Gardeners and florists alike enjoy roses for their gorgeous appearance as well as their lovely fragrance.
As a perennial plant, a properly established rose bush can bear vibrant flowers year after year.
Knowing when to plant roses and care for them will go a long way toward making sure you can enjoy your roses for many years to come.
When is the best time to plant roses? Most roses do best when planted in spring, which is contrary to most other perennial bushes which do better when planted in the fall. It’s also worth noting that there are a few different ways to source them, plant them, and tend to the roses. Each of these factors can also be influenced by your growing zone and the basic characteristics of your soil.
In this article, we will explore how and when to plant roses, as well as how to get them through their first few years.
This plays a key role in establishing your plants, and can also influence how to protect them to handle the harshness of winter.
Should I Start With Bare Root Or Container Grown Roses?
Bare root plants like roses are essentially dormant. The nursery or garden center provider has kept these plants in an artificial winter state, which makes them just stable enough to be safely transported.
Yet, they will need to be planted shortly after being delivered. Often within 12 to 24 hours.
Most reputable dealers will ask you for your zip code or growing zone information to make sure they are shipping them at the proper time of year of planting.
They usually tend to take pre-orders to reserve your stock of the plants. So, don’t worry about ordering roses in January. The seller will send them to you at the right time of year for your growing zone.
The advantage of bare-root rose plants is that you aren’t paying for the excessive weight of soil. Yet there’s no guarantee that the plants will do well.
As you’ll find later in this article, there are many factors that can potentially go wrong when you plant and establish a rose garden yourself.
Potted rose plants, from a reputable dealer, have the benefit of being planted properly. Most are biologically more developed than their bare-root counterparts.
The downside of buying them in a container is that you are going to pay more in shipping costs for the weight of the soil. Sometimes a lot more!
It’s also worth bearing in mind that container-grown roses will eventually become root-bound.
Within a year or perhaps two you will need to either pot them up into a larger container or move them to an established flower bed.
How Your Growing Zone Determines The Best Time To Plant Roses
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a “Hardiness Map” to help farmers and home gardeners to understand the average climate conditions for their area.
There are several factors that go into the growing zone designations.
One of the most important is the “Average Last Frost Date” for your area. This is the statistical average day when the last frost of the winter or spring occurs in the region. Yet it’s worth noting that a freak frost event can still strike after this date.
If you are planning to plant roses in the spring, you should have a backup plan for how to protect them from frost.
Old sheets and blankets are preferable to tarps, drop cloths and plastic.
How Do I Determine My Growing Zone?
The USDA provides free information tools based on your zip code. There are also several other services available online. All you have to do is enter your zip code.
There are 13 distinct growing zones. However, zones one and two don’t have long enough or warm enough growing seasons to accommodate rose plants.
In certain areas, the growing zone might also include an A or a B. This essentially indicates slightly warmer variances within the enumerated growing zone. Ideally, you want to plant roses after the average last frost date.
These Are The Current Last And First Frost Dates According To The USDA
How Do Soil Conditions Affect Rose Planting Times?
While frost is certainly an important factor influencing rose planting times, the soil temperature, moisture, and chemistry can also be a major factor.
Ideally, you want to plant roses, especially bare root roses, in warm, loose soil that is modestly moist, yet not saturated.
If your area suffered a significant spring snowstorm, you might want to put the extra effort into digging out, or snow blowing the area where you intend to plant your roses.
This will allow the sun to warm the soil faster than the areas that are still covered with snow and ice.
As time goes on the ground will also thaw and release excess water for a faster transition to the growing season. If the soil is muddy, it’s best to wait until it’s dried enough to allow proper planting.
How Long Can I Wait To Plant Dormant Bare Root Rose Plants?
If your soil isn’t quite ready for planting, due to inclement weather, you can still keep them in their dormant state. To do this you need to keep them cool and dry.
Placing them in a cold, dark corner of your basement might allow you to prolong their dormancy for as much as seven to ten days. After that, you will need to plant them.
In a real pinch, you can take a large planter pot or container lines with a burlap sack or a peat mesh. This will allow the roots to get started.
When the inclement weather passes and the soil is ready, you can then gently lift the mass of soil and roots out of the pot and plant it.
Of course, if you want to keep them in a pot on your deck or patio, you simply leave them in there.
The burlap or peat mesh will take a year or two to degrade. In the meantime it can help you transfer the plant to a larger pot when needed.
What Is The Ideal Location And Conditions For Planting Roses?
Site selection is also a very important aspect of successful rose planting. The following is a list of criteria needed for roses to grow and thrive.
Roses need at least six hours of full sun. Ideally, a little bit more than this in the spring will also help them develop lush foliage and buds.
Eastern exposure or morning sunlight is preferable to late afternoon sun from the west. In the morning roses are ready to soak up the sun.
As it gets later in the day, the sun can actually start to dry out the soil and some delicate parts of the leaves.
Roses need more than a fair amount of air circulation, to help prevent fungal issues, problems with black spot and other plant diseases.
If at all possible, you should involve boxed in areas where air tends to stagnate. This includes areas close to buildings or large trees
For a plant that doesn’t produce any significant fruit, roses are still heavy feeders. They prefer rich soil that has a fair amount of compost or other organic matter.
When preparing a planting bed for roses, it helps to add a healthy 6 to 8 inches of mature compost or manure to the lowest part of the bed.
This will give roses the deep feeding they need when their roots grow down that deep in the summer.
Just make sure that any compost or manure you add to the planting bed is below the initial root tips. This will prevent burning the tender young roots.
What’s The Best Way To Plant Bare Root Roses?
Bare root roses need to be planted as soon as possible. This is, of course, assuming that your site is already prepared, the soil is adequately warm and all the excess moisture from the winter thaw has passed to the subsoil.
Ideally, you want to plant them while they are still dormant, or at the very least before new shoots start to emerge from the main branch.
It’s best for the plant to be in the ground before it begins to put the energy into growing new leaves and stems.
Statistically, bare-root plants have a lower survival rate than their potted counterparts. This is especially true with roses.
However, if you follow the instructions put forth by Ohio State University, your chances of successfully growing roses from bare-root will be significantly higher than if you just wing it.
There are special instructions for planting bare-root roses since they're planted a little differently than potted or container-grown roses.
Be sure to review the guidelines for rose planting from Ohio State University.
Step One: Timing
You need to make sure that all danger of frost has passed before setting out a bare root rose plant and you'll have lots of blooms all summer.
Step Two: Test the pH and Balance As Needed
Ideally, roses want the soil pH to be between 5.8 to 6.3, which is somewhat acidic. Soil testing kits are relatively cheap. Just follow the instruction on the package closely.
If necessary, you can adjust the soil in your planting bed with soil acidifiers found in most garden centers and hardware stores.
Step Three: Test The Basic Soil Drainage
There are test kits that will tell you the sand content and how well your soil drains.
You can find them in garden centers and most country agricultural extension offices can perform an in-depth test for a fee.
Honestly, you can get a pretty good idea of this all on your own. Simply dig a hole that is 12 to 18 inches deep.
Fill it to the top with water. Then wait an hour. Ideally, the water should all have drained out of the hole and the remaining soil should feel damp but not saturated.
Step Four: Prepare The Bare Root Plant
This involves soaking the roots in warm water for at least 12 to 24 hours before planting.
Step Five: Dig The Hole Or Prepare The Bed
Ideally, you want to dig the hole or prepare the bed a day in advance. As you soak the bare root plant, you should also dig the hold down 24 to 28 inches deep.
Then lay down two to three inches of mature compost of manure. Backfill with two to three inches of loose soil.
Step Six: Plant The Bush
Place the plant in the hole so that the roots start at the ground level of the hole. Then spread the roots slightly as you backfill with fresh soil.
This is also a good time to mix in some well-matured compost or other rich organic material. Just don’t add fresh compost or manure, which could burn out the tender roots with excess nitrogen.
Step Seven: Water Consistently
The amount of water your new rose bush needs will vary depending on the local weather conditions.
You want the soil to be moist, but not overly saturated. If there hasn’t been a lot of rain, this might call for lightly watering once each day. You want to keep the soil moist, to promote new root growth.
Step Eight: Mulch
Lightly dress the base of the plant with some organic mulch. This will keep any lingering weeds from competing with the rose’s roots.
Tending To Roses During The First Year
With any perennial bush or flower, establishing it during the first year is critical for its long-term success.
This is especially true with roses. It can be very tempting to tend to the roses too much the first year. Certainly, they are a serious investment of time and money.
Ideally, you want to let nature take its course before you start doing things like trying to adjust the soil, add compost, or drastically change your watering pattern.
Within the first few weeks, you should see small, delicate shoots emerging from the exposed “Branches” of the new rose bush.
Once you start seeing shoots emerge from the base of the bush, you should gently pull back some of the mulch an inch or two to give them the room they need.
As it continues to grow, and foliage develops you can move the mulch back toward the base of the bush as needed. Keep an eye out for early signs of problems or diseases.
Once the summer warms up, and the roses root base has matured, you can increase how much water the plant gets in a single session.
It’s best to water at the soil level without getting the leaves wet. A trickle or soaker hose is preferable to overhead drenching.
In overly dry conditions, you should give it one heavy watering per week, then lightly water as needed.
Watering early in the morning will reduce problems with mildew and allow the plant to absorb more of the water before the sun start to evaporate the surface moisture.
How Do I Fertilize Roses after planting?
Roses like a modestly thick mulch layerto help prevent competition from weeds. They also appreciate periodic doses with nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
If you are comfortable with commercial fertilizers sold in garden centers, there are many brands with specific rose formulated fertilizers.
Organic gardeners can try their hand at building their own custom rose fertilizer blend. One of the more successful options includes:
- 2Tbs fish meal
- 2Tb blood meal
- 1 Tbs cottonseed meal
- 1 Tbs wood ashes
- 1 Tbs of ground phosphate rock
- 1 Tbs greensand
This will give you enough volume to feed two to four rose bushes. It’s best to mix the granular material together and side-dress it rather than mix is with water and try to spray or pour it.
How Do I Protect Roses For The Winter?
The last big challenge of getting a new rose bush through its first year is the first winter. If you live in a region where the soil freezes solid in the winter, you will need to protect your young rose bush.
The following steps will go a long way toward improving your chances of your roses surviving through to the next spring.
- Step One: Trim the canes back to 24 to 30-inches tall, and draw them together with a simple tie.
- Step Two: Mound soil 8 to 10-inches high up on the base of the plant.
- Step Three: Cover with burlap or an insulated plant cover from a garden center.
- Step Four: Mound a small amount of soil or mulch at the base of the cover to keep it from blowing away.
- Step Five: Once the ground starts to freeze, mound straw or dry leaves over the cover.
If you have a heavy snowfall, you can also mound a little excess snow over top. This will further help insulate the plant from the damage posed by sub-zero temperatures and severe windchill.
When spring starts to come, and the snow melts, you should remove the mulch and cover as soon as possible to let the soil warm and the rose plant can take advantage of the sun.
If a freak lake season frost is about the strike, you can cover the rose with a sheet, or temporarily replace the plant cover.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.