For the Love of Gardening  

What works & What doesn't...

Planting Roses 

Of course, my garden is all about "the story" - but if you just want the bare bones on planting- scroll down to the bottom of the page. 

...otherwise settle in.

We'll also cover the following as we go along, so if you are in a hurry, find what you are looking for here:

           PRUNING ROSES


              ROSE GARDENING

              ROSE TREES

But.... if you would like to read what I have learned... my successes and failures, stay with me and I'll share.... 

- if you follow these simple steps to planting roses, (even if the soil is difficult) you can be pretty sure you'll have some gorgeous blooms like these. Of course, you will choose a site that gets about 6 to 8 hours of sun each day... having said that, I did find some

roses that will grow in the shade - who knew?

and be sure to Check out my rose hedge !

It was quite a few  years ago when I decided if I was going to plant roses, I would go to a lecture by an expert grower at our local garden show .  His slides were glorious - full of colour photos. I picked my favourite 10 roses and wrote out my list.   Ten "bushes" sounded like and awful lot, but he showed us  hundreds that would grow in our zone 5 so I was proud of my ability to hold back.

When I went to pick them up, I was astonished there was no greenhouse, no potted roses, and worst of all, no blooms to see.  It was a big airy warehouse.  I gave the gal my list, and she came back with a very large black plastic bag. 

How disappointing.

When I got home, there were  10 dark, gnarled  roots with tags attached.  Yikes, they were called 'BARE ROOT' Roses (no pot, no soil, no leaves, no buds- just bare roots). Ugh.

This photo from David Austin Roses shows what a bare-root rose looks like.  These come in a box for easy shipping.  Mine, came in a bag.

Bare Root Roses:

These roses are dormant and some say that planting them in this state will give them a better chance as there will not be as much shock when transplanted.  The bare root roses are easier to ship as well and therefore cheaper. You may see them in big box stores in plastic sleeves or bags.

If you buy them like this, you must plant them within two weeks after the last frost date for your region. If you do, they will have a better chance to thrive... if not, then their chances of getting established will be a struggle and take longer.

But - back to that big black bag; inside, there were planting instructions and words that assured me these dead looking roots would grow in my zone.

How to plant  Bare Root Roses: 

So, a bit daunted but ever hopeful (rose gardeners are always full of hope with a little faith thrown in for good measure) I was committed to planting them, bare root or not.  

They say you should buy the best rose you can afford and be sure to read the tag for the size when full grown.

Soak them:

I filled a pail of water and soaked all those poor ugly roots over night  which put the moisture back in the roots - experts call this  re-hydration- but it also gives the roots a nudge or wake-up call.

Plan ahead where to plant:

The next day, I decided where they were going.  Mostly by height.  I had dug a larger garden around the old stump and so had a wider rose bed.  The taller ones in the centre, and the shorter ones in front. 


Digging the Hole:

I dug the hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the length of the roots. 

Put a small hill of soil in the centre of the hole and splay the roots over it….. Then carefully put the soil back in around it being careful to pat it down to get rid of air pockets (but not so tightly as to smother it).

My soil was what was there already.  I figured the roses would just have to grow in it. I USED TO put a bit of bone meal in the bottom of the hole... but no longer since I read this below...

 (Note: when I started planting roses, I read that bone meal was an essential for getting roses started, I have been using it.

But, I read some research by Linda Chalker-Scott, PhD (Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State U.) who recently published a paper called "The Myth of Phosphate, Part II: 'Roses Need Phosphate Fertilizer for Root and Flower Growth'. She stated she could not find any research that supported this any more than any other plant and if you add phosphate to your rose plants when you plant them, you run the risk of decreasing the ability of the rose to use the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi to get the nutrients it needs.  Instead, it creates the need to keep fertilizing the rose as it cannot get it for itself.) 

See also (look under Selected Publications and find "Horticultural Myths" and then find Bone Meal)


I always put good compost on top of  the bed so the rain would wash it in - but in my first rose bed, I did only what I knew then. I thought they should just grow without any help from me. 

In one way, this is true. They need to grow in the soil that is there unless that soil is so hard and full of gravel that roots will not push through. But it does more good to amend the soil in the hole a bit first with good compost to give the new roots a head start.  


Although bagged composts like sea compost add a lot of nutrients to our gardens, think about this:  if you live on a coast where seaweed, kelp and other sea-based materials are easily available to you, then by all means use them on your garden.  

The same with peat.  Few of us live near enough to natural peat, though. Peatlands take centuries to regenerate - do we want to be part of their destruction?

(Coir - the hairy part of coconuts, is a great alternative, does much the same thing and uses an otherwise waste product.

If we live in an area that relies on transporting these items for us to use in our gardens, wouldn’t it make more sense to use what is closer at hand?  

It’s kind of like that 100 mile diet…. Maybe individually, we don’t think we use enough of these to deplete the earth’s resources, but there are millions of us; and it does make a difference. Let's not add to the problem.

We need to reduce our carbon footprint… meaning, use compost sourced locally instead where possible.

It’s about gardening intentionally.

Also remember if you put too much compost or rich soil around your roses, those tender new roots will get used to being fed and they will not spread out into the soil.


You want the roots to spread through the surrounding soil and be healthy enough to seek the nutrients they need from what is available.  

Tough love, I think we mean.


In a new subdivision or even an older one, the soil is often full of construction debris and once those bits are removed, your soil may need some help. You could mix the existing soil with compost, and add some beneficial mycorrhizal liquid or use a powder form and coat the hole with it.  This beneficial fungi will help the roots to spread beyond the hole ... seeking the nutrients your rose will need. But don't do this unless you are sure you need to.



Our Zone 5 can have some pretty brutal winters, so I used to bury the "bud union" (where the central stem joins the root system) about an inch and a half below the surface of the soil.

I now know that they do better if they are buried at least 4 to 5 inches below the soil level.

I didn't know why till recently but one of the reasons for planting the bud union deeply(or where the graft meets the stem) is for the eventuality that the graft (or scion) will form its own roots, pushing them down into the soil, supporting itself outside the root stock...

WIND ROCK: If you plant your rose with the bud union above the surface of the soil, winter winds can rock the tall canes and move the rose at the soil level, rocking it and creating a pocket around it - which allows small creatures in and where water can turn to ice, freezing the root.

CONTAINER ROSES: (sold in pots)

Plant them much the same way.  I place the rose, pot and all in a bucket of water for about an hour before I plant it. 

Then before I put it in the hole, I gently tease the larger roots so they are not bound in a circle the shape of the pot. If the roots do encircle the pot - take a sharp knife and slit the sides all around and gently pull the roots apart. This make the rose produce more small roots that will reach out into the new soil instead of staying in a round circle in the new hole.

Those roots need to shake themselves out so they can breathe... don't worry about hurting it, you won't.  Just be careful not to damage all the wee tiny roots ..... then plant it with some good compost and lots of water.  

Voila, gorgeous, healthy roses.


Those gorgeous little masses of blooms that you can buy at the big box stores or in grocery stores add a sweet bit of colour along the edge of a bed or in  a pot on the patio.

But please READ THE TAG

Yes, I said it again.  

Those tags are small and hard to read, but I find that sometimes, the tags on those little roses say the plant was treated with NEONICOTINOIDS - a pesticide.

If you are going to plant them in your garden, you MUST wash all the soil from the roots and soak them overnight before putting them in your garden. These little roses will often come back for a couple of years, but you might want to treat them as annuals and not be disappointed if they don't come back.

Some other plants that are also treated with Neonics  are the potted Hydrangeas that are popular at Easter.

WATER: When the hole is the right height, fill it with water - and let the water drain away.  If you plant the rose in the water and the soil does not fill in all the gaps, those gaps could be holes later for water to freeze and kill the root.  

Water it well. You won't need to feed your rose, the good soil you mixed will be enough for it to flourish.

This is what happens to roots that are left to encircle the hole.. they keep going around instead of reaching out into the soil for nutrients. They eventually give up.

"You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses".

Pablo Picasso


.... take the tag off, and make a drawing or map  so you will know where you planted it and what it's name is.  You could even take a photo, print it and mark the names on the photo. Really, you like folks to call you by name, so will your Rose. 

“To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you

–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she's more important

than all the hundreds of you other roses:

because it is she that I have watered;

because it is she that I have put under the glass globe;

because it is for her that I've killed the caterpillars

(except the two or three we saved to become butterflies);

because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled,

or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing.

Because she is MY rose.” 

Antoine de St. Exupery from ‘The Little Prince’

Take a photo of each new rose, and with its tag, put it into a garden journal.  Believe me, there will come a time when you will have so many roses, you will not remember where you planted each one, or their names. I like to put mine into a garden journal with notes so that next year I will know what is where.

...And then, wait:

Give it a few days or week to get settled before  you look for buds....   you will see them, be a little patient.

 ....and before long, your roses will look like this.



The Best Time to Plant Roses:

That depends. 

Some folks say Spring when the soil is warm and there is a growing season ahead, but some others say early fall - September when the soil is also warm and there is still time for those new little roots to grow some before winter. 

For me, the sales in the fall make planting then really attractive.  There are some warm weeks still ahead for the roots to begin to take hold and if they are watered and wintered well, they will do just fine.


But really, I have planted them any time.  If it is hot, they will need a lot of water and some babying, but remember, they WANT to grow.


Fertilize ?:  I used to do it once a week - it was a nice Sunday morning activity - I used an organic fertilizer for roses.  Others say that coffee grounds and tea leaves around your roses will make the soil more acidic (only slightly) which those who do this, say roses love…

But the more research I do, and the more experimenting I do, the more I realize that instead of fertilizing my roses, I needed to fertilize the soil.

Healthy soil grows healthy roots which grow healthy plants.  I was looking for quick fixes and finding my roses were not lasting more than a year or two.

So, for the past 3 years, we have gone 'cold turkey' and no longer fertilize any of my roses or other perennials.

Instead, we are working to make the soil more nutrient-rich with lots of compost so the soil will work its magic with the mycorrhizal fungi to create its own fertilizer.

I still save my coffee grounds (its organic and fair trade) and mix them in with my compost.  I have no research to prove it makes any difference, but I love coffee, hate to see the grounds go to waste, and I love  how my garden smells.  It makes me smile and my roses are gorgeous.  Make your own conclusions.

I have to say, it sure was hard not to keep fertilizing - the first summer, it took longer for the roses to have as many blooms as the previous year. But we kept adding compost and mulch, and the second season, they were almost back to the way they were when I was adding that blue juice.

It was really tempting to fertilize, because I wanted to show off my roses, but we kept at it and I do not regret it.  Now I know  they are healthy and will stay that way. 

if you are still fertilizing - stop in mid-August (and don't do it next season).   You do not want to encourage the bush to produce more flowers when it should be taking all the nutrients back into the roots for its winter survival.

Add compost  and mulch - spring and fall.

I know I go on about compost a lot, but believe me, it is  so important and I need you to really understand that.

This is how my first rose bed looked a few weeks after I planted it.

I was in heaven !

But alas, my LACK of experience with 

 over-wintering killed 8 out of  my 10 roses.

I was devastated.  I learned that I didn’t plant them deep enough and they froze at the bud union. So please look at how I overwinter them now.

I never made that mistake again. So I planted new roses and started studying.  I'll share what I learned as we go.





HERE ARE THE BASICS in review....


they come when dormant; often seen in big box stores packed in sawdust in a plastic bag or sleeve

- there won’t be as much shock when transplanted

- you must plant them within 2 weeks after the last frost date for your region (available on the internet) - if not, getting them established will take longer

- soak them in a pail of water overnight - puts the moisture back into the roots


- water it well before planting… till the water runs out the bottom

- trim off all dead, or broken branches and if you have enough courage, cut the blooms off as well.  Make a nice bouquet to put on your desk or by your bed

- this gives the rose a chance to put its energy into growing and not into blooming


- using some of the soil you removed from the hole, mix it with rich compost before you plant - half and half works well.

- dig twice as wide and deeper than the potted rose; and deeper than the length of the bare root.

- deep enough to cover the bud union (where the stems all come together before they become the root) if the rose is grafted.  In  our climate, this is essential as it protects it from the freeze-thaw-freeze we get in the spring.

- loosen the soil on the edges of the hole - a trowel works well… the tiny roots have a better chance to penetrate the soil than if it is  hard as a rock.

- gently loosen the rose from t he pot…. hold it in your  hands as you place it in the hole

- if pot-bound (meaning the roots are interlaced and form a tight net around the roots of the rose)- then take a sharp knife and slice the sides of the root-bound plant from top to bottom- this stimulates new growth

- set the rose in the hole

- gently tamp down the soil mixture around it.

- leave a small berm all around the rose to hold water

WIND ROCK: If you plant your rose with the bud union above the surface of the soil, winter winds can rock the tall canes and move the rose at the soil level, rocking it and creating a pocket around it - this allows small creatures and water that turns to ice, which can freeze the root.

- When the hole is the right height, fill it with water - and let the water drain away.  If you plant the rose in the water and the soil does not fill in all the gaps, those gaps could be holes later for water to freeze and kill the root. 

- FOR BARE ROOT: Put a small hill of soil in the centre of the hole and splay the roots over it….. Then carefully put the soil back in around it being careful to pat it down to get rid of air pockets but not too tightly as to smother it.


- water well,and depending on the heat, water each day until established- then once a week or week-and-a-half should do... However, if there is sufficient rain, let them alone.

- do not water from overhead with hose or sprinkler system - the roots need the water, not the leaves

- hold your hose on a gently stream at the root and count to 10 (slowly)


- there are some who add fertilizer when planting to give them a boost- PLEASE DON'T.

Add compost instead.

- because if you regularly fertilize your rose, it will not seek nutrients from the surrounding soil on its own and will become dependent on the fertilizer.

- if you add compost to your soil every season, you are still feeding the rose, but also amending the soil around it, making it rich with nutrients so it will not need to be fertilized.

- you may not have as many blooms the first year, but your rose will put its energy into growing deep and healthy roots - making a healthy plant

MULCH  - up to the rose, but not touching the stem as this can rot the stem.


.... take the tag off, and make a drawing or map  so you will know where you planted it and what it's name is.  You could even take a photo, print it and mark the names on the photo. Put all this in your journal.

Really -  you like folks to call you by name, and so will your Rose. 

Take heart dear gardener; if I can do it, you can too. 

See also :







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