The Rose Will Teach You

Where roses are concerned, "Basals" are a shorthand name for the canes (stems) that come directly from the base of the plant.

On grafted plants, the basal canes come from the bud union, the knobby area where the graft was originally made.

On own-root (non-grafted) plants, the basal canes can sprout from the original stem, in time forming a knobby area that resembles a bud union, or the basal canes can pop out of the ground, forming a thicket that spreads either quickly or slowly, depending on variety.

Some roses are good at producing new basals. Every year there will be a few more fresh new canes, ready and eager to bloom.

Some roses are lousy at producing new basals. They grow a few the first or second year, and that's it: that's all you will ever get out of them, fertilize and water and epsom salt and pamper and mulch and compost-tea though you may.

Why do new basals matter? Because sooner or later, canes get old and unproductive. If they are not continuously replaced by new ones, you end up with few sad old canes that produce a flower or two a year. You put up with this, or you get dig it out and replace it.

Austin roses are the champions of new basals here. Consider the base of this 'Golden Celebration', which four years ago was a single rooted stem the size of a pencil:

And 'Redoute', originally grafted, but with the bud union buried an inch below the soil, now a thicket:

'The Wife Of Bath' is an interesting case. This is one of Austin's first commercial introductions, from 1969. It has a delicate and very charming flower, but it's quirky: the canes have the habit of dying back if pruned, so I only snap off the spent flowers, never cut them off. But the canes get old and tired quickly. Very quickly. Yet it is a willing producer of new basals, reliably a half-dozen or more every year. So I've taken to cutting the plant completely to the ground every January. A new crop of fresh basals appears shortly, ready and eager to bloom. I don't do this with any other rose. I would not recommend doing this to anyone, because it may not do what it does in someone else's garden. I only know exactly what it does in my garden, from years of observation. Roses will teach you how to care for them, if you are willing to observe and learn.

There, now the payoff, the pretty part of the plant: