Tips on how to plant bare roses including what they are, what to expect when the roses arrive from the grower, and when and how to plant them
Two years ago we moved into a new house with a small lawned area to the rear. It had a few fruit trees and a greenhouse but the plan was to fully develop it into an English cottage garden style vegetable garden complete with raised beds and colorful flower beds. My first addition was a pretty garden arch and on either side, I planted bare root roses. Two years on and the plants have reached the top of the arbor and grow beautiful and fragrant David Austin roses. The details in this piece outline how I’ve planted my roses, and the video at the end gives even further instruction.
If you’re in the market for new rose bushes you’ll have noticed that they come in two variations: planted in pots, or as bare-root plants. Rose plants that arrive in pots with soil around their roots are very easy to plant and it can be done all year-round. Bare root plants are different and will arrive in plastic bags without any soil at all. You can only get this variety delivered in the autumn and winter while the plant is dormant and this is typically the time to plant bare-root roses as well.
What to expect when they arrive
If you order bare-root roses from a reputable seller they’ll send you the plants at the best time to plant them. It will vary based on where you are in the world but whether it’s November or April, you should get them in the ground asap. In places with mild climates, you’ll get your bare root roses from November onward. If you have cold, freezing winters then expect your roses to arrive when it begins to thaw.
There are many types of roses including climbers, ramblers, and shrub types, and all can arrive as bare-root plants. They’ll usually arrive in a plastic bag that’s inside another sturdy paper bag or even a box. The roots should be moist and there will likely be no leaves at all on the stems. You should plan on getting bare-root roses in the ground within a day or two. If you don’t have time to do it immediately, store them outside and sprinkle some water over the roots if they look a little dry.
Also, the plants can look pretty sad and uninspiring at first but don’t worry, as you can see from the photos, they’ll soon begin growing and blooming in your garden.
Planting bare root roses in winter
If you have mild winters, as we do here in Britain, you can plant bare-root roses all winter long. Once they’re in the ground, the roots are protected from the worst of the cold and they’ll slowly begin growing little tendrils of roots. This will help them spring into life when warmer days arrive. In colder climates, you’ll want to wait on planting outside, which is why growers will send your plants later. Aim to plant them when plants are still dormant but the ground isn’t frozen. Late winter to early spring is better for those who have truly cold winters.
Heeling Rose Plants in
You have two options in case you can’t plant them immediately. Heel them in or plant them in containers. If the soil isn’t frozen or soaking wet, dig the plants into a temporary location — otherwise known as heeling them in.
Dig a trench and put your plants in, covering the roots and up to 2/3 of the plant with soil. The plants can be placed in the trench at an angle by as much as 45 degrees. Water well and then mulch with a couple of inches of compost, leaves, straw, wood chips, or another material. You don’t need to space them out or plant them upright since this is only a temporary solution. Pull the plants up to plant in their permanent positions before they begin growing again.
Planting Roses in Containers
You can also plant your bare root roses in containers when they arrive. If you do this, you can leave them in the pots until whenever you find time to plant them out. You could even leave them in until the following summer if you’d like. The best place to overwinter container planted roses is in a greenhouse, polytunnel, or against the side of the house. It’s a bit warmer there. You can keep them outside too but make sure that the hardiness rating of the rose is two levels higher than the one you live in. Rose roots will get colder in pots than when planted in the ground. Also, try to get your roses in containers planted out before they become too big. Not all roses are suitable for permanent planting in pots but there are plenty that are if that’s what you’re after.
Rose variety, the Generous Gardener
My own bare root roses, a type called the Generous Gardener, arrived in early November. They’re a type perfect for the edible gardener since they produce big juicy hips and also attract bees and other pollinators. They’re a climbing variety, and I planted one on either side of a new garden arbor that I’ve situated in the center of the garden. The hope was that these English climbing roses will cover the feature and repeat blossom all summer long. Not only will their fragrant flowers attract bees but I plan on using the petals to make rose petal wine and rose water skin toner.
The rose arbor that I bought is the basic model from B&Q and arrived as a flat-pack. I got help from Josh to put it together, and after that, I painted it and then cemented it into the ground. We have very windy winters on the Island, but the summers can be stormy too. If you wanted to recreate my arbor, I’m sure that it would be a relatively simple DIY, though. I planted the roses at the base and just outside the arbor. That way the roots have plenty of space to grow outwards, and the plants don’t crowd the walkway.
The first summer the roses grew to about waist high, and I wound the stems around the wooden arbor as they grew. A bit of garden twine held some of the smaller pieces in place. By late September of the second year, the roses had climbed all the way to the top of the arch.
Materials you’ll need to plant bare-root roses
- Garden spade
- Garden fork
- Watering can
- Bucket of water
- Composted manure
- Mycorrhizal Fungi
Soak the roots of the roses
Fill a bucket with water and soak the roots of the rose for about 30 minutes. You do this to re-hydrate the plant and to make sure it won’t suffer from lack of water when you plant it in the ground. Some online sources will say for you to soak for much longer, up to two days even. I imagine that’s only necessary for dry climates or if the roots are very dry though. A quarter to half an hour is probably plenty long enough in most cases though.
You’ll see in the video at the end that I only soaked my plants for about 15 minutes. That’s because there was a lot of moisture in the bag on planting-out day and the roots already looked fairly hydrated.
Digging the hole
Situate your rose plants in an area that gets a minimum of four hours of direct sun a day. It shouldn’t be a windy or exposed area or in a place where it’s competing with other plants. Space each rose plant at least about 2 feet (60cm) from the next.
Using your spade, dig a hole 2 feet (60cm) deep and 15″ (40cm) in diameter. Loosen the bottom of the hole with your garden fork and pile in a good dollop of composted manure. You could use garden compost too, but manure is very rich in nutrients and my go-to compost for mulch and perennials. Mix the manure with the soil inside the hole a bit.
In recent years it’s been discovered that plants have a complex relationship with the soil. Much of it centers around fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plant roots and it’s estimated that at least 90% of plants depend on mycorrhizae to survive. Mycorrhizae, also known as mycorrhizal fungi, virtually extend the plant’s roots. This fungus helps feed the plant with both nutrients and water from an area much larger than the actual plant roots grow.
When planting perennials like roses, it helps to introduce the roots to mycorrhizal fungi manually. It comes in a pelleted form and you sprinkle it on both the roots and inside the planting hole. If you sprinkle it just on the roots while the plant is held over the hole, you can get two birds with one stone.
Planting past the bud union
Most roses are grafted plants and you’ll find a bud union between the green stems and the roots. The recommendation from David Austin is to plant this bud union 1-2 inches under the soil. However, I’ve found that others recommend leaving this just above soil level in warmer climates. After reading this piece I think it’s clear to listen to David Austin. Planting the bud union just under the soil, in any climate, will help the plant survive wind rock. If the bud union is out of the ground, then not only do the stems whip around but so do the roots. This can cause lasting damage to the plant.
Watering in and waiting
Give the plant a good watering-in after filling the hole back in with soil and firming down. Direct the water in a circle around the plant rather than on the plant itself. Cover the area of the hole that was dug with mulch to keep weeds down. Generally speaking, no further care is required until after the rose begins growing again in spring. After that, a year’s application of nutrient-rich mulch, and careful training and pruning is often all that roses need. If it’s dry at any time in their first two years, make sure to water them too.
In the photos, pea gravel covers the ground at the base of the plants. It’s because I hired help to put down the pathways, and I wasn’t there to supervise. I will be pulling it back in a small circle about 1.5-foot diameter so that I can apply the next layer of mulch, though. Roses can be heavy feeders and will appreciate a thin layer of compost, or composted manure, laid on the surface every year.
If you’re planting your bare root rose in spring, keep an eye out for dry weather. Water newly planted roses every two to three days during these spells. Watch the video below to see the full process of planting bare root roses. For more rose ideas and tips head over here.