Planting Roses

I am an organic rose gardener and over the years have come up with some hints folks have asked me to share about how I plant my roses. Do visit my main rose page and my home page!


Roses are purchased potted or bare root. I prefer bare root roses - these are dormant and should be planted in the late winter or early-mid spring (check your local rose society or agricultural extension office for specific recommendations). Potted roses are grown in a greenhouse and should be planted after all danger of frost. They should be "hardened" before being planted by being brought in during cold periods and being acclimated to being outdoors.

It is strongly advisable to plant roses in a raised bed, with good drainage and with plenty of organic matter. You can see how I built a bed as a reference, and also look at an earlier bed I built. You will want to design the bed, perhaps on graph paper. Here in zone 7B, roses are typically planted 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart; this will, of course, vary with the kind of rose and its expected size, and is for bush roses, not climbers.

Get the best quality roses that you can. I know folks have had success buying roses at discount stores, perhaps for $5-7 each, but I personally prefer buying roses from reputed dealers, typically for $11-15 apiece.

What You'll Want to Have On Hand


  1. You will want to start off digging a hole that will accomodate the spread-out roots (typically a foot deep by 2 feet in diameter), or the potted rose sans pot. Ideally, you are working in a prepared bed, so can dig the hole to dimension as the surrounding soil is prepared. If not, you will want to make a hole that is even bigger and mix in half of the native soil to organic matter like compost, well-rotted manure, etc.
  2. In the case of bare root, replace some of the soil in the center of the hole to make an inverted cone in which the roots will naturally sit. Here in zone 7B, we plant to allow the graft to sit slightly above ground level. Most modern roses in cultivation are grafted onto rootstock and you will easily see a swelling between the roots and the canes - this is the graft. By planting the graft above ground, you are less likely to get suckering and growth of the rootstock instead of the variety you bought. In colder climates, the graft may need to be below ground; check with your local rose society or agricultural extension office. In the case of own-root roses, there won't be a graft. Typically, these will be potted roses with stems and not canes; aim to plant the rose, at least in zone 7B and warmer, mounded slightly above the bed level. Mix in your cup of rock phosphate and cup of lime (and possibly gypsum); I actually like to put in half to three quarters of my mixture here and the rest once the plant is in place and before I water it.
  3. Place the bare root rose on the cone, checking that the graft is at the level appropriate for your climate. If you are going to use mycorrhizae fungi, the fungi needs to be in contact with the roots, and now is the best time to apply it. It is expensive (a dry quart will cost around $12), so I keep it in a plastic container and use an old spoon to dispense it. You don't need a lot; once the bare root rose is standing where you want it (don't forget to measure so it is sitting exactly where you want it to be consonant with your bed plan), sprinkle half or one tablespoon or so of the fungi on the roots.
    If you are using a potted rose (be sure you have kept it moist and watered the pot shortly before), remove the rose from the pot (I just gently turn the pot upside down and carefully catch the soil in my hand, but you can also use a knife to cut the pot apart) and do your best to sprinkle the fungi around the bottom and sides to cling as much of the moist soil -- hopefully some of the fungi will reach roots.
  4. Earthworm castings are perhaps the best soil amendment, but they are expensive, typically 50 cents to a dollar per pound. I like to put a shovel or two full here immediately around the roots or transplanted rose; they will also help to keep the fungi in place.
  5. Fill the hole with the bedding material or your mixture of organics and native soil. If you haven't used up the lime/rock phosphate/gypsum, sprinkle the rest around the rose bush now.
    Water and gently with gloved hands push down to ensure there are no air holes in the soil. It is good to aim to have a slight basin around the rose.
  6. If you are using drip irrigation, now is a good time to install the drippers. I use inline drippers, and use a 6' segment to give me 6 drippers @ 1/2 gallon per hour, or 3 gallons total per hour. I surround the rose about 6" to 12" from the center. I tuck one end slightly closer to the rose and put a stop plug ("goof plug") at that end. I leave the other end open and temporarily put a piece of cellophane tape on the opening to keep soil from entering - when I'm ready to hook the drippers up to my main line, I will remove the tape and add the appropriate attachment part. I use 2 or 3 drip stakes to hold the coil in place.
  7. Make life easy and minimize weeds! I like to put newspaper around the rose bush (and ultimately throughout the bed, before mulching) and make sure that the taped end of my dripper is clearly sticking out so I can find it when I will connect it to the other rose bush drippers and water source.
  8. Mulch the rose. If you are planting bare root, the rose won't yet have established feeder roots, so is in danger of drying out. You will want to mound mulch to cover at least 2/3 of the cane height - and ensure the mulch stays moist. (You can unmound the rose at the later of the last freeze date -- April 15 here -- and a month or so after planting when feeder roots have probably developed.) For potted roses (planted after chances of freeze), just mulch around the rose.
  9. Water again. That's it!

Photography April 30, 2000 courtesy of Alex Semilof
Created: May 7, 2000
Last updated: May 17, 2004