Tips for Planting Roses in Your Garden

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Novice gardeners are often reluctant to plant roses. The truth is, roses are no more difficult to plant than any other shrub. Let's plant roses!

I recently reached out to a few colleagues who are professional rose gardeners to ask for their tips on planting. Want to know the number one tip I got?

“Remember that a rose is a shrub.”

If you can plant a shrub, you can plant a rose. The following tips for how to plant roses will help ensure your success with one of the world’s most popular flowers.

Plan Where to Plant Your Roses

To perform well, most roses need room to grow, in well-drained soil, where they can get at least six or more hours of sunlight daily. Many shrub roses need about three to four feet around them to have room to grow to their mature size. If you aren’t sure if your soil is well-draining, you can dig a hole and complete a percolation test to determine this.

If you are growing roses in a hot climate, Noelle Johnson, known as the AZ Plant Lady, says, “Avoid planting in west-facing exposures or near walls or other reflected surfaces, which increase the sun’s intensity.”

Purchase Healthy Rose Plants

Roses are sold as dormant, bare root plants or as growing plants in containers. When buying roses, avoid any plants showing signs of disease or insect damage.

Dormant roses

Dormant, bare root roses are usually sold in early spring. The roots are wrapped in peat or other organic matter and placed in a plastic bag. The stems are trimmed back and are often coated with wax to keep them from drying out. If you purchase a dormant rose, Kathy Jentz, author of Groundcover Revolution, says, “When you get bare-root roses in the mail or at the store, they are usually pretty dehydrated, so soak them in a bucket of water overnight before planting them.”

Potted roses

Potted roses are growing in a nursery container. Depending on when you purchase a potted rose, it may be blooming. This gives you a chance to see what the flower looks like and also smell it to see if it’s fragrant. However, be aware that some potted roses are fairly close to dormant so may also need a good soak in water before planting. And, don’t be alarmed if you purchase a potted rose from an online company and it arrives without many leaves. Nurseries may strip off a lot of the leaves before shipping so the rose doesn’t dry out as much during the several days it will spend in a box as it makes its way to your garden. Once planted, it will sprout new leaves.

Plant Your Roses

Gardener watering roses flowers with watering can after transplanting. Summer garden work.Maryviolet/Getty Images

To plant your rose, dig a hole big enough and deep enough to allow the roots to be spread out a bit. Once you’ve dug the hole, mound up the soil in the center of the hole and place the roots over this mound. Then backfill with the soil you dug from the hole. Water deeply, then top off the ground around the rose with two to three inches of mulch.

Should the soil be amended when planting?

You do not need to amend your soil with peat or other organic matter when planting your roses. Although the advice on amending the soil when planting shrubs and trees has been shared for decades, recent studies suggest that it is better to plant in the soil that you have without amendments. This encourages stronger root growth overall and also lessens the likelihood of the amended soil drying out faster than the surrounding soil or gradually sinking as the amendments decompose.

How deep should you plant a rose?

Most shrub roses are grown on their own roots and should be planted at the same depth they were growing in the container. The advice is a little different for grafted roses.

Teresa Byington, co-host of the popular Rose Chat podcast says, “Grafted roses require burying the bud union (knobby part where the graft is made) two to three inches below ground and mulch.” This is because the grafted section of the rose is sensitive to cold so, burying it protects it.

When should you plant roses?

If you live in a colder climate, make sure to plant any roses at least four to six weeks before your first frost date. This gives the roots time to become established before the roses go dormant. You can also plant them in early spring and summer. For milder climates, Paul Zimmerman of Paul Zimmerman Roses, who has grown roses in both Los Angeles, California and South Carolina, says, “Fall planting is a great thing to do. More roses and plants are becoming available in the fall and I find that is a great time to plant so they can get established over the winter and early spring.”

Care for Your Rose After Planting

Roses need to be kept well-watered after planting, as much as two inches of water a week, or the equivalent of a full five-gallon bucket of water, according to Byington. Once roses become established they require less water. If you are fertilizing your roses, do it at the start of spring and avoid fertilizing later in the season when roses are going dormant.

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Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.