How to Grow and Care for Bare-Root Roses

Bare-root roses are just roses that have been pruned and cleaned to be packaged and shipped anywhere. In this way, your choice of rose types is increased by the number of times you can use your credit card. For rose lovers, bare-root roses are a dream come true. In this article, flower farmer Wendy Moulton shares how to plant, grow, and care for these roses.

A bare-root plant, its roots exposed, rests in a white plastic container, devoid of soil. The stark contrast between the stark white vessel and the earthless roots highlights the potential for growth and adaptation in a minimalist setting.


The only thing different about a bare-root rose is how to treat it when it comes in its package. If you buy one from a nursery, it must be planted a little differently in the garden or a container. Let’s dig into everything you need to know about growing bare-root roses.

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Bunches of bare-root plants, bound together tightly by blue strings, rests gently on the green grass. Each root extends outward, poised for planting, while the delicate threads secure them in a neat arrangement, ready for cultivation.
The bare-root plants are classified under the genus Rosa.
Genus Rosa
Family Rosaceae
Native Area Asia, Europe, North America, Northern Africa
Maintenance General care, feeding, pruning, pest and disease management
Hardiness Zones 5-8
Exposure Full Sun to Partial Shade
Watering needs High
Pests Aphids and other sucking insects and caterpillars
Diseases Fungal diseases like black spot, powdery mildew, leaf rust
Soil Type Rich, loamy, well-draining
Flowering time All year, Spring, Autumn
Attracts Bees, butterflies, other pollinators

What Is It?

A bare-root rose is simply a rose that has been readied for shipping by pruning it severely, rinsing the soil off the roots, and labeling it with its name. The label is particularly important because, once they are all pruned, you cannot to tell the varieties apart.

You can get any rose as a bare root, from standards, shrubs, climbers, and miniature roses. It will depend on what is popular and what the growers are selling as to what is available at any given time. There are over 30,000 hybrid roses available today.

Native Area

A vibrant wild rose bush stands adorned with delicate purple blooms and lush green leaves. In the backdrop, a blur of verdant foliage adds depth to the scene, enhancing the natural beauty of the flourishing flora.
Wild roses are distributed across North America, Asia, and Europe.

Wild roses have been found in many areas, including North America, Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Still, the many hybridized roses from growers around the globe have intrigued and delighted gardeners from all corners of the world.

It’s hardly surprising then that each color or rose will have its meaning made famous during the Victorian era. We all know that a red rose signifies love, but did you know that a yellow rose is for friendship, orange for joy, pink for gratitude, and white for loyalty?


Bare-roots, bundled in protective plastic, await planting in fertile soil. Their slender stems extend, seeking sunlight and nutrients to flourish into vibrant foliage, promising a future garden adorned with blossoms and verdant greenery.
The bare-root roses remain inactive until they are planted.

Bare-root roses barely have any characteristics until they are planted, start to grow, and burst forth with foliage and flowers. You will find them in burlap sacks or plastic in nurseries or look for them online.

Some of the bare-root roses you get will be graded and labeled 1, 1.5, or 2, with grade 1 being the best quality. The more expensive, the higher the grade, but even then, they are cheaper than rooted and potted roses.

It is best to choose the higher-grade varieties, but if, for example, you find one in a lower grade that is just the variety you are looking for, then why not give it a go?

Look for healthy-looking canes and a label. With bare-roots, you don’t really know what the rose will look like in the end — a rather exciting surprise!

Make sure the rose you choose has no diseases, molds, or dodgy-looking bits that are dry and discolored.

Always choose the good varieties for your particular hardiness zone. Most nurseries will carry stock that will grow in that specific zone, but when purchasing bare-root roses online, it’s essential to check if it will grow in your area first. Always check that they are winter-hardy for very cold spots, or you will be wasting your money.


Numerous bare roots of a rose bush sprawl across the earth, their delicate tendrils seeking nourishment. They lie exposed, awaiting the gentle hands of a gardener to usher them into the soil's embrace and foster their growth.
Wait until after the last frost to buy and plant bare-root roses.

The first rule of planting is to know when to buy and when to plant. Although bare-root roses go on sale in January in some regions, it’s best to wait until the last frost before planting. You also only want to buy your roses when you are ready with a spot set out for them to be planted in the garden or into a pot.


Your climate will determine the time. You want to get them in by late winter or early spring to settle them before they sprout tender new growth.

Try to buy your bare-root roses the day before planting and then keep them in a bucket of water overnight (or at least 2 hours) to hydrate the roots before planting.


The first thing to do is pick a site. This will be mainly in full sun, but some roses will do fine with some shade, particularly afternoon shade. Roses need at least 4 hours of sunlight a day.

Make sure the rose will have enough space to grow. Google the mature width of the variety and make sure there will be enough space between the rose and any other plants or trees. If you want to group your roses, plant three of the same type of rose at a distance of half their mature width in a triangle. This will give you the shape of a large bush rose.

The next step is to dig a hole. To determine the hole size, study the rose. It must be planted one to two inches above the bud union level from where the branches start. You can use a spare piece of wood to check the level across the hole. Spread the roots to determine the width and make the hole eight to ten inches wider and deeper. This will help with root development.


Prepare the soil by blending compost into the dug-out soil. Use at least half compost to half soil for the mix.

Sprinkle the roots with mycorrhizal fungi. This product helps the roots establish quickly and start their very important job.

Add some improved soil back into the hole and place the rose centrally and straight before backfilling with soil.

At this stage, if your rose needs staking, add the stake now to prevent any root disturbance later on.

Firm down the soil to get rid of any air pockets. Then water well.

Add a layer of mulch around the base of the rose, an inch or two away from the canes, to conserve water and keep the weeds down. Organic mulches like wood chips, shredded bark, or straw will also break down and feed the soil.

How to Grow

Once your bare-root rose is firmly planted into the ground, it’s just a matter of waiting for those first leaf shoots to appear and the new growth to spread and ultimately flower. To get the most out of your rose, giving it attention throughout the season is essential.


The slender stems of a rose bush stretch out, reaching for the warm embrace of the afternoon sun. Their delicate contours cast intricate shadows on the ground below, painting a serene scene of nature's beauty in golden hues.
Position your rose plant in full or partial sun for 4-6 hours daily.

We discussed choosing a position in full sun or possibly partial sun, depending on the variety of the rose you have selected. Give it at least 4-6 hours of sunlight a day, and you will get more flowers and healthier foliage.


A hand delicately grips a hose, directing a steady stream of water towards a vibrant rose bush. Droplets cascade from the nozzle, nourishing the delicate petals and leaves, creating a tranquil scene of nature's care.
Proper drainage and regular watering are essential for establishing healthy bare-root roses.

Roses like to be moist at the root zone but also do not like to stand in water or become waterlogged, so drainage is all important. To establish your bare-root rose, they need regular watering for the first few months.

You can also water the canes at this stage to keep them hydrated. Once the rose starts to shoot, change the watering to the root zone or use drip irrigation.


A rich brown soil, teeming with life, holds the promise of growth and sustenance. Its earthy aroma speaks of fertility and potential, inviting seeds to take root and flourish under the nurturing embrace of nature.
Avoid using chemical fertilizers on bare-root roses to prevent root damage.

Roses prefer rich, loamy soil with plenty of added organics like compost added at planting. Please don’t use chemical fertilizers on bare-root roses when planting, as it may damage the roots.


A pair of black gloved hands, one hand clutches a handful of white fertilizer granules, while the other wields a gardening fork with purpose. Adjacent lies a budding rose bush, its delicate stems reaching towards the light with promising vitality.
Roses should be fed once in late March or early April.

Like most plants in the garden, roses need feeding, and it’s recommended to feed them twice a year. The first time is when the leaves have sprouted but are just not fully formed – usually late March or early April. The second time is after the first flush of flowers in July. This will encourage another flush of flowers.

Clear the area around the base of the rose of any weeds or debris. Dig around the base with a hand fork, but not too deep; you don’t want to damage the surface roots. Then, spread the rose food in the exact quality the manufacturer suggests for each rose.

Do not overdo it. It’s not a case of the more food you give the rose, the more it will flower. Overfeeding will be detrimental to the plant and may even cause its demise.


Maintaining a bare-root rose is nearly the same as any other rose.


A woman in a flowing green dress carefully wields pruning shears in her hand, poised to trim a delicate pink rose. With precision, she snips the vibrant bloom from the lush foliage of the rose bush, ensuring its beauty endures.
This promotes new blooms and enhances the plant’s appearance.

Once flowers have faded or are spent, they can be chopped off. This encourages new blooms, so it’s essential to do it, and it also makes the plant look better. Use a sharp pair of secateurs to cut off the flowers to a set of leaves.


A hand grips sharp pruning shears, positioned delicately to trim a vibrant stem of a rose bush. Bathed in soft light, the scene evokes a serene ambiance, showcasing the tranquil beauty of nurturing nature's creations.
Annual pruning of roses is essential for maximizing performance.

Roses need pruning every year. A well-pruned rose will perform much better in the garden the following season than an unpruned rose. There is also something to be said for pruning a rose correctly. Making sure you have the correct steps for pruning is essential. Incorrect pruning can also lead to all sorts of problems in the future.

If you do one thing — prune back by a third to outer facing buds. This means that new branches will face outwards and not make a tangled mess of stems inside the shape. These stems rub against each other and cause distress and, ultimately, disease on the damaged surface.

There is so much to pruning; different rose types can be pruned differently. Sometimes, pruning requires severe or extreme pruning, and occasionally, light pruning. Some roses, like the Knock Out variety, are so vigorous that you can often take a chainsaw or hedge trimmer to prune them.

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Common Problems

If you water, feed, and maintain roses, you should have trouble-free roses that are healthy and look good. Rose growers will often inspect their roses for any potential pests and diseases and act quickly to eradicate them before they can take hold or use a preventative spray every month. People like me living in tropical and sub-tropical climates have the most issues, and this preventative spray routine works well.

Sometimes, when the leaves yellow, it is a sign of an iron deficiency called chlorosis. This is easily fixed with a treatment of chelated iron solution as per the manufacturer’s dosage instructions.


A close-up of a green Japanese beetle with iridescent wings rests delicately on the soft petals of a blooming pink rose. The beetle's shimmering exoskeleton contrasts beautifully against the flower's tender hues.
Sucking insects like aphids and thrips commonly affect roses.

Roses are often plagued by sucking insects like aphids and thrips; rose slugs or sawflies that skeletonize the leaves; Japanese rose beetles that make holes in the leaves; spider mites that leave webs on the underside and discolor leaves, rose scale that attack stems and introduce sooty mold; and rose cane borers that attack the canes and cause them to die. And that is just the more common pests.

Eager gardeners can combat many insects with a flashlight and a bucket of soapy water. Beneficial insects are also predators of some of these problematic bugs.


A close-up capturing the intricate veins and vibrant green hue of rose leaves. Several leaves show signs of a common plant disease known as rust, characterized by reddish-orange spots scattered across the surface.
Common rose diseases like rust require thorough treatment, including cutting off affected areas.

The most common diseases for roses are rust, powdery mildew, and black spot. These often need extra treatment, the damaged areas cut off and burnt, and a rigorous treatment with a fungicide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my bare-root rose have short stems and small flowers?

These roses are not mature but fledglings at around two or three years old. They need time to mature and get longer stems and larger blooms.

How do I know if my bare-root rose is alive?

A dead rose can be clearly seen by its dry, brittle canes, but the roots underneath the soil will tell the story. If they are firm, light in color, free of diseases, and strong in the ground, you can cut back the rose, and it should sprout anew when the weather warms up.

How long can I keep a bare-root rose before planting?

Packaged by the grower, they can be kept in a cool, dry place for about three weeks. It is best to buy your roses when you are ready to plant and plant them the next day or the same day after soaking for a couple of hours.

How long will it take a bare-root rose to flower?

The general rule is 10-12 weeks after planting. However, there are those who advise pinching off the buds to develop a sound root system before allowing the rose to bloom. This is totally up to you. I don’t know if I could wait another season to see the flowers.

Final Thoughts

Bare-root roses have to be the best and least expensive way to get a lot of rose varieties into your garden. There are not a lot of problems associated with planting them; they are, after all, just sleeping varieties of potted roses and will have the same traits.

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