Planting Bare Root Roses by Dorothy Wall.


Bare-root roses are the choice of experienced rose growers.

Dorothy Wall wins Queen
Dorothy Wall

But for the uninitiated it can be a shock to receive a box of bare root roses. They will be tied up with twine and crammed together in a big bundle, showing no resemblance at all to the pictures portrayed so vividly in your mind. It would seem to take a miracle to transform such a mass into blooming plants. But never fear, gardeners are by their nature, believers in miracles. Here’s a review of the basics to make the miracle a reality.

Inspect each plant carefully for damaged or broken roots and trim if necessary. If some are very long, it’s ok to trim to more manageable size.

Submerge in water, (yes the whole plant). They’ve had a long, hard journey from field to your door. It may have been weeks since they were yanked so rudely out of the ground, lopped off, kept in cold storage, packed and shipped – they need a good drink. I use a clean trashcan filled with water along with a little bleach and soak the roses for 24 hours.

Choosing the best location. Roses like sun and plenty of it, at least 6 hours daily. Avoid planting near large trees, as they will compete with the rose for food and water.

The almighty hole. Someone once said “Don’t put a dollar plant in a dime hole.” This obviously was said a long time ago because the numbers have changed, but the philosophy is the same. Don’t spare the shovel; extra time and energy will pay off. Give the roots room to expand. I like wider rather than deeper because the feeder roots, the real workers, will spread out a two-foot radius. Twice as wide and deep as the roots is a good guide.

Check for drainage. Fill the hole with water and let it stand. If the water has not drained out in an hour, better improve the drainage. Roses do not like wet feet. A cup of gypsum sprinkled in the hole will work wonders. Or dig deeper and put coarse sand or gravel in the bottom.

Amend the soil. Use lots of organic material and mix it in with the existing soil. Otherwise the roots will be reluctant to leave the confines of the soil instead of adjusting to the garden soil.

Make a cone in the hole with the amended soil and place the roots firmly and evenly around it. Sprinkle some super-phosphate (encourages root development) around near the bottom of the roots. As you replace the soil, check for right depth of the plant. The crown or bud-union should be just above ground level. Tamp the soil in firmly but gently (don’t use your feet) to avoid air pockets. When the soil is about ¾ filled add water to settle the soil around the roots, and when drained add the remaining soil and water again.

Mounding is the most important step in planting a bare-root rose. It may look a little silly to see all these mounds like so many anthills, but it works! Any of the materials you used as amendments are ideal. Heap the plant, covering at least half or more. Water it again and leave it alone until you see new growth. When an inch or so of new growth emerges it’s time to un-mound. Do it carefully by hand or a gentle spray of water.

Container planting may be the best choice is your roses are going to be put into an established bed. The competition may be too much for a brand new rose. Giving the plant a few months of growing in a container where it can develop a strong root system will enable it to compete with the “big boys.” Another plus of starting a new rose in a container is that it provides an opportunity to evaluate it before you give it space in the landscape.