How To Plant Bare-Root Roses

If you live in a part of the country where the ground doesn’t freeze, the best time to plant is in winter. Otherwise, plant in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. At the proper time for your area, nurseries and garden centers are full of fresh plants that have been dug from growing fields. Most have soil-free roots packed in moist wood shavings and sealed in plastic. If you order roses through a catalog, they’ll be sent to you in similar fashion.

To get your new roses off to a good start, follow this step-by-step procedure:

  1. Purchase good-quality plants. Rose plants are graded according to standards set by the American Nursery & Landscape Association. A #1 rose is the highest quality and will give you the best show the first summer. #1-1/2 and #2 grade roses are often sold at discount prices and usually won’t grow as vigorously the first year. So if you want the best results, spend a little extra money and buy #1 roses. You’ll find the grades on the rose packaging. For more information on selecting plants, read Shopping for Bare-Root Roses.
  2. Soak roots overnight before planting. Remove the rose from the packaging and place the roots in a bucket of muddy water (the mud will cling to the roots and help prevent them from drying out after planting). Let soak at least overnight. If you can’t plant immediately, keep the packing around the roots moist until planting time. If it will be several weeks, plant temporarily in a container and keep the soil moist.
  3. Choose a sunny planting site. Roses need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. If they get any less, expect fewer blooms and more disease problems.
  4. Check soil pH. Dig a hole deep and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s roots. Have the soil tested to make sure the pH is in the proper range for roses (5.5 to 7.0 is fine). Ask a nursery specialist or cooperative extension agent how to test your soil and, if necessary, how to adjust the pH.
  5. Check for good drainage. Fill the hole with water, let it drain, and then fill it again. If the hole hasn’t drained completely in 24 hours, you probably have a drainage problem. The easiest solution is to plant elsewhere or grow roses in pots or raised beds.
  6. Plant properly. Mix the soil dug out of the hole with an equal amount of organic matter, such as compost or ground bark. Place some of the mixture in the bottom of the hole, creating a cone-shaped mound. Examine the rose carefully. Prune damaged or dead roots. Spread the roots of the rose over the mound and check planting depth. The rose should be planted at about the same level as it was grown in the field (you’ll see a color change on the stem) and with the bud union (the swollen part of the stem) aboveground. In colder climates, plant several inches deeper so that the bud union is covered with soil.
  7. Fill the hole with soil, and create a watering basin around the plant. Water well. If necessary, adjust the planting level by grasping the lower trunk and gently pulling upward.
  8. Mulch heavily. Mulch the rose with organic matter, such as compost or ground bark. Pile the mulch up high enough to cover the canes several inches above the bud union. Covering the canes will help prevent them from drying out.
  9. Once the plant begins to leaf out, pull the mulch away from the stems and fertilize. Protect from insect pests and disease with a product labeled for use on roses. Be sure to follow label directions.