Planting a Rose Bush


While roses have a reputation as being “the divas of the flower world,” there are several planting techniques that will get them started in the right direction. Here’s what you need to know.

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“You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” – Unknown

Once you have selected a garden site and the varieties you’ll be growing, it’s time to get them in the ground. However, when you plant roses will depend greatly on how the shrubs come packaged. For example, bare root roses which are usually less expensive are best planted in early spring before any new growth appears. Potted roses can be planted anytime during the growing season, but will do best when started early, which allows time for the roots to become established before the arrival of winter. In this section, I describe several planting techniques to make certain that your garden gets off to a healthy start.

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Are you interested in container gardening? If so, watch this video tip on planting garden roses in containers here.

Bare Root

Although roses can be propagated by a variety of ways, probably the best way to grow them is by planting bare roots.

The advantage of planting from bare root stock is that the rose plants will acclimate to your type of soil much faster and easier than if you transplanted them from containers. In addition, this is probably the cheapest route and you’ll get the most variety to choose from when you go to a nursery or garden catalog. The best time to plant bare root roses is between December and April, depending on where you live and your climate. (The idea is to plant them while they are still dormant, but after the danger of hard frost has passed.)

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Keep the roots damp until it’s time to plant them. Then, dig a large hole, make a cone of rich potting soil or compost at the bottom. Remember to add some slow-release fertilizer to the cone of soil. A good organic rose food includes: bone meal, greensand, alfalfa meal and glacial rock dust.

Place the plant into the hole and gently fan the roots over the cone of soil and fertilizer. Fill in the hole with a mixture of the native soil and organic compost. (Visit our Composting Guru page to learn how to make compost. It’s nature’s perfect soil amendment!) When filling the hole, be careful not to bury the grafted portion of the plant.

Once you’ve filled the hole, water immediately to help the plant settle in. Do not add additional fertilizer until you notice new growth on your rose bush.

Potted Roses

This is very similar to dealing with bare root stock. First dig a hole. The size will depend on the container’s size and should provide plenty of room to accommodate both the plant and the amended soil mixture.

Once you’ve dug your hole, add about four-inches of organic compost, well-aged manure or peat moss. Also, add some fertilizer. As above, I recommend a mixture of bone meal, greensand and glacial rock dust. Incorporate the compost and the organic fertilizers into the soil. Add the plant (keeping the rootball intact), but be sure that the grafted section, or bud union, of the stem is not buried below the soil. Then back-fill the hole with a mixture of native soil and the organic compost. Water immediately and don’t add fertilizer until you see new growth.

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If you need to transplant a rose bush, the best time to do so is when mature plants are dormant. That means in the winter or early spring. Transplanting at other times — during the growing season — will really stress your plants. A stressed rose is not a happy rose or one that will bloom freely and often.

Start by preparing the transplant site. Use the same prepping tips and techniques I’ve outlined on this page (above) for potted roses or bare root plants.

Then it’s time to prep the plant for transplanting. Start by pruning the top growth. This will help make the bush easier to handle. Dig a hole large enough to hold the plant’s root system. If some roots are damaged during transplanting, don’t worry about it! Because you pruned the plant’s top growth, less roots are required to support it. Just do the best you can (see Transplanting Established Shrubs). Also, be careful to protect the trunk and branches from damage. Injure those parts of the plant and you’ll be inviting fungal disease and insect pests to invade.

Water the plant immediately after you transplant it, but do not fertilize until you see signs of new growth.

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