Those unfamiliar with bare root roses might be taken aback when first unpacking them. Far from the lush, delicious rose bush envisioned, bare root roses arrive looking, well … dead. Take heart – though that clump of sticks with roots attached might seem vulnerable and uninspiring – once planted, these humble twigs grow fast and in no time become leafy bushes ready to burst into bloom. To give them the right start, just follow some simple steps.
“When planting roses, care up front pays off over the long run,” says rose expert Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses in Shropshire, England. “Getting it right is so remarkably easy that it’s a shame to unwittingly spoil the day.”
First and foremost, bare root roses are all about root growth, says Marriott. “It’s critical to plant during the right planting window for your region, not too early, not too late, so the plant can establish strong roots before the leaves appear and demand their share of energy.
“This is where bare root roses have an advantage over container roses,” Marriott says. “Container roses must adapt from being in a nursery pot where they are watered regularly to being planted in the ground and probably not getting such a steady water supply. Plus, bare root roses don’t have any leaves to support when first planted. This allows the plant to focus on root development first, then shoots, which is more leisurely for the plant.”
The right time to plant says Marriott is once soil thaws and is still cool, not overly-wet and clammy, and while daytime temperatures are still under 70 degrees F. Typically the right time to plant bare root roses in any area is in the period spanning six weeks prior to the last local frost through two weeks afterwards. Good mail-order firms make it their business to ship bare root roses to recipients at just the right time for planting locally.
Following are additional bare root rose planting tips from Michael Marriott:
• Check it Out. Upon receipt, open the package to check the condition of any new bare root roses. The plant and roots should arrive with an outer wrapping of plastic to retain moisture. The roots must be damp (not dried out) at planting or the rose will not thrive.
• Rewrap Until Planting. After inspection, reseal the wrappings and store in a cool frost-free area until planting day. Keep them as cold as possible without letting them freeze. Don’t ever store in a heated room.
• Clip off any damaged bits. Even well-packed roses can be jostled in shipping. At planting time, clip off any roots or stems that are broken or damaged.
• Soak ’em High. When ready to plant, remove from wrappings and soak the roses in cool clean water for several hours or overnight. Submerge the roots totally. You can even submerge the entire plant (roots and canes). If you don’t get your roses out of the drink right away, don’t worry. While not optimal, it’s usually not a deal breaker if roses end up in the soup for a few days, or even a week if circumstances dictate. Just get them in the ground as soon as you can.
• Choose a Sunny Spot. Says Marriott, “Of course, roses love full sun but most will thrive and bloom happily with four hours or more of good sun daily. Too many people worry that roses must have full sun or else. But that’s one of those old rules that keeps getting recycled and is just not relevant to shrub roses these days. Certainly for English Roses, four hours plus is plenty.” For those planting in the hottest driest areas, for example in Phoenix, give roses some afternoon shade for best results, he adds.
• Dig a good hole. Plant one rose per hole, deep enough so that the rose can be positioned properly relative to the soil surface.
• About positioning. Most roses are sold as grafted plants with a featured rose variety grafted onto the roots of an exceptionally hardy rootstock, most often that of Rosa ‘Dr. Huey’. When planting, the fat joint where the stem meets the roots should be positioned at soil surface (in warmer areas) or two to three inches below surface (in zones colder than USDA Zone 6). For those who choose roses labeled “own root” (an option sometimes offered, especially in colder areas), position the juncture of the main stem and roots at ground level.
• Add Compost. When planting roses, it’s smart to amend the soil from the planting hole with some well-rotted organic matter (garden compost or manure). Per Marriott, this step is must do – and make sure it is aged and well rotted, he says.
• Fill in the soil. Once the rose is positioned, back fill the hole with the soil and compost mix. Make sure the soil is in contact with the roots by gently pushing the soil firmly around and in between the roots. Says Marriott, forget that old “cone of soil” bare root planting routine. The key is to work the soil with your hands to ensure root-to-soil contact and eliminate any air pockets.
• Spread mulch. Top the garden bed with a layer of mulch two to three inches deep to help keep soil cool and retain soil moisture while roots get established and throughout the growing season.
• Water well. Roses are thirsty and benefit from regular watering. Water in well when first planted (but don’t overdo it and drown the plants! Roots cannot properly grow in super-saturated muck). Once growth commences, water regularly. Depending upon rainfall in your area, it is recommended to water roses at least once a week.
• Feed periodically. Repeat-flowering roses, such as David Austin English Garden Roses, consume large amounts of nutrients. For optimal performance feed periodically with organic or slow release fertilizers, following the product instructions.
• Protect over winter. Especially as winter looms in colder areas, USDA Zones 5 and below, add four or more inches of organic matter around the base of each rose to provide winter protection.
• Three’s Company. One last tip from Marriott: If one rose bush is lovely, three is often more so, especially in larger roomier gardens. “We recommend planting English Garden Roses in groups of three, positioned in a triangle and spaced about 18 inches apart – or two feet apart in warmer areas,” says Marriott. “Planting them like this allows the three bushes to knit together to create one very full, lush planting. It’s definitely a look I love for David Austin Roses. It’s excellent for most shrub roses,” he adds.