The scoop on planting roses

Select the Best Location for Planting a Rose

First let’s look at that sunny (more than 4 hours direct sun; no skimping) spot in the yard. How’s the water situation? Roses like plenty of moisture, but hate boggy situations and will express their distaste by simply dying! If the area is really wet I’d recommend that you plant roses in a raised bed, building a containment of rock, block or railroad ties that give another two feet or so of planting depth above the existing soil profile.

Just a little damp? Adding sand can help slightly moist soil if it’s just a little damp, but unless more than 30% of the total soil volume is sand it will actually hold MORE water. And sand decreases fertility so I feel raising the bed is really the best way to go (unless you like the idea of native roses like R. nitida or R. palustris, both wild swamp specialists from the eastern half of the States and hard to find in the trade).

What if the soil isn’t wet but really dry? We can amend the soil with peat, manure humus and compost (preferably all of the above) and till it in to a good 12″depth OR we can build the raised bed again and have total control of what our soil is like! If it sounds like I like raised beds for roses there is a good reason. One, I do and secondly (and more importantly), roses are about as fussy as any plant out there about soil conditions. If we start by tilling, sure we have given them the fluffy, light soil they like but we’ve also tilled up dormant weed seed (Crabgrass, for instance, can lay dormant for 100 years!) and the last thing a rose wants is root competition from a hungry feeder like grass. Give raised beds a look.

Landscape Roses

Groundcover roses like Flower Carpets or the Pavement series offer beautiful solutions for that tough hillside or narrow strip along the parking area that were the traditional haunts of Blue Rug Juniper. These and other landscape roses are just that; roses to be used in the landscape, not bedded down delicately like some of their sissy cousins. Certainly it improves the plant to get some soil amendment but nothing more than you would do for an azalea or spirea. These tough guys don’t ask for any special treatment and they are ready to take on hard areas in your landscape so don’t overlook these roses, especially if you might miss a week or three of gardening on occasion…

Best Way to Plant a Rose

This is a fairly simple process but we first need to know what we’re planting. Roses are sold a few different ways. Bare-root roses (often called box roses) are found in many garden centers and this is the usual way to get them if you have them shipped in the mail. I maintain you must plant bare-root in the spring and give them a season to find their feet (Some feel you can plant them in fall if the early winter is mild; why risk it?)

Container, or potted roses have better shelf life, better root development and I might plant a container rose in fall (especially if it was a landscape rose). These are more expensive than bare-root, and the dramatic debate rages on over the pro’s and con’s of each (it’s usually me and the guy on the corner with fifty roses).

Container roses are easier to plant; you just plant at the soil level of the pot the same as any other flower or shrub. Bare-root must be positioned carefully depending on your climate. Warm winter areas should plant with the bud union (the swollen joint between the root stock and the scion or grafted cane) 1″ above soil level, moderate winter areas (Zone 7&8) at soil level and hard areas should bury the bud union 2″ below the soil to ensure the survival of the scion. Some roses today are being sold on their own root stock (species usually are) so don’t panic if you can’t detect a bud union; there may not be one. And remember, bare-root MUST be planted while still dormant so watch your rose and the thermometer closely.

Best Time of Year to Plant a Rose

Planting times vary all over the country but here’s a quick list.

  1. Northeast, New England and Eastern Coast
    Plant roses in March until June, October and November
  2. North Central USA
    Plant roses from April to June, October and November
  3. South Central USA
    Plant roses from December to February
  4. Southwest, and Pacific Coast
    Plant roses in December and January
  5. Pacific Northwest
    Plant roses from January to April

Read your rose tag to find out about eventual height and width (if you haven’t already) and space plants accordingly. Remember to dig those holes twice as wide and half again as deep as the plant you are planting and to water heavily after planting to eliminate air pockets left from planting…