Planting Your New Bareroot Roses

Getting your new rose bush off to a great start takes a little preparation and thought. You’ve probably spent $15 or more on a bareroot rose and you’ll want to protect that investment with proper care and maintenance. Time to remember the old adage about planting your 50 cent plant in a five dollar hole (adjusted for inflation, of course) – invest the time and energy in planting your rose, and you’ll reap the benefits. The things to consider in planting your new rose – 

  • Preparing the site
  • Preparing the rose
  • Planting the rose
  • Care after planting

Preparing the site

Location, location, location – one of the key things about good roses is growing the plant in a place that gets plenty of sun, is protected from the wind, and has adequate space to spread out. Go for full sun – roses are sun lovers and need a minimum of 5 – 6 hours of sun each day to produce abundant flowers. Inadequate sunlight, either the intensity or duration, can cause a rosebush to struggle, producing lankier stems, fewer leaves and flowers. This weakens the plant and makes it more susceptible to pests and disease. Morning sun is best, as it helps dry moisture on the leaves early, and is less intense that hot afternoon sun.

Choose a site to protect the rose from wind if you are in an open area like a hill top, ridge top or other open area that gets a lot of wind. Wind can cause the rosebush to dry out very quickly, and can result in damage to new, tender canes. You also don’t want to plant a rose under or too close to a tree since most trees have big, greedy roots systems and will compete with the rose for water and nutrients.

Allow adequate space around the plant – while the little bareroot plant you are putting in the ground may not look like much today, given the right environment, it is likely to grow into a good sized plant, so provide space accordingly. You want to have good air circulation around the plant to reduce the potential for disease.

Check that the planting site has adequate drainage. You can test this by digging your planting hole, filling it up with water, and determining how long it takes to drain. As much as roses love water, they do not like to sit in it. If you do not have good drainage, modify the soil with sand to facilitate drainage.

Roses are incredibly tough plants and it is possible to grow roses in soil that is less than ideal. If you really want your roses to perform, build up the quality of your soil. Just like the saying that “you are what you eat,” rose plants will reflect the quality of soil they are grown in. Good soil has lots of organic matter in it (30 – 50%). Organic material helps hold moisture longer and provides nutrition. Marin tends to have lots of clay (tiny particles that stick together) so be generous with your amendments. The organic amendment that you add can be your homemade or purchased compost, redwood soil conditioner, peat moss, or similar materials; though be cautious when using fresh manures as they can burn tender new roots.

If you are planting a new rose in a hole that you have taken another rose from, it is a good idea to dig out the old soil and replace it with new – keep about one-third of the old soil and remove two-thirds – replacing it with soil from some other place in your garden, or purchased soil. If you use sterile soil, mix with some existing garden soil since the sterile soil will not contain any microorganisms – the little machines that keep the soil healthy.

Preparing the rose

Now that you have your planting site ready, you should attend to that little bundle of sticks otherwise known as your bareroot rose. After unpacking your rose, inspect it and remove all broken roots, weak or damaged stems. Once you have completed your trimming, it is beneficial to immerse the entire plant in a water-filled container (add about a cup of household bleach / five gallons of water) for up to 24-hours. This both rehydrates the plant including the canes, and helps reduce unwanted microbes that may have been transported with the plant.

Planting the rose

Add your amended soil to the planting hole to form a cone. Look at the rose and decide how best to orient the rose – for example, if there are more healthy canes on one side than the other, you may want to have the “best side” facing the direction where it is most visible. Place the plant on top of the cone at the level you want the plant at. Should one plant high or low? In Marin, it is generally recommended that you plant so that the bottom of the bud union is above natural soil level (up to three inches above natural grade) so that by the end of the first year the plant will have settled so that the bottom of the bud union is nearly at grade. This also allows for an adequate depth to add mulch. Once you have the right placement, continue to add your amended soil to completely fill the planting hole, then water well to saturate the soil around the plant. Finally, tamp the soil lightly; then let it settle to its final height naturally.

Care after planting

After planting it is important that you provide adequate moisture to the rose. When planted at this time of the year, Mother Nature usually does as adequate job with steady rainfall. If not, keep the rose well watered since most bareroot plants have a tendency to produce substantial top growth even though there may be no root system to support the growth. Unless the plant is kept moist, the top growth will be checked to permit the roots to catch up. If that happens, the plant will go into decline and may never grow with great vigor.

Once in the ground it is beneficial to mound soil, compost or mulch high up around the base of the plant to keep the bud union moist and protected from unnecessary loss of moisture from drying winds and warm temperatures. Keep the mulch on for four to six weeks to give the rose the best chance of getting established. After the six weeks, carefully remove the mulch, stand back and watch that new rose perform!

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