Bare Root Roses 101: Planting & Care

Get roses off to a good start by selecting a growing site, soaking, and then planting them using methods to prevent transplant shock

By: Debbie Neese
March 8, 2022
Bare Root Roses 101: Planting & Care
Share this post:

Why Bare Root Roses?

There are advantages to buying bare-root roses over containerized roses. Bare-root roses arrive in the dormancy stage, giving them time to acclimate to your weather conditions and the native soil when planted. Then it will break dormancy at the right time for your area. Planting while they're dormant helps guard against transplant shock too. 

Inspecting Bare-Roots

When your rose arrives, it will be in a package with moist wood shavings. Examine and look for at least three sturdy canes making sure they look hardy, plump, and green with smooth bark. They should feel a little heavy. Your healthy bare-root rose will have at least 3-5 plump, bright-colored pinkish raised oval areas (buds) on each cane. Any canes that are small and spindly should be removed. Ensure there are no developing swollen buds that indicate its breaking dormancy. No leaves or new growth should be visible. These roses won't adapt well and most likely suffer from shock. Then, look for the bud or graft union, which looks like a knot or swelling just above the roots. The union will feel firm and solid. The roots will be light-colored and evenly dispersed around the central trunk to give it a firm, even anchor.  

With sterilized pruners, remove any broken, knotted, or diseased roots. No shriveled or dry canes should be on the plant either. Make the cut 1/4" above a bud eye, and at a 45° angle sloping away from the side, the bud is on.

If your rose has broken dormancy during shipping, remove any shoots back to 1/8 inch on the cane. 

When to Plant

The best time to plant bare-root roses is as soon as you receive them. You will get a confirmation of shipping in an email (if you don't, check your spam folder). This email will give you the tracking number of when to anticipate their arrival. While they're in transit, start preparing by scouting out where you will be planting it and schedule a time to do this vital chore. Collect any necessary tools and soil amendments and have them on hand along with a rooting hormone. 

If you cannot plant immediately, examine their roots and spritz them if dry. Store them no more than 2-3 days in a dark environment with temperatures between 33°F and 35°F. If they are exposed to warm temperatures or light, the wood canes will dry out and break dormancy prematurely. An early frost will sabotage and burn any new foliage. 

Soaking Before Planting

If you are ready to plant, soak the whole plant in a bucket of water (rehydrating both the roots and the canes) for 8-12 hours, no more than 24 hours total. Please keep them in water until you place them in their planting hole.

Bare-root Rose Planting Mechanics

Find a full sun spot that gets at least 6-8 hours per day. Dig the planting hole twice as wide, making a cone shape in the middle for the roots to rest. If you have hard clay soil, use a pitchfork and score and punch small holes in the sides to make ruts for the roots to grow and adapt. The bud union should sit right at or below the soil level to a depth of 2" depending on whether you are in a colder northern climate or southern states.

Add root hormone to the hole and around the soil cone. Place the roots equally around the soil cone and down the sides. Then water holding onto the canes with one hand. Let the water drain and then add back soil mixed with compost and soil amendments into the natural soil with the other hand. Then, tamp the soil down with your hands and add mulch around the plant. Then water the surface again. 

If your graft union is above the ground, cover it with loose soil to prevent dehydration during the first few weeks. This covering will also encourage maximum bud break. Mound the soil over the canes to a depth of about 8-10 inches. Leave the soil in place for about 2-3 weeks or until the new growth starts. When you see foliage begin, gently spread the soil or wash it away and don't disturb any new growth. You will only do this soil mound during planting and not every year. 

Remove labels

If a label is around a cane, remove it after planting to prevent any girdling or injury as the cane grows in width. 

Use a separate plant label or write on a smooth rock the name of the rose and place it nearby. 

Watering Schedule

The first year your plant will need extra attention while the roots establish. Use your 3 in 1 plant meter to check the soil moisture a couple of times a week and water accordingly. Once your plant establishes, it will need about 1 inch of rain a week, depending on your soil texture and how well-draining it is. To scientifically calculate how much your new plant needs refer to our watering guide and calculate the gallons here if you are hand watering or setting up a drip irrigation system. 

It is best to do it before noon, so the leaves have time to dry in the sunshine before dusk when watering. Use a shower setting on your hose and water at the base of the plant, trying not to kick up water on the leaves or canes. This watering method will help prevent fungal diseases and keep your plant from getting splashed from the soil. 

Mulching Around your Rose

Mulching will keep the roots cool and retain the soil moisture and keep weed seeds from seeing the light of day. Add two to three inches of organic mulches like pine straw, ground hardwood, or pine bark. Leave a 6 inch from the trunk before laying your mulch. You may want to add a living mulch too. Plant outside the rose hole and ensure it requires the same care and water as the rose does. Roses also need good air circulation, so place your surrounding plants at least 12 inches away. 

Appropriate living mulches would include lavender, catmint, allium, and dianthus. Allium will repel aphids, borers, moles, and weevils. Add geraniums to repel Japanese beetles and marigolds to repel nematodes and other pesky creatures while attracting beneficial insects to the garden party! 

Fertilizing your Roses

When planting your rose, you will add a rooting hormone. During the first and second years, your roses are establishing their roots and may not show much growth during this time. Don't be surprised. It's normal. You will see more change in the third and fourth years after the roots establish. 

In the second year, you can scratch the soil surface at the drip line in early spring, sprinkle rose food around it, then cover the fertilizer back up, water in, and mulch. 

Preventive Care

Often you can overlook preventive care methods if you haven't raised roses before. However, these tips will help prevent any issues with your new rose later. 

  • If you ever see a dead, damaged or diseased twig, prune it off with sterilized pruners. 
  • Clean up fallen leaves and trim off spent flower buds weekly.
  • Replace mulch each year around your rose.
  • Use drip irrigation or water before noon, so the foliage has time to dry before nightfall.
  • Fertilize every spring for species roses. Give all other roses a second application in mid-June. If you have a continuous-flowering rose, add another application in mid-July. Stop fertilizing after August 15th, so new succulent growth doesn't emerge and get winter damage. When the plants are fully dormant in early winter, an application high in potassium can be put down to help increase the winter hardiness. 
  • Control pests early by planting companion plantings and walking through the garden every couple of days to watch your plants for pests or diseases. 

Low Impact Pesticides & Preventive Organic Methods

We recommend going the organic route before applying harsh chemicals to your plants. Always read the label carefully before mixing using any fungicide or insecticides. Mix only the amount you will use that day so it doesn't expire, and you don't waste the product. And remember never to use an applicator that's been used to kill weeds. Windy conditions are unsuitable for spraying, so do it early in the morning and when no wind is blowing to avoid drift. Use these bio products to defend against pests and diseases. 

Arber Organic Bio Protectant: This solution builds your plant's defenses and wards off diseases for all outdoor gardening. It can also control powdery mildew, black spot on roses, leaf spot, and more! 

Arber Organic Insecticide: Use on your plants to prevent and control insects and mites! Apply to your regular watering schedule or when there is a significant infestation. 

Companion planting is also an option. Plant alliums around your roses to repel Japanese beetles. It gives off an odor that camouflages the scent of roses. Planting Scallion tokyo long, mint, catnip  and cilantro will attract ladybugs that munch on the aphids of roses! Just remember to keep mint in a container without sitting directly on the soil so it doesn’t root into the ground. (It is a thug in the garden!) Edibles can keep your dishes flavorful and pay for their spot in the garden by being the ‘guard dog’ to your roses! A win-win! 

And for goodness sake, stop and smell the roses! 

Watch our Bare Root Roses video for more information!