plastic bags, you want to have at least three healthy canes above the soil, as well as the same thing below the soil. You want to have three healthy roots. And sometimes those roses, particularly the ones that are wrapped up in those plastic bags, will just have one gangly root underneath and hardly anything for the plants to stand on.

Farmer Fred  4:15  

If you are buying a packaged rose, you might see a number on the label on the outside of it. It might say number one, one and a half, or two. And they are priced accordingly. Usually, the number one is the most expensive. Two is the cheapest. What is the difference between a one, a one and a half, and a number two rose?

Debbie Arrington  4:36  

Well, number one rose is a premium rose. Those are roses that have to meet a certain standard. For them to get that grade the standard is to have what they call flower-ready canes. Those are canes that are going to flower the first year. And a number one rose, it has to have three flower ready canes that will be guaranteed to grow and flower in that first season. A number one and a half, it might have three flower ready canes, too. But they might be thinner, and not quite as robust as a number one. It has  the right number of canes, but it doesn't necessarily have the robustness as a number one rose. And number two roses only has to have two flower ready canes. But also what happens with the number two, quite often, is you'll have one with one flower-ready cane, that will flower that year. But the second cane might be kind of funky, and not growing very much, and you really are kind of asking for die-back. And then a number three is a one cane wonder. Basically, that’s what a number three is. The same thing goes for the roots  below ground as well as those canes above ground. A number one has very good root system on it, you're gonna have three very good roots, at least number one and half, you might not have as strong a root system, but you're still going to have something. A number two, you might just have one or two roots down there.

Farmer Fred 6:03  

I think the bottom line is: do yourself a favor, and just by number one grade roses, because those will give you performance in their first year.

Debbie Arrington 6:11  

And for many years afterwards, too. The thing about a rosebush is you're buying something that's going to give you at least 10 years of pleasure, and often quite a lot longer. You know, I've got roses in my yard that are more than 25 years old and still produce fantastic roses every year. So putting an investment in on the front end really pays off. Also those roses that you're buying, they're already three years old, when it comes to market. Those are plants that have been grown out for quite a while. And so they've had some development, it's been an investment of time and money and a lot of labor put into them. So you're buying a plant that already has had a lot of investment in it, you should go ahead and make a little investment in it yourself.

Farmer Fred 6:54  

The thing about the roses, the bare root roses, and we're just calling them bare root roses that are already in soil, and they're usually placed in a pulp pot, and ready to be planted. Can that be planted as-is, pot and all? Or do you need to transplant it, take it out of that pulp pot and transfer it to either a larger container or your garden?

Debbie Arrington  7:18  

I take it out of the pulp pot. I've tried transplanting inside those pulp pots. And even though they say that they're biodegradable, and they will dissolve in the soil, it takes them about two years to do so. And in the meantime, your plant is really suffering because it can't stretch out those roots. The roots on the rose are as long as the canes are tall. So you look at your plant, it's four or five feet tall, those roots are going down that way too. And the deeper the roots go, the more drought tolerant and hearty that rose will be, because it's tapping into the water and nutrients all around it. So when you have it inside that planter there, it doesn't have a chance to stretch out. And so it doesn't have that opportunity to tap in to the resources that are all around it. And it's almost always guaranteed to be a problem maker, usually with irrigation, because the plant doesn't have a chance to get the water that's right next to it.

Farmer Fred 8:13  

The bare root roses that are sold in packages, it’s usually a plastic wrap of some sort. Those packaged roses might have their canes covered with wax, correct?

Debbie Arrington 8:24  

Oh yeah. And that's usually to preserve moisture. Those roses were dug up out of the field, probably in September. The ones that come to market here, usually were done in October, but the plastic ones they did earlier, so they can get them to a wider market. And they dip the canes in wax so they can hold in as much moisture as possible. Those plants have been out of the ground for months, and they haven't had any water in that time because they take them to the packaging houses soon after they've done that waxing job. So they can get them off to their selling points as quickly as possible. So the thing that the plant needs is a drink, as soon as it gets home.

Farmer Fred 9:08  

We'll get to that in a second. Now about that wax? Is it gonna degrade on its own? Or do you have to somehow scrape it off? And how do you take the wax off that rose cane?

Debbie Arrington  9:19  

Oh, carefully, with an old knife.

Farmer Fred  9:25  

While trying to avoid the thorns.

Debbie Arrington  9:26  

I look at it like the wax on a bottle of whiskey. Okay, you just carefully cut from the bottom, peel it up, and then it will peel right off.

Farmer Fred 9:36  

Wow, I haven't seen wax on a whiskey bottle in a long time.

Debbie Arrington  9:40  

You know, Maker's Mark.

Farmer Fred  9:44  

Yes, I don't know, all right? (At this point, Fred the single malt whisky snob, is fighting the urge to explain that a Bourbon is different from Scotch whisky.) Is there a way to soak it that might take the wax off?

Debbie Arrington  9:50  

It probably couldn’t. When the plant starts bringing up water through its roots after it's been planted, those canes will start swelling. And the swelling will crack the wax and it will fall off. 

Farmer Fred  10:08  

Okay,  so there is that possibility too. But that's only if you're buying those roses that are wrapped tight in plastic. And considering they've been sitting around for what, four months or so, I would think that the first thing you should do when you get those plastic wrapped bare root roses home is open up that plastic wrap and stick that whole plant in a bucket of water.

Debbie Arrington  10:27  

Oh, yeah, yeah. With those plastic wrapped roses, you want to soak the whole plant. And you need a pretty large bucket. Usually, the bathtub might work better. You can soak it in there, because they need to be soaked at least overnight before planting. If you have the whole plant submerged, overnight would be fine. But you don't want to drown it, where it's under water for days, you know. So if you have it where it's just the roots in the water, you can put the roots in a bucket of water, and keep it that way for a week. 

Farmer Fred  11:01  

All right. But I gotta ask: it sounds like you've soaked roses in a bathtub. 

Debbie Arrington

Yes, I have. 

Farmer Fred

That's how you can tell when you're in the house of a Rosarian. They’ll have roses floating in the bathtub.

Debbie Arrington  11:16  

That's true. Well, it's funny because, you know, I do flower arranging also. And I soak all the greens and stuff for either. Before you do arrangements, you have to soak them. But you know, you have these big pieces of fern or ivy or whatever. It's much easier just to put them in the bathtub.

Debbie Flower  11:32  

Farmer Fred  11:34  

You mentioned that a  good quality rose that you might be buying now should have at least three strong canes, which would also imply that you better avoid those that have shriveled brown or damaged canes.

Debbie Arrington  11:47  

Yes, you want to look at the canes. They should be green and healthy. Rose canes, they start to get gray and gnarly after about three years because they're forming a bark. That’s what they're doing. But that also restricts the flow of nutrients up to where they make their flowers up in the nodes and bud. So you want canes that look healthy and green and and smooth and not all cracked and gnarly. That cane should be: number one, they should be as big as your finger. Like an index finger,  that's a big strong cane that will really set the plant up well and produce a lot of flowers. And we're talking about hybrid teas and floribundas and grandifloras here. Skinnier roses, such as miniature roses, do have smaller canes, because they're smaller plants. But on the bigger rose plants you want to have robust, finger-size canes.


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Farmer Fred

Let's get back to our conversation with Master Rosarian Debbie Arrington, she has more tips for us on choosing bare root roses. I would think, too, that if you're looking at a rose, and its overall health, you may want to look for buds that are plump and brightly colored on the sides of the canes. 

Debbie Arrington 15:47  

Yes, the underside of the canes, there's these little crescent shaped notches. Those are the nodes where leaves and flower stems are going to come from. Roses bloom from terminal buds which are at the end of  those canes and the stems that come from them. So you want to have plants that have a lot of good nodes. If it's starting to push out new growth and you have bud break, you really need to get that plant potted up and into the ground. And part of that is why so many of the roses in nurseries are already in pots is because we can have warmer weather in the winter. It prompts those roses to send out buds as soon as they're exposed to light and air.

Farmer Fred  16:33  

Would it be wise to avoid those bare root plants that might have swollen buds at this point? Just look for the nodes? 

Debbie Arrington  16:41  

No, it's okay. It depends on what your planting schedule is. You just got to be aware  that these guys are ready to pop. They need to get in the ground. They need some attention.

Farmer Fred  16:54  

Most roses are grafted these days. And the union where the rootstock is meeting the scion, if you will, that graft union… What should that look like on a healthy bare root rose?

Debbie Arrington  17:08  

it should look clean, it shouldn't be covered with bark, or dirt. The graft looks kind of like a fist, it's up above the roots. And there's usually two to three inches between the graft and down to where the roots are. Because that's where they joined the rootstock to the rose on top. The reason they do that is they choose rose rootstocks that are very aggressive. Hardy root systems that can really get a lot of water and nutrients out of the soil and help the overall health of the rose. And in California, most of our roses are grafted onto two different roses chosen for their roots. It's either Dr. Huey, which is a little red rose, that blooms only in the spring, or Fortuniana, which is a little white rose. Those have very strong root systems. And they also have very few thorns or prickles on them. And that's another reason they choose them. The lack of prickles makes them much easier to work with. When you have to graft 1000s and 1000s of roses, you don't want something super thorny, that's constantly getting into your fingers. So choosing smooth stuff is beneficial  for this very labor intensive piece of work.

Farmer Fred  18:26  

So you got to pay attention to that bud union, especially when you're planting the rose, I would think too. And you're talking about how the roots like the sprawl out. So the hole that you would dig to plant a rose would tend to be fairly shallow, but wide?

Debbie Arrington 18:43  

Well, you need to go at least a foot deep. Yeah. And it needs to be about a foot deep, and then two feet across. Maybe even two feet deep. So you're taking out about four cubic feet of soil. And, dig even deeper than that, probably 18 inches. Because what you want to do is form a cone in the middle of that planting hole that you can set the roots on and spread them out where they're like sitting on top of a teepee.

Farmer Fred 19:15  

How tall should that cone be?

Debbie Arrington 19:17  

Well, it should be where the plant is sitting. When it's sitting on top of the cone. The graft should be two inches above the soil.

Farmer Fred 19:27  

All right. So one handy way to figure that out is to lay your shovel handle across the hole, set that  new rose plant on that cone in the hole, and the bud union should be above the level of the shovel handle.

Debbie Arrington 19:42  

Yes, that's an excellent tip. Because you really need to keep that graft above soil. Because what happens if the graft area goes down below the soil, it starts competing to produce roots and the rootstock starts competing to produce shoots. and it will start sending up a lot of canes and overwhelm the plant, because given the chance that rootstock will take over.

Farmer Fred  20:07  

And that is something that a lot of Rosarians and Rose growers do during the winter, if they're pruning back their roses, is look for those shoots that might be coming up, shoots that aren't part of the the main trunk above the bud union, because that, as you point out, will probably turn out to be a little red rose or a little white rose.

Debbie Arrington 20:28  

Those are suckers. Yeah. And they will overwhelm the plants. The problem with the suckers because you know Doctor Huey and Fortuniana, unfortunately, are both cute little roses. But both of those plants are really rust magnets. And they get a lot of blackspot and other diseases too, because they're not bred for disease resistance. They're very old varieties. And they've been bred and used for rootstock. That's what they're there for. While the new roses that we have, one of the things that's really great about our new roses, is they have high disease resistance. So you don't have  as many fungal diseases at all. And you don't have to spray them. They grow very well with beautiful green foliage throughout their season, with very little extra effort. So keeping those suckers at bay helps the overall health of the rose and your rose garden.

Farmer Fred 21:21  

Getting back to planting the rose itself, do you cut back the length of the roots?

Debbie Arrington 21:29  

Yes, if I have any roots that are damaged, I'll take out anything that's bent or broken. And those roses that come in the plastic bags, quite often, there'll be a lot of damage to the roots. The overall length of the root, I will cut them back to where they're about the same length as the canes above the ground. 

Farmer Fred 21:49  

And as far as supporting that plant with better soil, do you add a different soil mix to that hole? Or do you just use the native soil?

Debbie Arrington  22:01  

I'll mix in at least two or three shovel-fulls of compost. 

Farmer Fred  22:07  

All right, but as far as the backfill, it would be mostly the native soil, right?

Debbie Arrington  22:12  

 It's mostly native. So you know, and I've experimented with different things over the years and paid for those experiments. When you mix in a lot of  potting mix that has or perlite or something like that, thinking that you're making the soil fluffier and looser. If you dug out that soil out of clay, what you're doing is creating a flower pot, because what happens is, the plant gets trapped in that depression in that “pot “there and doesn't stretch into the soil around it. It just stays inside that pot. And you also get a lot of water ends up collecting in there and you can end up getting root rot.

Farmer Fred  22:55  

Exactly. Think of your high school biology class where you learned about osmosis: water flowing from an area of greater concentration to an area of lesser concentration. And that's what that new fluffy soil would be doing. It would be attracting water from that heavy clay soil around it.

Debbie Arrington  23:11  

Yes, yeah. So you want to add nutrients. That's why the compost. And the compost also adds some lightness to the soil, it breaks it up some and because you need  to feed the soil to feed the roots. And you also need to create some air pockets in there. So  the roots have some room to grow and move around.

Farmer Fred  23:30  

Some people we know like to use horse manure in that mix. 

Debbie Arrington  23:35  

Yes, horse manure works very well. The thing with horse manure, though, is to make sure it's aged. It’s got to have been out of the pony for at  least eight weeks. So it has a chance to get rid of some of the excess  nitric acids and stuff that are in it. But also to get rid of any medications that have been in the horse. One of the things that horses are fed regularly is dewormers. If the horse was recently dewormed, the worm component will go into its manure also. And it will de-worm your soil and kill your earthworms. We want to let that leach out of the manure before you use it. So, eight weeks is usually a good cut off for fresh manure.

Farmer Fred  24:21  

So either compost that horse manure or let it sit in a pile for eight weeks. All right, that’s a good tip. 

Debbie Arrington  24:28  

Preferably not next to the windows.

Farmer Fred  24:31  

That too. Or where you walk.

Debbie Arrington  24:34  

Yes. And preferably have the stable do it and then get it from the stable and there you go.

Farmer Fred  24:39  

When do you fertilize your roses? Do you do it at planting time? Or do you wait for it to start developing new leaves?

Debbie Arrington  24:47  

Yes, I wait. Because you don't want to give too much nitrogen to your plant right away. Because it gets cold in January. It can get below freezing and that can freeze the new growth and cause die back on the plant. And so you want the plant to mostly concentrate on strong roots and just getting established, getting comfortable. The only fertilizer I give it when I plant is to give it a couple of shovels of compost or aged manure, because that feeds the soil. And it also creates a little bit of warmth there too, around the root system. So, they’ll be comfortable and they'll start growing, but you're not putting out a lot of new growth. And then we'll give them some nitrogen, probably in late February, when temperatures start warming up, and then I'll start giving them some some rose food.

Farmer Fred 25:45  

Ask 100 Rosearians, and you'll probably get 100 different answers as far as what sort of fertilizer they might use. So like what you said, perhaps one formulated for roses would be a good compromise.

Debbie Arrington 25:57  

The plants can't tell if it was lawn fertilizer or rose fertilizer, as long as it doesn't have any chemicals in it to kill weeds.

Farmer Fred  26:06  

 I try to avoid using lawn fertilizer unless it's straight lawn fertilizer. Because most lawn fertilizer these days has some sort of weed-killing component.

Debbie Arrington  26:17  

Yeah, and you know what, you don't want to expose roses to that. And usually what I do for my roses, because I've got a lot of them, I change out the mulch after I prune. And then I put down some compost and then put the new mulch over it. So they get a little bit of extra nitrogen then, and it also helps feed the soil.  And then in late February, I'll start throwing around some granular fertilizer. And the thing about rose food is: people ask why rose food? Rose fertilizer is balanced, it has a lot of potassium and phosphate. And the phosphate helps form the flowers and the potassium helps promote roots. And so those are two good things to feed your roses to make sure you have good flowers.

Farmer Fred  27:02  

And like you said, having that mulch on top helps keep the feeder roots cool and moist, and  conserves moisture. And in hot weather, it helps keep the weeds from gaining a foothold. And as it breaks down, that mulch is feeding the soil as well.

Debbie Arrington  27:16  

Yeah, and mulch is one of the most important things you can do for your roses. Because it does all those things. You want to remove the old leaves when you're pruning from the year before and when you're planting new roses. Be careful about  the garden hygiene around your plant. Because most fungal diseases lurk in old mulch around the rose bed or in fallen leaves around the rose bed. And they're just waiting for the right temperatures. And most of those diseases are temperature sensitive. So when it gets up there into the 60s and low 70s on beautiful spring days, that's when those fungal diseases will jump back onto the bush and go into action and ruin those pretty new leaves. So if you change out the mulch every year, you're getting rid of most of the bad fungal diseases that will infect your plants. And I prefer to use organic mulches like wood bark or wood chips. I have a lot of oak leaves, and I use a lot of those. We have a lot of  other fall leaves for use, as long as they're disease free. You know, they make good organic mulch, and it feeds the soil while keeping the soil cooler. And it will help that rose through challenging water times as well as challenging temperatures.

Farmer Fred  28:35  

One of the things we've learned on the Garden Basics podcast from Debbie Flower is the fact that the mulch layer also helps calm a rain storm. Because rain comes down at a terrific force. And if it's falling on bare soil, you can actually compact the soil. But by having that two to four inch layer of mulch, the rain hits the top of the mulch and then slowly dribbles down into the soil, so it doesn't compact the soil. 

Debbie Arrington  29:00  

Yes, mulch does a multitude of great things for your garden. And when you think about it, mulch is what Mother Nature uses in the woods, and what Mother Nature uses to make sure the soil is preserved and the tree roots are protected. And it's like a nice blanket that you put over your garden. I really recommend that people use organic mulch and by organic I mean something that will break down like wood chips or straw. That also works around roses, but it's not always as aesthetically pleasing. Don’t use rock as a mulch. Because rock absorbs heat and just cooks the roots. Rock and gravel may look aesthetically pleasing in a rose garden. But those roses are suffering. And also rock reflects a lot of heat up on the plant. And it basically cooks the blooms, so avoid using rock around a rose garden.

Farmer Fred  29:54  

And please avoid weed cloth, too. Even though it may be permeable, allowing air and water through. The fact of the matter is: it is limiting the amount of moisture that the soil can get. And the root zone will tend to stay closer to the surface which can lead to all sorts of problems. A lot of good tips on choosing roses this time of year and planting them, from Debbie Arrington, Master Rosarian, Vice President of the Sacramento Rose Society, and also one of the principals behind the daily newsletter, Sacramento Digs Gardening. Even though it is geared towards the Sacramento gardener, there is good gardening information in there every day of the year. She's been publishing this for five years. Sacramento Digs Gardening is the name of the newsletter. And if you just do an internet search of Sacramento Digs Gardening, I would imagine they could find that newsletter fairly easily. And it doesn't cost you anything to subscribe.

Debbie Arrington  30:52  

Investing in it is free. Yes, and it should pop out. We're on They are our host. And you can find us on Facebook everyday, also. We put out a daily e-newsletter that pops into your mailbox every day about four o'clock. Just subscribe in the upper right hand corner.

Farmer Fred  31:12  

And you get seasonal recipe books too. 

Debbie Arrington  31:16  

Yes, we have recipes every Sunday. And we've published three, soon to be four, E-cookbooks. And those are available on the site too. There are literally hundreds of great Seasonal Recipes.

Farmer Fred 31:28  

All right Debbie Arrington. Thanks so much.

Debbie Arrington  31:30  

You're welcome.


Farmer Fred  31:37  

 Now’s the time to plan the what and the where of you want to plant for the future. To help you along, it pays to visit your favorite independently owned nursery on a regular basis throughout the fall and winter, just to see what’s new. And coming soon to that nursery near you is Dave Wilson Nursery’s excellent lineup of Farmers Market Favorites of great tasting, healthy, fruit and nut varieties. They’ll be already potted up and ready to be planted. 

And we’re also talking about a great selection of antioxidant-rich fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, Goji berries, Grapes, kiwi, mulberries, gooseberries, figs and pomegranates.

Wholesale grower Dave Wilson Nursery has probably the best lineup of great tasting fruit and nut trees of any grower in the U.S. Find out more at their website, DaveWilson dot com. While you’re there, check out all the videos they have on how to plant and grow all their delicious varieties of fruit and nut trees. Plus, at dave wilson dot com, you can find the nursery nearest you that carries Dave Wilson plants. Your harvest to better health begins at Dave Wilson dot Com.


Farmer Fred

We're answering your gardening questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. Debbie Flower is here to help us out. She's seen a lot of garden problems in her time. Oh, the problems she has seen. Horrible weeds too. Just like Jennifer in Fair Oaks who writes us. Fair Oaks is a suburb of Sacramento. She writes in and says, “We have these horrible weeds in our front yard. They are very viney, and they run deep. We've tried everything from pulling them out by hand and digging up the dirt. We used weed cloth, which I know you have previously mentioned not to do. And we have even tried Roundup, which I hate to admit. We are that desperate, but they come back quickly and spread at a tremendous rate. Can you give us some advice on how to get rid of these weeds? And Debbie, she sends in a picture of her backyard. And looking at it, I’m going, “Oh, you have a Bermuda grass lawn”. I think that's what she's talking about.

Debbie Flower  33:40  

I think that is what she's talking about. Bermuda grass is the bane of our California suburban garden existence.

Farmer Fred  33:48  

It must be great to be a new gardener and look at Bermuda grass and immediately consider it the enemy.

Debbie Flower  33:56  

It is tenacious. It has what are called rhizomes and stolons. Rhizomes are stems that grow horizontally underground, and the plant spreads from the nodes which is where leaves are attached, and it'll send up a new plant above ground. So there could be this whole string of stems underground, with many plants coming above ground. And it also has stolons. Stolons are stems that travel across the surface of the soil, Stolons Steal Space. And at every node where the leaves arise, roots go down. So those rhizomes underground can be two feet deep, and the stolons can go for long, long distances. So it is a very difficult plant to control.

Farmer Fred  34:44  

And don't forget the seed heads. If you don't mow your Bermuda grass lawn, if that's the case, you'll see these little upside down turkey legs growing. Oh, they're cute. That's a seed head. And each of those three legs has seeds that fly in the wind. And that, too, can develop into more Bermuda grass someplace else in your yard.

Debbie Flower 35:04  

Yep. Weeds are that way, they're able to reproduce quickly. And in many, many places in many, many ways. So that's a problem.

Farmer Fred  35:14  

Supposedly, bermudagrass headed west, in the hooves of cattle pulling the wagon trains.

Debbie Flower 35:18  

I didn't know that.

Farmer Fred 35:20  

I made that up.

Debbie Flower  35:21  

Did you really?

Farmer Fred


Debbie Flower

So what do you do? Well, I do a lot of pulling and pull it out, when I see it. I go out after a rain and get as much as I can. I go deeply. And you're right, the landscape fabric is not going to help control the Bermuda grass. It just grows right into it. And it is all the more anchored into your garden and into that fabric. So don't do that. So continuous pulling treating. There is one chemical called Turflon Ester that is labeled for use to control Bermuda grass, it will not kill it, it will just reduce its vigor. The best time to put it on is in the late summer, early fall on the Bermuda grass as it is collecting as much food as it can and sending it to the horizontal stems and the roots in order to store  over the winter. Because Bermuda grass declines over the winter, and gives it something to live on over the winter and then spend to regrow the plant in the spring. And so if you put the chemical on in the fall, that chemical gets stored and it has the best effect, it will tell you on the label that you have to apply it repeatedly.  At intervals, I don't remember the intervals. 

Farmer Fred

four week intervals. 

Debbie Flower

At four week intervals. I've used it one time alone for one season, I did it two times at four week intervals. One season, I've never done all four. And I was successful in reducing the vigor of the Bermuda grass, but not getting rid of it.

Farmer Fred  36:54  

Another thing, too, is it is labeled for use in turf. And this is the part about “Read and Follow All Label Directions” that we always talk about. But it's kind of important. This product is registered for use in ornamental turf. If you have a lawn, a cool season lawn, for example, and you've got Bermuda grass coming up in it during the summertime, it has better chances of control. Whereas if you read the label entirely, it talks about in other portions of your yard. Don't put it anywhere near where you have fruiting or flowering plants, because you’ll have just killed them. 

Debbie Flower  37:27  

It's a systemic, absorbed by those plants and cause them to decline much like the glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup, which gets in the plant and kills it. 

Farmer Fred  37:37  

Yeah, what are the active ingredients in Turflon Ester? One is Triclopyr, or however you say that ,and that is a brush killer.

Debbie Flower  37:45  

Right? It's a pretty strong chemical. So I keep pulling when I need to. For example,let's say I want to separate from my other household members and get out of the way, I will go outside and start pulling Bermuda grass. It's so satisfying, if you dig down a little bit. I use a Hori-Hori knife. That's a Japanese sort of spading tool, a hand tool. And when I see a sprout of Bermuda grass, and I've gotten mine down to a sprout, I dig down and find the thick rhizome and pull that out. It is so satisfying. But prepare to solarize next. 

Farmer Fred  38:22  

Solarization is probably the way to go on this one is and we'll have instructions in the show notes on how to solarize and this is best done if you're in the Sacramento area, it's best done in the summertime. And it does a good job.

Debbie Flower 38:34  

Just be careful you don't get too close to the roots of desirable plants when you are solarizing.

Farmer Fred 38:40  

Yeah, it helps to do it on a on a bare area completely. So try that out if you would. All right. So Jennifer, we hope that helps and you can get rid of your Bermuda grass. And again, we'll have a link to more information about Bermudagrass in today's show notes, as well. Thanks for your help, Debbie.

Debbie Flower

You are welcome.

Farmer Fred

The Garden Basics With Farmer Fred podcast comes out once a week, on Fridays.  It’s brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. The Garden Basics podcast is available wherever podcasts are handed out, and that includes our home page, Garden Basics dot net, where you can find transcripts of most episodes, as well.  Thank you so much for listening…or reading.

Choosing Bareroot Roses
Planting Bareroot Roses
Controlling Bermudagrass