When to Plant Bare Root Roses? (How to Plant Successfully)

When to plant bare root roses

When is the best time of year to plant bare-root roses?

The best time of year to plant bare-root roses is early in the Spring, even if the temperatures are still cool. Bare-root roses are more vulnerable to summer heat so if you plant them in the spring the roots have a chance to establish and draw up water so that the rose doesn’t dry out in warmer weather.

Checklist for buying bare root roses

  • Bare root roses should be in a state of dormancy, with no leaves when you buy them. If the leaves of the rose have started to grow do not buy the rose, or if you have ordered online or through a catalog ask for your money back (any reputable garden supplier should refund you under these conditions). If the leaves have begun to grow before the rose is in the ground then the roots will not be able to establish and take up water quickly enough for the rose to live and it will die or either dehydration or exhaustion of its stored energy.
  • Look for a rose with at least three strong canes and large tightly packed, closed buds.
  • The outer layer of the rose cane can be either brown or green (depending on the rose species). Check the rose is alive by making a small scratch on the skin of the rose. The cambium layer underneath the outer layer should be green. If its brown then the rose is not dormant but dead!

Advantages of Bare Root Roses (Rather than Potted Roses)

  • Of course, the advantage of the bare root rose is that they are far lighter and easier to handle than potted roses and there is no transplant shock when you plant them in your garden (when planted at the right time, in early spring).
  • Due to their dormant state (without foliage or any active growth), bare-root roses can get a head start over potted roses because you can plant them earlier in the season without the risk of cool weather in the early spring killing any active growth. Potted roses are a lot less tolerant of cool weather. You can plant a bare-root rose very early in the season soon as the ground can be worked and isn’t hard with consistent frost. By the time the weather warms up the rose will start to establish its roots and initiate growth.

Bare root roses are vulnerable to heat and drying winds so ideally you need to plant them before the summer to give the roots enough chance to be able to draw up water and for the plant to become more resilient.

If you are planting your rose later in the season when the temperatures are warmer then you need to provide the plant with plenty of mulch to keep the roots cool and retain moisture as well as give the rose a good soak at least twice a week and protect it from any strong winds.

How to Plant a Bare Root Rose

To give your rose the best chance of successful blooms there are a few things to bear in mind first…

  • Plant your rose in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun per day. Shade-tolerant roses are somewhat of a rarity and do not produce anywhere near the same amount of flowers as a rose in full sun.
  • Make sure that your soil is between pH 6-7. Roses prefer slightly acidic soil. If you are not sure of your soil pH then I recommend that you buy an inexpensive soil test kit from Amazon to make sure you are in the optimal range for rose growing.
Soil gauge to measure the soils pH.
Soil gauge to measure the soil pH.
  • Whether you have heavy clay soil or light sandy soil, it is always a good idea to amend your planting location with plenty of organic matter. Garden compost, well-rotted horse manure, and leaf mold are all great amendments that provide the appropriate soil structure whilst retaining moisture and supplying your rose with the nutrients for spectacular blooms and to be more resistant to disease.
  • Choose a spot that allows for air to circulate but is not at the mercy of strong winds. If there is good air circulation around your rose then there is less chance that your rose will develop powdery mildew or black spot (both common fungal diseases that affect roses). Strong winds however will dry the rose out and potentially cause damage to blooms.

Once you have taken into consideration these steps and selected the perfect spot, it is time to plant your bare roots rose.

  1. I like to give bare-root roses a head start by placing them in a bucket of water with 1 cup of root stimulant. As the name suggests, this will stimulate the growth of the roots so that they can establish quicker in your soil and therefore be able to take up water sooner and provide greater stability and nutrient absorption in the longer term. This will also reduce the chance of your rose drying out in the early days.
  2. Dig out a good size hole (roughly 2 ft wide and 2ft deep) and keep the soil to one side. Partially fill the hole with some soil amendments to increase fertility, improve water retention, and provide good soil structure that the roots can work their way through easily. I personally use leaf mold as this is the best organic material to hold moisture, so when the roots come out of dormancy and return to active growth they can draw upon this moisture.
  3. Add a cup of fertilizer to the soil and compost mixture such as bone meal to give your rose a good start in life.
  4. The bud union of the rose (the knot that connects the roots to the canes of the rose) should be 3 inches below the soil line. Use a stick of bamboo or any straight length of wood and place it over your hole to determine where the soil line will ensure the bud union will be at the right depth.
  5. Place your rose in the hole at the right height (by adding or subtracting the soil accordingly) and fill it in the rest of the hole with soil and leaf mold or good compost.
  6. Firm the soil around the rose to provide it with stability, making sure that the bud union is below ground level.
  7. Next, you need to use mulch (compost, rotted horse manure leaf mold) to partially cover up the rose canes, to reduce moisture loss from the canes. This is important as bare-root roses really are vulnerable to drying out for the first few weeks. Heap mulch high around the rose. Each week you can reduce the level of mulch surrounding your rose as new shoots begin to emerge from the canes. I do this by washing it away bit by bit with my watering can or hose.
  8. After planting give the rose a good soak twice a week right at the base throughout the first summer with approximately four gallons of water. Pour the water slowly making sure that it infiltrates into the soil towards the roots and doesn’t run off the surface.
  9. Once new shoots emerge you need to fertilize the rose once a month. I use fish emulsion mixed into a 2-gallon water can (always carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the ratio of water to fertilizer correct). Applying fertilizer in too strong a concentration will do more harm than good.

Keep applying mulch around your rose bed during the summer to keep the weeds down and the ground nice and cool and keep the earthworms active. The nutrients from the resulting earthworm castings are chelated which means it is in a form that is readily available for the plant to absorb.

Healthy roses are far more resistant to disease and pests and produce more flowers so always be generous with your mulch to keep the soil fertile and at the right texture.

The second year of your newly planted bare-root rose is always best so be patient! The rose will have just emerged from a state of dormancy when it is first planted so naturally, it will take some time to become established.

I personally always favor a Regosa or Gallica species of rose as these are the hardiest varieties that have a natural resistance to disease and produce plentiful, long lasting blooms with a wonderful sweet fragrance.

Planting Roses in Clay, Sandy Soils, Rocky soils, or Windy areas

If you are planting roses in clay, sandy, rocky soils, or windy areas then there are some unique considerations to be aware of because of the unfavorable conditions. Check out my guide on how to plant roses successfully in these conditions using the links above.

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