Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide

Chances are, if you’re purchasing a bare root rose for the first time, you’re likely a little perplexed. I mean, this thing is just basically a set of thorny sticks with scraggly-looking roots. But fear not! Your rose was dug up and trimmed during its dormant season. It’s perfectly normal that it doesn’t have leaves. And if it still has a few leaves, go ahead and pick them off.

Now, the first thing you’ll need to do when receiving your bare root rose is to choose a planting spot. Make sure this spot receives full sun (6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day). You can plant roses in partial shade, but keep in mind they may not bloom as prolifically.

Soak the roots of your bare root rose in a bucket of water for at least 2 hours before planting. This will help rehydrate the plant. It’s likely it had a long, tumultuous journey to get to you! If you can’t plant right away, temporarily plant it in a pot or cover the roots in something moist so they don’t dry out. Don’t leave them soaking for days. Up to 24 hours is fine. Some people say longer, but I would advise against that. Something I did this year was soak newspaper and wrap it around the roots. Then take a plastic grocery bag and wrap that around the newspaper and roots and tape it up so it’s airtight.

Preparing the Planting Hole

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Take a look at the root system of your plant. Most people say as a rule of thumb, you should dig a hole twice the width and depth of the root system. Keep in mind you may be pruning off some of the roots, and it’s not super pertinent that the hole is that big. An adequate size to dig your hole is 18 inches deep and 2 feet wide.

Do not plop your rose in the hole and fill it back up haphazardly! You need to back-fill with some soil first.

Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide
Dig a hole of adequate size. 2 feet wide by 18 inches deep is fine! Mine is not particularly round in this picture, but you get the point.

Take a look at your plant and notice that the roots have sort of a cone shape to them. They come together at the top and spread out at about 45-degree angles all around the plant. We need to make a cone of soil at the bottom of the hole. If you’re mixing in compost or well-rotted manure, now is the time to do that. Break up some of your soil clods, add some of the manure or compost, and mix together. Heap this mixture up into a pyramid or cone. You should be able to set the rose right on top of this cone, and the roots should splay out around the cone. Trim the roots if necessary at this point. Spread the roots out uniformly if you can. This doesn’t have to be scientific by any means. We are just trying to reduce air pockets beneath the roots. Make sure that the rose is deep enough to cover all of the roots well, but not so deep that you’re burying any of the canes substantially.

How Deep to Plant Roses

If you purchased a grafted rose (many roses are), you’ll notice a swelling on the stem where the bud wood was grafted to the rootstock. This is called the bud union (or graft).

Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide
Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide

There is debate on the best practice when planting a grafted rose. Some say to bury the bud union, others say to keep it above the soil surface. I like to plant mine so that the bud union is just above the soil surface but then mulch heavily around the base of the plant.

Once you have the rose sitting on top of the cone of soil and it looks like it’s at a good height, it’s time to fill in the rest of the hole.

Mix Your Soil and Amendments

Remember to mix your amendments in with the soil as you back-fill. Don’t back-fill with only compost or manure. You need to mix it together with the soil. In some cases with shrubs or trees, if you only back-fill with your amendment, the roots may circle around in this area instead of penetrating the soil beyond right away. We want to amend the soil but not make it completely different from the soil around the plant.

Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide
Here is some compost with Espoma Rose Food on top.

Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide
I mix in the rose food with the compost.

Planting Your Bare Root Rose: A Step-By-Step Guide
Then I mix my amendments with my soil as I fill in the around my rose.

Make sure you’re tamping down the soil periodically as you back-fill. We want to reduce the amount of air pockets in the hole to prevent a lot of settling. Keep filling until your hole is completely full.

What To Do After Planting Your Rose

You may also consider trimming up the shoots of your rose bush. As a guideline, trimming off about ⅓ of the length of the canes from the top may be advised. The root system has gone through a major shock by being dug up and has lost at least 60% of its substance. Trimming back the canes just allows the roots a chance to catch back up. You want the root system to be just as big as the shoots or canes, in theory.

I like to top off the soil with a layer of mulch. Mulch will help reduce surface erosion if you have any hard rains in the beginning of the season, and it will also help conserve moisture in the hot, dry parts of the season. Mulch is also great for suppressing weed growth. In the Winter, you can choose to add more mulch to help the plant overwinter. Just make sure to pull some back in the Spring if you heaped the mulch up too much in the Winter.

Water your rose after planting, and then keep an eye on it as the Spring progresses. Since the roots are not established yet, your rose may benefit from watering every other day or twice a week. Soon you should start seeing the buds begin to swell and new leaves emerge!

Behind-the-Scenes of Bare Root Rose Production

If you would like a behind-the-scenes look at bare root rose production and packing, check out this video (below) from Wagner Rose Nursery, a rose farm in Australia.

Happy digging & planting!

Reach out to us if you have any questions. We want you to have the garden of your dreams.

And remember, plants are forgiving! Don’t stress out about planting your roses. In 2 to 3 years, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t added roses to your garden before!

Happy digging, flower friends!

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