How to Plant Bare-Root Roses

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The world’s favorite flower has a surprisingly humble start in its bare-root form, consisting of a mass of roots and three to five green stems covered in thorns. From bare root to bloom, it’s hard to believe the startling transformation that takes place within a few weeks after the rose is planted in the garden.

Roses come in two forms: bare root and in containers. The majority of roses start out as bare-root plants and go in the ground in winter or early spring.

by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

It can be intimidating if you’ve never planted a bare-root rose before. However, it’s surprisingly easy, as long as you follow some simple guidelines, and you’ll be rewarded by glorious blooms.

When to plant. Bare-root roses need to be planted during cool weather. Six weeks before the last frost for your area is a good guideline on when to plant them. In warmer zones, this is usually December through February. For areas where the ground freezes, wait until the ground thaws before planting. Contact a local rose expert if you’re unsure about when to plant.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Here’s a bare-root rose ordered online from a rose grower.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Where to purchase. Local nurseries, big-box stores and mail-order rose growers are places where you can purchase bare-root roses. Your typical nursery will carry hybrid tea and floribunda types of roses in the most popular varieties. If you are looking for a specific variety or a different type of rose, such as a shrub rose, you’ll be more likely to find those by shopping online with a mail-order rose company.

What Kind of Roses Should You Grow?

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

How to select a bare-root rose. There are three grades of bare-root roses, which will be clearly marked on the rose packages: 1, 1½ and 2. The grades are based on the size of the bud union (the swollen area where the top of the rose is grafted onto the rootstock) and the number and thickness of the canes (stems) arising from the bud union. Grade 1 roses are the highest quality and, therefore, more expensive than the lesser grades.

It’s best to purchase a grade 1 rose whenever possible, as they’re the most vigorous. However, if the rose you want is available only in grade 1½, go ahead and buy it. You’ll wait a few weeks longer to see blooms, and the rosebush will initially be smaller, but it should catch up over time. Avoid buying bare-root roses whose canes are dried out or have already begun to sprout new growth.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Where to plant your new rose. Choose an area in your garden that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day. Good air circulation is a must for roses, as it reduces the incidence of fungal diseases, which can affect the foliage. Finally, keep roses several feet away from trees and other shrubs, whose roots may make it difficult for a rose to become established.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Soaking your roses. Grab a bucket, fill it with water, and give the roses a good soak for eight to 24 hours before planting, making sure that the roots are completely submerged. This important step helps rehydrate the roots. Some people like to add vitamin B1 to reduce transplant shock and a tablespoon of bleach to kill any potential bacteria. This step is optional.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Preparing the hole for planting. While your rose is soaking, it’s time to get to work on the hole. The size of the hole should be about 2 feet deep and wide. Roses do best in fertile soil, so amending the soil is necessary. Add a combination of organic amendments, such as compost and aged manure, to the planting hole at a ratio of 1 part organic amendments to 1 part existing soil, and mix together. Then add blood meal and bone meal, which are organic sources of nitrogen and phosphorus, and mix inside the hole.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Planting the rose. Using the amended soil, create a mounded area in the center of the hole for the roots of the rose to rest on. You don’t want any gap between the base of the rose and the soil, so make any needed adjustments to the size of the mound.

Before placing the rose in the hole, prune away any broken roots. In addition, prune the tips of each root, removing about a half-inch of each one. This step helps stimulate new root growth.

Set the rose in the hole, gently spreading the roots evenly over the mound of soil. Prune any overly long roots, if needed, to fit into the hole.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

While holding the rose in place with one hand, use the other to gently fill in the hole with the amended soil. Firmly press down the soil with your hands to help get rid of any air pockets.

In most climates, the bud union of the rose should be 1 to 2 inches above the soil level. However, in zones 5 and under (find your zone), most experts recommend burying the bud union 1 inch below the surface to protect it from cold damage.

After planting, create a small basin 2 feet out from the base of the rose, and water deeply.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Caring for newly planted bare-root roses. Once planted, cover the entire rose up to the top of the plant with compost or mulch, which serves to protect the canes from drying out while the roots are becoming established. The mounded mulch can be gently removed with your fingers once 2 inches of growth is observed on the canes, which can take three weeks or more to occur.

For the first month after planting, water every three days, gradually increasing the days between watering.

Landscape by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Contrary to what many people think, it’s important to hold off on fertilizing newly planted roses. Wait until they have produced their first set of blooms before adding fertilizer.

The hardest part about planting bare-root roses is waiting until they produce their first blooms, which usually takes eight to 12 weeks. However, the wait is well worth it once you see the formerly leafless canes covered in lush green foliage and colorful roses.