Roses Planting & Care Info

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Roses??  Where do I start?

This past week one of my co-workers told me that she loves the look / smell of roses, but she avoids buying them.  I asked why and she indicated that she doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to plant them or care for them. Afraid and embarrassed that she’ll kill them, she only admires them from afar.

I completely understand and want to help.  Yes, they can be intimidating … especially the finicky hybrid tea roses.  But please do not surrender to fear!  Roses are my favorite flowers and there are varieties that are easy to grow without a lot of fuss.  Click here for my post on Easy Care Roses

Bare Root Roses vs. Container Roses

When shopping for roses from garden centers or mail order sources you will find they are either packaged as bare root roses (just like it sounds…minimal packaging, little or no soil, usually a bag covering the roots) or they come potted in a container …

Most of the roses available today are sold in containers.  Some people feel this is less scary as they are accustomed to buying plants of all sizes in containers …

Actually bare root is the traditional way of planting roses, and it isn’t hard at all!   With a little preparation, it’s quite satisfying and gets your new rose off to a great start.

What’s a Bare Root Rose?

Frequently, roses you’ll order from reliable rose growers online  are mailed to your door as bare roots.  As you can imagine, they are much lighter and easier (and cheaper) to prepare for mailing …

Bare root plants are very resilient too. They can withstand storage, transport, and just about all manner of treatment. They are tough, little survivors!  You can also purchase them at most garden centers.

Now What Do I Do?

It’s best to plant them right away after receipt (mail order companies generally ship them according to your zone and the optimal planting time for your area). If you can’t plant them immediately due to weather or some other factor, keep them in a cool place out of direct sunlight and keep them moist 

TIP:  Bare root roses should be soaked in water for 6 to 24 hours before planting.  You can do this in a large bucket, container, or a utility sink. Some folks add a vitamin B-1 solution to the soak to help promote new root growth. You can pick this up at a garden center.

Prior to planting bare root roses, give them a once over and remove any damaged canes or roots.  Sometimes the rose will have sprouted new, white growth …

Planting a Bare Root Rose in 5 Easy Steps:

– Dig a hole that is big enough.  Prepare the site first by removing weeds and adding some organic matter (manure or compost works great – both can be purchased by the bag at garden centers). The shape of the hole doesn’t really matter, but I tend to dig a round hole … at least 12 inches deep.

– Set the rose in the hole.  I usually set the roots on top of a little mound of soil at the bottom of the hole. If you live in Zone 6 or colder areas, it is essential to plant the bud union of the rose below the soil level.  In Zone 5 where I garden, 1 to 2 inches deep works well.  (see diagram below)

– Put some good compost around the roots, then fill hole with soil.  Firm the soil down with your hands.

– Water slowly.  Give you newly planted rose a good, long drink.  Gurgling can indicate air pockets that need to be filled in …

– Mulch around the base of the plant. This helps prevent weed growth plus breaks down over time enriching you soil.

When To Plant?

When bare root roses are planted firmly and kept moist, this is the easiest and probably best way of planting with a success rate well over 90 percent …

They can be planted at any time in fall and spring when the ground is not severely frozen.  I prefer planting in the spring …

If you do plant a bare root rose in the fall, make sure you “winterize” it by simply “hilling” it up with soil (described in my Winterizing Roses section). You’re then all set for winter!

Some spring planted roses may begin growth within two weeks after planting – others may take as long as six weeks to break out. Be patient and you will be rewarded!

You can prune the canes of any rose that does not show signs of growth.  Feeding with a low dose of fish emulsion or seaweed extract can help stimulate growth as well …

Container Roses – How To Plant

You’ve just bought a rose in a plastic pot.  What do you do now?

Well, you’ve got two choices. Either transplant the rose into your garden or into a new permanent container.  Before you get to the planting part – you should do some preparation first.

Very important:  Keep the rose well-watered until you are ready to plant.

As with bare root roses, it’s advisable to do the planting preparation before you buy the plants.  Scout the best location in your yard for your new rose and choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day.  Make sure the area drains well since roses do not like wet feet.  Weed the area and clean up any debris before preparing a hole for your plant.

Ready to plant?  Here are five steps to take when planting a container rose from a local nursery, garden center, or mail order source:


Step One: If you want to place your rose in a new pot, find one with adequate drainage holes. In terms of height, get a pot that is at least the same depth as the current container, preferably deeper.

Similarly, you can dig a hole with the same dimensions, about 18 inches wide and as deep or deeper than the container.  Once you have dug your planting hole, the potted rose can be placed in it to determine the relative position of the bud union.

In Zones 6 or colder, be certain that the bud union ends up below ground after you’ve finished planting.  Dig deeper if the bud union isn’t below the ground about 1 or 2 inches (see diagram below).  This protects the rose and makes it more winter hardy.

Step Two: Remove the rose from its container by gently grasping the shank of the rose (the area directly below the bud union) while tipping the pot … and  tug it out. If the rose is in one of those fiber pots, you can cut away the pot using sturdy shears.

Loosen the soil around the root ball so you can see the roots. If you unpot the rose and find the roots all tangled up and rootbound, then you should cut the roots before planting – otherwise it may not spread out properly.  Just start cutting into the root tangle and don’t stop until you can pull the roots apart with your hands.  Spread the roots out and remember, the roots will grow longer as the rose grows.


Step Three: Place the rose in the center of the hole (or pot). Fill in with standard potting soil. You don’t need to buy any fancy or special soil. Normal potting soil from your local garden center is sufficient if you are planting your rose in a container.  If planting in the ground, I generally mix potting soil with the soil from the garden, plus a little compost.

Step Four: Now it’s time to get your hands a little dirty. Work the soil mixture around the roots thoroughly. This will eliminate air pockets and help the plant to adapt to its new home …

Step Five: Water the rose thoroughly! This is also a good time to add some material, like mulch, as a top layer to help the soil retain moisture and prevent weeds.


Here are five success tips for growing and caring for your roses …

1. Plant In A Sunny Location: Roses need at least six hours of sun per day, so plant them in a location where they’ll get full benefit from the sun …

We tend to plant them where they will face west or south so they’ll get afternoon sun (at least in the Midwest!)

2.  Adequate Drainage: Wherever you decide to plant your roses, make sure it’s an area where they will have adequate drainage …

What this means is to make sure any excess water will drain off naturally. Roses do not like to sit in pools and puddles of water …

3.  Mulch: We recommend putting mulch around the plants to keep out weeds and to help retain moisture in dry spells.

But, don’t stack mulch up against your roses! Leave a few inches mulch free around the root ball of the rose. This will prevent too much moisture and subsequent rotting …

4. Consistent Watering: Roses need about one inch of water per week. So if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’ll need to augment with hand watering 

Place a hose on low stream at the base of your rose and water until they are reasonably saturated but not soaked …

5. Keep Your Garden Clean: This is an underrated success tip!

It’s very important to remove any loose debris around your roses, like petals that may have shed, twigs, bark, or anything else.

Extraneous debris usually leads to insect problems. Make sure to keep your entire rose garden area clean. Your roses will appreciate your diligence!


Roses perform much better when they are mulched.

Mulching can even make the difference between life and death for a rose. Choose an organic mulch such as shredded leaves, wood chips, or bark mulch.


Benefits of Mulching Roses:

1. A mulch of at least 2″ thick holds moisture and decreases evaporation.
2. Mulching helps to prevent foliar fungus diseases because it prevents spores splashing from the ground onto the leaves.
3. Mulch suppresses weeds, thus reducing competition for water and nutrients and promoting better air circulation.


Pruning and Trimming Roses

Every rose plant needs some pruning and trimming.  If you neglect this job, the rose is not likely to stay healthy, flower as well, or look very good.

I admit, pruning roses can be confusing. Heavy pruning tends to stimulate fewer but larger flowers – especially on hybrid tea roses.  Lightly pruned roses generally have thicker, denser foliage and a large number of slightly smaller flowers on shorter stems …

General pruning principles apply to all roses, but there are some differences between classes. The closer one gets to species and shrub roses the less severe the pruning …Hybrid teas have the distinction of requiring the most severe pruning for optimum bloom and plant health.

‘Ebb Tide’ Grandiflora

Why prune?

Pruning roses is primarily done to:

– Remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood

– Increase air circulation- Keep the shrub from becoming a tangled mess

– Shape the plant and encourage the growth of flowering wood

Pruning creates growth that will support plenty of flowers …Rose pruning stops the plant from getting “leggy”. When a plant is said to get leggy, it means that there is a lot of old woody growth at the base of the plant, lacking leaf cover …

When To Prune

The majority of pruning is done in the spring. I’ve found that to be the most successful time. Many rose growers suggest waiting until the forsythias start to bloom as a good signal for the pruning season to begin …

The goal of spring pruning is to produce an open centered plant. This allows air and light to penetrate more easily. This routine maintenance helps prevent rose diseases and results in healthier, stronger plants. It’s definitely worth the effort!

Basic pruning fundamentals that apply to all roses include:

– Use clean, sharp pruners

– Wear protective gloves

– Prune repeat-flowering roses, including climbers, while they are dormant. In spring, trim them, and tie the canes of the climbing roses to supports.Cut at a 45-degree angle about 1/4 inch above outward-facing bud. The cut should slant away from the bud.

– Entirely remove all dead or dying canes. These can be identified as canes/branches that are shriveled, dark brown, or black in color

– Remove all thin, weak canes that are smaller than a pencil in diameter.

– Whenever possible, cut above a strong, outward-facing bud so that new shoots will grow in a direction away from the center of the plant.- When you cut through the stem the inside should be white. If there is brown discoloration cut the stem back further.

The aim is to have a well-balanced rose with an open center and good shape.

Are you new to the wonderful world of roses?  Or just need a refresher? I found this handy resource by the ARS (American Rose Society): Basic Rose Terminology


Get Planting and You Will Be Hooked

Planting and caring for roses is not difficult! Just follow my tips above for rose planting and care tips in Zone 5 / 6 and you will have success growing these regal flowers. Start with an easy care variety and you will find that you cannot stop at just one! Roses are very addictive … ; )


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