Will Roses Grow in Sandy Soil?

Roses in sandy soil

So you’re thinking of buying a rose to fill the air with fragrance and to marvel at the summer bloom, but you don’t know whether it will survive in your fast draining sandy soil…

Hardy Rose species such as Gallicas and Rugosa Roses can thrive in poor quality, quick draining, sandy soils. However, to ensure a good bloom, the rose will benefit from four gallons of water once per week, an application of fertilizer once per month and soil amendments such as organic mulch to help retain water and improve soil fertility.

Let’s take a further look at how to prepare sandy soil for rose planting, which roses are best suited for sandy soil, how to fertilize your rose, and how often you should be watering your rose in the growing season…

How to Prepare Your Sandy Soil for Rose Planting

Sandy soils occur naturally in particularly arid areas or where the underlying bedrock is made up of sandstone and fine material, but can also be caused by previous building work.

The two biggest problems with sandy soil are…

  • The soil is too nutrient poor for roses to produce the best blooms
  • Sandy soils will drain too quickly for the rose’s roots to absorb water and the rose dies of drought.

Roses do love well-draining soil, but sandy soils drain so fast that if left unamended, they will be too dry for growing roses.

The best solution to both these problems is to amend your soil with plenty of organic mulch which will improve the fertility of the soil and help retain the right level of moisture in the soil.

Planting a Rose in Sandy soil

When you’ve decided on the perfect spot for your rose, dig the hole at least twice the size of the root ball of the rose, both in terms of width and depth.

This will give you plenty of space to partially fill the hole with a generous amount of mulch so that the rose’s roots have plenty of loose, fertile material to make themselves at home.

If you have sandy soil and live in an arid climate, the best organic material to line your hole will be made up of decomposed leaf litter.

All organic mulches do retain water well, but leaf mulch in particular is the best material for absorbing and holding onto water so that the roots can draw upon it when they need it, to counteract the fast draining sandy soil texture.

Leaf mulch also improves soil structure which allows excess water to drain through so roots will not be waterlogged which is the best of both worlds.

After you have planted your rose I would recommend that you add plenty of organic material to the surrounding soil area around your rose.

Composted kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and wood chips will all benefit the health of your rose by breaking it down into the soil and reinvigorating the beneficial microbes, yeast, and fungi which all make more nutrients available to the rose.

A layer of mulch will also feed the earthworms, which work to break down material into highly fertile worm castings. With worm castings, the nutrients are chelated,  which means that it is in a form that is far easier for the plant to absorb and benefit from.

Additionally, earthworms will aerate the soil to ease soil compaction, create channels for water to reach the roots, and create space for the roots to grow down deep into the soil.

By making the soil more fertile with regular mulch applications, the plant will be healthier and more resistant to disease.

It is best to add surface mulch to rose beds three times a year:

  1. Once at the start of spring it provides nutrients and helps stimulate growth.
  2. A second time during the height of the summer for added moisture and to keep the roots cool as the intense sunshine will increase the rate of transpiration and evaporation.
  3. A third application the end of the fall, to help insulate the roots from the sudden drop in temperature in winter.

Pile the mulch 2-3 inches deep around the rose but keep the mulch about 2 inches away from the main stem. If you have mulch that is constantly moist and pilled up high against your rose cane then this can start to rot the wood, so take care when layering your mulch.

Watering your Rose in Sandy Soil

All roses like a good drink in the spring and summer but you have to be especially diligent with quick draining sandy soils.

If you have amended your soil with plenty of mulch then this should help to alleviate the problem significantly.   

The amount of watering also depends a lot on the climate you’re in or the specific weather you have that summer so the best advice is to give your rose a good soak once a week with around 4 gallons (in the morning), but to also use your intuition.

You can test if your rose needs watering by placing your finger an inch or two below the surface in the surrounding soil. If you detect any moisture then your rose should be doing just fine, but if it is bone dry it’s time to get the hose out for a good soak.

If your rose is too dry then it will show signs of stress such as wilting and the leaves turning yellow, at which point you will need to give the rose a good soak and heap on some more organic mulch around the surface of the plant to help retain that water.

Fertilizer for Roses in Sandy Soils

Sandy soils are low on nutrients which is why applying regular mulch is essential. However to ensure your rose is healthy and blooms with the most amount of flowers possible you will need to use a fertilizer once a month in the growing season as sandy soils tend to be particularly low in nutrients.

The best time to start fertilizing depends on your climate. After you are confident there will be no more frosts from the tail end of winter you can begin to fertilize your rose in the spring slightly before the leaves are fully open. (Usually in March/April).

You have to wait till after the last frost because the fertilizer will stimulate new, softer leaf growth which is susceptible to frost damage.

You should also stop fertilizing your rose after the 15th of August so you don’t promote new, soft growth which is again more susceptible to frost damage and will be killed when the temperature drops in the fall/winter.

The new growth your rose has put on in the growing season needs time to harden up and prepare for its winter dormancy.

I personally have found success with using a miracle grow rose fertilizer for use in sandy soils. This fertilizer contains a good balance of all the minerals and nutrients that have all the ingredients for a healthy disease-resistant rose bush with plentiful blooms with only two applications per year during the growing season.

Alternatively, you can fertilize organically with fish emulsion, bone meal, and alfalfa. Use a combination of these fertilizers once per month in the growing season.

A word of caution when using organic fertilizers is that they tend to smell and attract flies whereas formulations such as miracle-gro tend to be more benign when it comes to emitting smells and attracting unwanted wildlife.

Each individual garden differs in terms of soil fertility, amount of sunlight, humidity, etc. so there may be an element of trial and error before you get the conditions right for the perfect bloom but if you have applied plenty of mulch, good fertilizer, in a spot with enough sunshine and water then there is every chance you will grow roses successfully in sandy soil.

Rose Varieties Suitable for Sandy Soils

For sandy soils, you are always better off choosing the hardier varieties of roses that are capable of growing in less favorable conditions yet still able to produce spectacular blooms with a sweet fragrance.

The safest bet to go for is Roses from the Gallica and Regosa groups. Both Gallica and Rugosa roses are exceptionally hardy and can still grow and thrive in spite of drought and poor soil quality.

They also are particularly resistant to disease and pests which can be the bane of a rose grower’s garden.

It is of course still best practice to add plenty of mulch and give it a good soak in the dryer months no matter how hardy a rose is, to give it the best chance to thrive.

Rugosa roses can even tolerate salty spray so if you are in a coastal region this is the rose for you. My personal favorite rugosa ‘Rubra’ rose blooms with beautiful classic pink flowers and plentiful summer blooms.

Rugosa roses tend to be more commonly available online and at garden centers than gallica roses but if you are lucky enough to find a gallica, I recommend ‘Charles De Mills’ rose because of its bountiful petals, large flowers, and beautiful fragrance.


So to summarise, with the right rose variety and some amended conditions roses can grow and display plentiful flowers when growing in sandy soils.

Remember the biggest challenges will always be providing the rose with enough nutrients and access to water, so adding more mulch than you normally would to a rose garden is a great plan.

If the fertility in your garden is notably poor then make sure you fertilize your rose regularly.

With nutrient-deficient soils (as sandy soils tend to be) a pre-made formula is often the best way to go as it takes the guesswork out of fertilizing. They provide all the nutrients a rose needs, at the right concentration and they are very easy to apply.

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