How to Plant Bare-Root Roses in Pots and Containers

Bare-root roses are the perfect option for anyone who wants a good selection. They are light and easy to transport, making them easier to ship than the bagged varieties. They are also a cost-effective way to get a lot of types of roses for your money. In this article, gardening expert Wendy Moulton discusses how to plant them in pots or containers so that they have the best chance of survival and look fantastic.

bare root roses in containers. Close-up of blooming roses in a large clay pot in the garden. This climbing rose produces spreading stems with clusters of small double flowers of a delicate cream color with a pinkish blush. The leaves are compound, consisting of oval, toothed leaflets that are glossy green in color.

Contents

For those with limited space, growing a rose may have seemed out of reach. However, many roses grow beautifully in pots and containers! The key is knowing how to plant them and, once you have them, looking after them.

Bare-root roses are widely available from nurseries, big-box stores, and online nurseries. The ease of shipping bare-roots has made it easier to find rare and unique varieties you may not otherwise see in stores. With a few extra steps, planting them is easy!

Here, we provide a step-by-step guide to planting bare-root roses in containers.

Choosing a container

Top view of several large flower pots on a green lawn in a garden. Clay brown terracotta pots are classic and timeless in appearance, featuring a warm, earthy tone. These pots have a smooth, matte surface and a drainage hole at the bottom.
Choose a spacious container with proper drainage for healthy roses.

The size of the container is the most important for roses. They need enough volume, height, and width for the rose to grow and remain in the pot for some time. They don’t like their roots to be disturbed, so it’s best to go bigger rather than too small.

For a normal shrub-type rose, a pot that is 18-24 inches in diameter or larger is best and the same in height. A standard or tree rose needs at least 18 inches in depth for the roots to stand firm in the soil and keep the rose upright with its top-heavy structure.

Roses tend to fight off other plants for nutrients and water, so it’s best to plant them on their own with a good layer of mulch to save water.

A standard rose in a container will be okay with some shallow-rooted annuals planted at its feet, like pansies, petunias, strawberries, or even chives, which will keep pests like aphids away from the roses.

When it comes to materials, terracotta is often preferred, with ceramic and clay coming in a close second. Avoid metal and dark colors, which will heat up and burn the roots, or plastic, which doesn’t do well in frost.

Above all, make sure the container you choose has adequate drainage holes in the bottom.

Getting started

Close-up of seedlings of bare-root roses in a cardboard box. Bare-root roses are dormant, with no soil around their roots, presenting as slender, leafless canes with trimmed branches and fibrous roots. Young green leaves are sprouting on some stems. The stems are strong, vertical, green, covered with small sharp thorns.
Prepare bare-root roses for healthy growth with proper handling.

Bare-root roses look like they have been dug up, severely pruned, and the roots cleaned of all soil, which is just what they are. Usually, 1-3-year-old bushes are mature enough to handle the shock of transplanting and ready for a good home.

These are the steps to take to make sure your bare-rooted rose is good and ready to grow into a healthy specimen.

Preparation

Close-up of bare-root roses in a white bucket of water, soaking before planting. These seedlings are thin, pruned, leafless branches and bare roots. The gardener touches the seedlings with his hand in a green and white glove.
Prepare roses by soaking roots and removing unhealthy parts before planting.

Always prepare before planting and choose the correct position to grow your rose.

Firstly, knowing what type of rose you have is essential. Is it a shrub or a climber? Does it prefer full sun or some shade? Choose a position with at least 6 hours of sun a day and some afternoon shade for most roses.

The best time to plant bare-root roses is autumn and winter, but not when the soil is frozen, from October to April. This will get the plants settled in and ready to start sprouting and blooming in Summer. One of the benefits of planting your roses in containers is the ability to move them out of freezing weather, although they can be grown in most cold zones apart from the very cold.

If your chosen rose is going to need support, it is best done at the planting stage so as not to have to disturb the roots later on. The easiest way to support a rose in a container is to use readymade frameworks like trellis, obelisks, or spiral supports for roses. Place the support into the pot when the container is half-full of soil, then the rose, then backfill.

Choose a spot for your container and place it before filling it with soil. Most containers for roses will be large, so it would be better to place them before they get too heavy.

Place the roses in a bucket of water for at least two hours or overnight before planting so that they take up as much water as they can. Remove any unhealthy parts of the rose before dunking both the roots and the canes under the water.

Prepare the soil mix

Close-up of a gardener pouring soil mixture mixed with compost into a black plastic pot against a blurred background of a black bag full of soil. The soil is loose, dark brown.
Use a rich, well-draining potting mix with balanced nutrients for roses.

The soil for roses should be rich and well-draining. Like any container, good potting soil is the preferred product to use, and never garden soil, which will be too compact for a container.

With roses being heavy feeders, potting soil is not enough. There also needs to be a balance of nutrients, aeration, and water retention.

Mix 1 part potting soil with 1 part good compost and 1 part well-rotted manure. Then, add a handful of bonemeal per plant, a handful of slow-release general fertilizer, and some water-retention polymer granules according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

This mixture will give the roses an excellent start and ensure a good balance of nutrients for the plants to flower well. It also provides the soil with good drainage and aeration so that the roots have breathing space and helps prevent fungal diseases around the roots.

The water-retention crystals preserve the water so that the soil doesn’t dry out too much and cause the rose to get stressed. Stressed roses invite pests and diseases.

The pH for roses is the best at 6.0 – 6.5.

Planting

Close-up of freshly planted bare-root roses in black pots. Rose seedlings have vertical, strong, pruned, leafless stems. The soil is loose, dark brown, slightly moist.
Secure the rose with potting mix, and add organic mulch, leaving space from the stem.

Step 1: Place crocks or stones on the bottom of the pot to stop the soil from escaping. You can also use a piece of shade cloth to cover the hole but still allow water to drain. Fill the pot halfway with the potting mix. Press the soil down lightly as you go to remove any air pockets.

Step 2: Position the soaked rose in the center of the pot, making sure that the bud union, where the branches start, is an inch below the top of the container.

Step 3: Sprinkle the roots with mycorrhizal fungi. You can buy it in packets. Mycorrhizal fungi help build more robust roots, which in turn will make for better roses and more flowers. The mycorrhizal fungi helps the roots uptake water and nutrients. You will need about 1 ounce per rose, or use the manufacturer’s recommendations for the amount to use.

Step 4: Add the potting mix to secure the rose in place. Press the soil around the roots to remove any air pockets and set the rose in place.

Step 5: Water well.

Step 6: Add a layer of organic mulch, leaving a space of at least an inch from the stem of the rose. Organic mulches are good for slowly adding extra nutrients to the soil as they break down. Materials like peach pips and other nuts, wood chips, or even decorative stones finish off the container neatly, making it look professional and helping keep the soil in the container when watering.

Maintenance and care

Close-up of six potted roses in the garden. Roses bloom with delicate, double, two-color flowers with soft pink petals that turn into deep pink edges. Roses produce spreading stems with compound leaves that are composed of green oval leaflets with jagged edges.
Treat container roses like in-ground ones: water often, feed, and prune properly.

As long as you remember to treat roses in containers after planting them the same way you would if they were in the ground, you are 90% of the way to success. Remember to water potted plants more often. Containers dry out quicker; some will require daily watering to keep them well hydrated, particularly in hot weather. The bigger the container, the better the water-holding capacity.

For the first two months, water roses every 2-3 days, depending on the day’s heat. When you gauge that the roots have started to spread, increase watering to every day if necessary.

Feed roses with rose fertilizer as recommended by the manufacturer. This will often be after flowering in spring and midsummer to give them another boost and get them to bloom again.

Spraying monthly with a preventative treatment against any pests and diseases will keep roses healthy.

Remove any flowers that begin to fade by cutting them back just above a node or healthy leaf.

Prune the roses in winter and remove any weak or diseased stems. Cut back by a third, removing any outward-facing buds so the new branches move outwards and not inwards. These will cross other stems and cause problems. Watch Kevin’s video on How to Prune Roses Correctly to learn more about pruning roses.

YouTube video

Final thoughts

Planting roses in a container is not as daunting as one might think. Containers make a statement in the design of a garden, and roses make them even more dramatic with their shapes and masses of fragrant flowers.

I would suggest using large beautiful pots with your favorite roses close to your home and even at the front door to welcome guests with their magnificence.

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