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Planting Bare Root Roses and Shrub Roses

    Planting Bare Root Roses and Shrub Roses

    In the last few years, plant breeders have come out with some really great varieties of hardy roses that are disease-resistant and lower maintenance. The At Last rose from Proven Winners convinced me that I could maintain a healthy rose bush that would last through a harsh winter. It’s actually referred to as an easy-care rose, which is perfect for my style of gardening. More recently, I became the owner of Emily Brontë, a 2020 introduction from David Austin Roses. The planting process for both my rose bushes was different. Here’s a little primer on how to plant roses—and why I’ve used two different methods to plant them.

    How to plant roses

    So, why didn’t I use the same process to plant both of my rose bushes? Most of us are used to going to the nursery and purchasing a rose bush in a pot. You pick it out at the garden center and bring it home to plant. This is how I planted my At Last rose. However, Emily Brontë arrived as a bare root rose in the mail.

    Bare root roses are dormant plants that have had all their foliage removed. When you look at one, you’ll see the roots without any soil whatever and a leafless plant (mine had six stems). No soil or pot makes them lighter and easier to ship.

    I was told my rose would be delivered when the timing was right for my geographical area. It arrived in a plastic bag in a box.

    Though it may look small at the time you’re planting it, keep in mind the eventual height and width of your rose bush when choosing a location in the garden. You want it to have plenty of room to grow, and you also want to make sure the roots aren’t competing with other nearby plants under the soil. Make sure your chosen area gets at least four to six hours of full sun a day. And plant your rose bush where you’ll be able to admire it when it’s in bloom.

    Planting bare root roses

    Before planting a bare root rose, you’ll want to rehydrate the roots for at least two hours. I filled a bucket until the water just covered the roots (but not the stems). If you’re going to wait a couple of days to plant your rose, you can delay it as long as the roots remain wet—give them a few spritzes with a spray bottle and put the plant back in the plastic until you’re ready to plant. I did this because I received my rose during a heat wave.

    how to plant roses: soak your bare root rose's roots for at least two hours before planting
    Use a bucket to soak the roots of your bare root rose for at least two hours before you’re going to plant it.

    You want the plant’s roots to have lots of room to spread out and grow. Dig through your site to remove weeds and stones. Then, dig a hole that’s a bit bigger than the roots of the plant (about 16” wide by 16” deep). Add compost to the bottom of the hole and mix with the some of the loosened soil that’s there.

    Remove the root from the bucket and place it in the center of the hole. Be sure to spread out the roots. My David Austin Roses booklet recommends placing a bamboo cane horizontally across the top of the hole to ensure you get the planting depth right. The stems should be two inches below the soil (you may also want to use a measuring tape). The bamboo cane may also come in handy to lean the bare root rose against while you backfill. Use the soil you dug out to fill in the hole and gently tamp down the soil around the stems, being careful to fill air pockets, but not to compact the soil too much. Water your new rosebush thoroughly.

    Planting potted shrub roses

    If your plant is in a pot, give it a good watering before planting. As with a bare root rose, dig your hole, removing any debris, like weeds and rocks from the soil you’ll be using to backfill once planted. The width and depth of the hole you dig will depend on the size of the root ball. Leave space around the sides to fill in the gaps with soil, and measure the length to dig the correct depth as you want the top of the roots to sit just below the soil line.

    Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and mix it with compost. Gently take the plant out of the pot. You want to make sure the base of the plant is level with the soil. If there is a graft (you’ll see a little bulge at the base of the main stem), make sure it’s above the soil line. Use the aforementioned bamboo stake across the hole trick, but this time, the roots should be just below the cane.

    Fill in your hole, being sure to avoid leaving air pockets. Water your new rose bush.

    Caring for roses

    For a newly planted rose, you’ll want to water twice a week for the first three months. However, water it every other day during a heat spell. Wilted leaves are a good sign that your plant is thirsty. When watering, use the gentle setting on your hose nozzle or a watering can to water around the base of the plant.

    You may want to add a layer of mulch around your rose to retain soil moisture and minimize weeds.

    Follow your plant’s care instructions to determine when to fertilize it. If the info is not on the tag, visit the rose breeder’s website.

    I don’t have to deadhead my At Last rose for it to rebloom, but I will be deadheading Emily Brontë. If you want rosehips, don’t deadhead any rosebush that produces them (there are flowering shrub roses that don’t produce rosehips). With your pruners, snip the dead flower at the base where it joins the stem.

    Emily Brontë came with a care booklet that includes a pruning guide for every region. When you prune and feed your rose depends on where you live. I would search for your region and variety, perhaps through your local extension service or rose society for care tips specific to your geographical area.

    For more information on rose varieties, dealing with rose pests, and how to plant roses in containers, visit these articles on the site:

    How to plant roses: Planting shrub roses and bare root roses

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