Selecting & Planting Bare-Root Roses

Bare-root roses arrive at your favorite garden center or nursery from winter to early spring, depending on where you live. While they may look like lifeless sticks, they will provide years of color and beauty when planted correctly.


Bare-root roses are dug from a field during the winter rest period for early planting. Their roots are stripped of soil and packed in peat moss, bark or other mixture and sealed in plastic to retain moisture during shipping – this is why they’re called bare-root roses. If you order roses through a catalog, they’ll be sent to you in similar fashion.


Often more economical than container-grown roses, bare-root roses give you a head start in the rose garden by giving plants time to root in their new home before summer arrives. (The leafy, potted roses called container-grown roses, which are sold later in the spring, are raised in pots; they have all their roots intact and ready for transplanting at just about any time.)


Shipped and marketed for planting while dormant, bare-root roses will thrive if set out in late winter or very early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop and plant.


Purchase Good-Quality Plants

Rose plants are graded according to standards set by the American Nursery & Landscape Association. A #1 rose is the highest quality and will give you the best show the first summer. #1.5 and #2 grade roses are often sold at discount prices and usually won't grow as vigorously the first year. So if you want the best results, spend a little extra money and buy #1 roses. You'll find the grades on the rose packaging.


Select roses with healthy, green canes that have at least three strong, thick stems. Avoid brown or shriveled canes. Also look for a well-developed root system with several long, tapering roots, and many smaller, hair-like roots. Avoid plants with several new growth sprouts – the new growth may not survive transplanting because the plant has so few roots. Some bare-root roses may have a waxy coating on stems to prevent drying – this wax with weather away after planting.


Soak Roots Overnight Before Planting

Remove the rose from the packaging and place the roots in a bucket of muddy water (the mud will cling to the roots and help prevent them from drying out after planting). Let soak at least overnight. If you can't plant immediately, keep the packing around the roots moist until planting time. If it will be several weeks, plant temporarily in a container and keep the soil moist.


Choose A Sunny Planting Site

Roses need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. If they get any less, expect fewer blooms and more disease problems.


Check Soil pH

Dig a hole deep and wide enough to accommodate the plant's roots. Have the soil tested to make sure the pH is in the proper range for roses (5.5-7.0 is fine). Ask a nursery specialist or your local Cooperative Extension System office how to test your soil and, if necessary, how to adjust the pH.


Check For Good Drainage

Fill the hole with water, let it drain, and then fill it again. If the hole hasn't drained completely in 24 hours, you probably have a drainage problem. The easiest solution is to plant elsewhere or grow roses in pots or raised beds.


Plant Properly

Mix the soil dug out of the hole with an equal amount of organic matter, such as compost or ground bark. Place some of the mixture in the bottom of the hole, creating a cone-shaped mound. Examine the rose carefully. Prune damaged or dead roots. Spread the roots of the rose over the mound and check planting depth. The rose should be planted at about the same level as it was grown in the field (you'll see a color change on the stem) and with the bud union (the swollen part of the stem) aboveground. In colder climates, plant several inches deeper so that the bud union is covered with soil.


Fill The Hole With Soil

Once you’ve filled the hole, create a watering basin around the plant. Water well. If necessary, adjust the planting level by grasping the lower trunk and gently pulling upward.


Mulch Heavily

Mulch the rose with organic matter, such as compost or ground bark. Pile the mulch up high enough to cover the canes several inches above the bud union. Covering the canes will help prevent them from drying out.



Once the plant begins to leaf out, pull the mulch away from the stems and fertilize. Protect from insect pests and disease with a product labeled for use on roses. Be sure to follow label directions.