The Practical Gardener: Planting Bare-Root Roses

Jan 9, 2016

Credit Takashi .M / http://bit.ly/1WCKTfR

It's officially winter, and one of the fun things about winter: it’s time to purchase our bare root plants. Specifically, bare-root roses.

There are roses for every location in your garden — the perennial bed, the shrub bed, the garden border or climbers for trellises in arbors. They come in bright hot colors, or pale pastels to fit every garden color scheme. And while they do require a bit more care than some of our other garden plants, they can be just spectacular.

Bare-root roses are dormant plants sold with no soil around the roots, but they should be packed in moist sawdust to keep the roots moist and protected. When selecting plants, look for roots that are healthy and symmetrical around the trunk. If the roots are broken or appear diseased, it isn't a good plant to start with — so avoid it. Always remember: you get what you pay for. Take your time to shop for the best quality. A stronger, more vigorous plant has a greater chance of rewarding you with more quality blooms for a longer period of time.

Bare-root roses also tend to be less expensive than their container-grown counterparts. Try to do a little research before selecting just any old variety for your location. For example, I know that in my garden, I have areas that don't get great air circulation. So I know that a couple of plate diseases — powdery mildew and black spot — will be a problem. Try to select mildew and black spot-resistant varieties.

The web is a great resource for finding the perfect variety for your location. After you've bought them, plant your new roses a soon as possible. Select a location that offers at least six hours of sunlight a day, as well as good air circulation. Keep some space between your roses (you'll appreciate this when it comes time to prune — you know, the whole rose between two thorns thing?).

It's best to soak the roots in a bucket of water for two–24 hours just before planting. Dig your hole 12–18 inches wide and deep. Consider amending the soil with organic matter, up to about half of the volume of soil. And then mix in a half cup of bone meal or superphosphate in at the same time. Then make a cone-shaped mound using the amended soil in the bottom of your hole, to help support the plant and encourage proper root growth.

You might need to do a little trimming of the plant. Ideally, your rosebush will have three to five six-inch-long canes with three to five buds on each cane. Prune out any crossing or broken canes. Set your rows in place and spread the roots out over the mound. While holding the rose upright, place that amended soil around the roots, pressing it down to firm the soil and remove any air pockets. Create a water basin slightly wider than the root system and fill it with water to settle the soil around the roots. Make sure the graft or bud union is at or just above the soil line.

In spring, it's a good idea to add a layer of organic mulch around the rose plant, which will really help to conserve moisture, keep the roots cooler, and keep the weeds at bay.

Once your new roses bloom — usually within eight to twelve weeks — It's time to add a little fertilizer. There are a lot of choices out there so by one designated for roses and follow the label directions.