How to Plant Bare Root Roses in 6 Easy Steps
Have you seen bare-root roses sitting around in plastic bags or burlap sacks at your local garden center? Many popular rose varieties are sold in bare-root form, an economical way to add roses to your garden. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood shares her top tips for planting bare-root roses!
If you’ve been to your local big box store recently, chances are you’ve seen a display of bare-root roses for sale. They are usually wrapped in plastic or cardboard, with trimmed bare canes. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some rare, interesting varieties or tried-and-true classics.
If you’re wondering whether it’s a good idea to pick up a bare-root rose, I’m here to tell you to go ahead! Bare-root roses can grow just as well as potted roses. However, there are some key differences you’ll need to know as you prepare them for planting.
In this article, you’ll learn about what to look for when purchasing bare-root roses and how to set them up for success in your garden. Let’s dive in!
First, What Are Bare Root Roses?
Bare-root roses are mature plants that have been dug up by the nursery when dormant in winter. They are trimmed to facilitate easy storage and shipping. Bare-root roses are transported with no soil, just wood shavings to prevent drying out.
They are wrapped in plastic, and sometimes canes are covered in a wax coating. You will likely begin to see them offered in garden centers and big box stores in late winter to early spring.
Bare-root roses are significantly cheaper than potted varieties, as the cost to ship and store roses in containers is much more than light, soilless bare-roots. They are usually more mature than potted roses for sale, resulting in a larger plant for you in less time.
What to Look For
Not all bare-root roses are created equal. To make it easier, they are labeled with grades 1, 1.5, or 2.
Grade 1 roses are the best quality, with at least three strong, healthy canes and a mature root system. Grade 1 bare-root roses will be a bit more expensive, but worth the price for health, and still a good value.
Grades 1.5 and 2 may have fewer or smaller canes and roots. They will need more time or care to grow well. Avoid grade 2 unless you just can’t find the variety anywhere else.
Look for thick canes free of any discoloration. Check for mold or fungus. Avoid any roses with new leaves (you want the plant completely dormant and focused on developing roots rather than foliage). Don’t purchase if canes are shriveled or dry.
Always make sure the variety you purchase thrives in your USDA Hardiness zone. If you live in a cold climate, stick with winter-hardy rose varieties. This way you’ll save the heartache of planting something that will die the following winter.
When to Plant
In warm climates, bare-roots will start showing up for sale as early as January. In colder zones, they may not appear until March or April. So when should you plant them?
You can plant bare-root roses directly into the garden as soon as your soil has warmed enough to be worked in late winter to early spring. To play it safe, you may wish to wait until after your last frost, especially if planting into containers.
Containers do not provide as much insulation as the ground, so roots will need additional protection from freezing temperatures.
Do not buy bare-root roses until you’re ready to plant them. If they’ve been waiting a while, getting them into the soil quickly prevents dry-out and encourages healthy root development. Ideally, buy them the day before you wish to plant.
At the very most, bare-root roses can stay in their packaging for up to 2 additional weeks when purchased. Keep them in the shade to prevent drying out the canes or breaking dormancy. Don’t unwrap them until you’re ready to plant.
There are several steps you’ll want to take when it comes to preparing bare-root roses for planting. Preparation is vital to help ensure your plants have their best chance for survival once planted into the ground. Follow these steps to increase your chances of planting success.
- Carefully unwrap the rose and remove any additional rubber bands.
- Gently wipe away the sawdust or wood shavings from around the roots.
- Don’t worry about the wax coating- this will break down on its own over time.
- Trim back any black, brittle, spindly, or broken canes to healthy green growth.
- Examine the roots and trim any that look diseased or damaged.
- Fill a large tub or bucket with water.
- Immerse the roots in the water for a minimum of 2 hours, up to 12.
- Soaking the roots will rehydrate them and begin to activate the rose’s growth cycle.
How to Plant Bare Root Roses
Once the rose has had a good soaking, you’re ready to plant! Let the roses stay in the bucket of water while you prepare the planting hole.
Step 1: Pick Your Site
Pick a bright location that receives at least 6-8 hours of sun per day and be free of root competition from other large shrubs or trees.
Check your rose’s mature size to give it ample space to grow. For most varieties, 2-3 feet apart is adequate.
Step 2: Dig a Properly Sized Hole
Dig a hole about 8 inches deeper than the root depth and wide enough to allow the roots to spread out comfortably.
Dig a hole with lots of little cracks and tunnels for the roots to expand into rather than a neat one that makes it more difficult to spread out. Fan the roots out a bit to determine the correct size.
Step 3: Prepare the Soil
Do not add any synthetic fertilizer to the hole when planting bare-root roses. The heavy dose of nitrogen can burn the roots and kill the rose (I learned this the hard way).
Instead, you can scatter some mycorrhizal fungi into the planting hole to aid in healthy root development.
Step 4: Bury the Bud Union
Remove your rose from the bucket of water and place it into the prepared hole, roots facing down. Check the depth level.
You want to plant where the bud union is an inch or two below the soil line. The bud union is the knobby spot where the roots meet the canes.
In grafted roses (very common in bare-roots at garden centers), you’ll see this large knuckle-like spot where your desired variety has been grafted onto hardier rootstock.
Burying the bud union will prevent die-back from freezing temperatures and damage from destabilizing winds. If you see any canes growing from below the bud union, snap it off.
Anything growing from the rootstock in a grafted rose is likely a sucker and will be a variety different than the one you purchased.
Step 5: Backfill and Water
Once your rose is set at a good depth, backfill the hole with a 50-50 mix of organic compost and your native soil.
I used to believe I should fill my planting holes with rich purchased soil to provide a better environment than my yard’s sandy, rocky dirt.
However, if planted in perfect soil, your plant is likely to struggle when it reaches the edges of the hole, struggling as it tries to grow into the native dirt. Instead, let it adapt and focus on growing in your environment. Once the roots and bud union are covered, water deeply.
Step 6: Mulch
For the last step, add a few inches of mulch around the base of the plant. This conserves moisture, reduces weeds, and stabilizes soil temperatures. Organic mulches like straw, cedar mulch, wood chips, or shredded bark are good options.
If temperatures are warm enough, your bare-root rose will begin to leaf out a few weeks after planting. Be patient as it focuses on healthy root development over new green growth. This is what you want for a long-lived, vigorous plant!
Until your new bare-root rose begins to develop new leaves, it won’t need much besides regular watering and sunshine. Once it begins to leaf out, give it a boost with some organic fertilizer. Alfalfa or seaweed-based fertilizers are good, gentle options.
After the first bloom, you may use any rose-appropriate fertilizer you choose. I often wait until a newly planted rose has spent a full growing season getting established before using any synthetic fertilizers, sticking with kelp and compost in the meantime.
Water deeply whenever the top couple inches of soil are dry, best determined by inserting your finger knuckle-deep in the soil. You’ll need to check more often while your plant is young and during hot weather. Always verify dryness before watering- watering too much can cause a rose to develop root rot.
Wait at least a year before pruning unless you see signs of pest issues or fungal disease. Just enjoy watching your beautiful rose bush come into its own!
Bare-root roses are widely available and much cheaper than their potted kin. If you fall in love with a variety offered at the store, go ahead and grab it! There are usually many different varieties and colors available at most garden centers or online, so you don’t have to be too picky. Bare-root roses can turn into beautiful, healthy plants if properly planted and cared for. Follow these tips for successful planting and enjoy your roses!