Planting Roses and Rose Bushes

In larger rose nurseries today, much of the lifting and trimming of top growth of rose plants and bushes is done mechanically. Some growers no longer wait for an early frost to cause shedding of leaves but deal with this by other means, so that the purchaser does not have the tedious job of removing leaves when the plants arrive from the nursery. Packing methods have also been improved. No longer do the plants arrive in strawed bundles; now they are in polythene or paper bags stitch-closed by machine.

Planting Roses and Rose Bushes

Care of new plants

On arrival the plant packages should be opened carefully, the plants examined for damage to growth or roots, and any damaged parts removed by cutting back to sound wood. If the roots are very long it is better to shorten them back to 250 mm (10 in) or thereabouts. If your soil is not ready for planting or conditions are not favourable, it is better to ‘heel in’ the plants in a spare part of the garden. This entails taking out a trench, putting the plants in separately and covering up the roots and bottom part of the stems with soil, firming it a little to ensure that they do not dry out. If the roots are dry they should be immersed in water beforehand for several hours: roses that are planted in a very dry state are unlikely to prosper.

Many rose suppliers include hints on the package about the treatment required on arrival, and the advice offered is normally sound and should be followed. Roses sometimes arrive at times which are inconvenient to the buyer; for instance, the ground may be too wet, or frozen, or covered with snow. In such cases you may have to cover the roots with compost or protect them with straw in a shed or garage until conditions improve. If you have bought a mixed collection of roses, as beginners often do, and find them identified with card or paper labels, it is better to replace these with plastic or some other durable type of label. If the consignment becomes delayed in transit the roses may arrive looking dry and shrivelled. Burying them in a trench, a spit deep and covering them with soil for about a week will generally restore them. They can then be uncovered, lifted, and planted in the normal way. If long delays occur in delivery or the roses are badly damaged or diseased, let the nursery know as soon as possible. They have a reputation to uphold and if the fault clearly lies with them, they will probably replace the plants. Most nurseries publish conditions of sale, and you should read these carefully to know where you stand.

Large numbers of roses are now sold in stores in packs which are designed to prevent drying out of the roots. Some of these packs are designed to make it easy for the purchaser to examine the plant and its roots. Such plants should be bought as soon as possible after they are delivered to the store. Avoid those which have lain around for some time in a heated building: the tell-tale signs include pale, colourless stems and new roots.


Bare-root roses

Correct planting of bare-root plants (that is, those not grown in containers) is an important aspect of rose growing, especially since the plant may remain in the same place for several years. Planting can take place from late October to the end of April, depending on the area and soil conditions. I prefer autumn planting, in October and November, when there is still some warmth in the soil. In colder areas, and especially in exposed gardens, it is often better to wait until March, when there will be better weather ahead. Avoid planting when snow covers the ground or when it is waterlogged or frozen. Mulching the bed with peat and covering it with polythene will do much to compensate for bad soil conditions, and will allow planting to proceed when the weather is congenial.

Many growers find it worth while before planting to immerse the top growth in a weak solution of a sterilizing agent such as Jeyes Fluid, especially in areas where rose diseases are known to be troublesome.

The planting operation itself is quite simple. Avoid digging out a small hole in a hurry and squeezing the roots into it. Roses are tough plants and may well survive such treatment, but their development could be delayed.

Assuming your soil is in good condition for planting, it is a sound idea to prepare a mixture of granulated peat which is moist but not sodden. To each large bucketful of peat add a double handful of a slow-acting organic fertilizer. Sterilized bone meal is often recommended, but even better (if you can afford the extra expense) is hoof-and-horn or meat-and-bone meal. Now take out a hole 300 mm (12 in) across and deep enough to ensure that the point of union of the stock and scion will be 25 mm (1 in) below the surface of the soil. Place a double handful of the peat and fertilizer mixture into the hole, place the plant on this, spreading the roots fan-wise, and then add more of the mixture. Shake the roots gently (or, better still, get a helper to do so) as you fill in the hole. If help is not available, use a forked stick to hold the rose in its correct position until the soil is gently firmed in. Firming should be done by treading the soil against the roots.

A neat job is easier to achieve if you place sticks or markers at the appropriate distances before planting. A distance of 300 mm (1 ft) should be allowed from the edge of the bed to the first, row of plants to enable a mower to cut the grass without damaging the roses. Planting distances will vary according to the vigour of the variety, its habit, and also the ideas of the grower. My own preference is for intervals of about 450 mm (18 in) either way, but I allow an extra 150 to 300 mm (6 to 12 in) for the stronger growers or where a few ground-cover plants are to be grown between the roses. I do not find that wide planting gives a pleasing effect, for bare soil has little appeal, especially in high summer. The effect is also much better if the plants are staggered, rather than in straight lines, and this is most easily done if at least three rows of plants can be accommodated. In this case, the centre row will be planted mid-way between the outer rows. In a rectangular bed, the outer rows should be arranged to fill the corners, which will give an impression of greater depth.

Standard or half-standard roses may be planted to give height to the beds and to increase their effect. In this case the standards should be placed in position before the other roses, and good stakes inserted so that the plants can be placed against them. Avoid driving in the stake after planting, as you will most likely damage the roots. The roots of standards on rugosa stock sometimes require attention before planting, as deep planting of rugosas encourages the production of suckers. If they have several tiers of roots, remove the uppermost ones cleanly; those at the base should be planted no more than 100 mm (4 in) below the surface. Temporary support should be given by a loose tic to the stake, allowing some weeks for the soil to consolidate before tying permanently. This also applies to climbing and rambler roses. If they are allowed permanently to hang loose, wind can cause rocking, which will damage the new and delicate root fibres that are just emerging into the soil.


Late Planting

In northern and colder gardens, planting may not be possible until April. In such circumstances it is better to prune before planting, doing so quite severely to a couple of eyes and removing all weak stems. Puddling the roots before planting in a ‘porridge’ of clayey soil and water, mixed up on the ground or in a container, will help to prevent drying out, especially on light soils. Planting will be easier if you can persuade a friend to hold the plants in position until you have firmed them in the soil. A surface mulch of moist peat or compost should be applied immediately to prevent loss of soil moisture and, if the weather is dry, watering may also be necessary.


Container-grown roses

Nowadays planting of container-grown rose bushes has become very popular. It is especially useful if an existing plant has failed and a gap in the bed needs to be filled. This method also enables planting to be carried out when weather conditions are most favourable to the planter.

The soil should be prepared as for bare-root roses. The plant should of course be healthy in appearance and have made good growth; ensure that the roots are moist and, if they are not, give them a thorough watering and allow them to drain before removing the container. The planting hole should be dug out and the container placed in it to ensure that when planted the root ball will be below the surface of the surrounding soil. Most containers are of polythene and can be cut down with a sharp knife and then peeled off the ball of soil. This ball must be kept intact, so it must be handled carefully. Fill in the gap between the root-ball soil and surrounding soil gently but firmly to ensure they are in contact. In hot weather a good soaking of water is recommended; the surplus should be allowed to drain off before the soil is levelled.



Many amateurs grow a mixture of rose varieties. In such a scheme it may sometimes be necessary to move some bushes because colours clash or because a particular bush is too high, too low, or too spreading in habit. Such transplanting is best carried out in late October or November. You will have to dig a larger hole to accommodate the increased roots of a mature plant. When lifting the bush try to keep as many of the fibrous roots as possible in the ball of soil. Long, anchoring roots are likely to be damaged to some extent, but they can be shortened back before replanting.

If transplanting is done quickly, no great check is suffered, and any damage can be overcome, to some extent, by fairly hard pruning.


Healthy rose beds

Amateur gardeners are often disappointed by the effects of their attempts to refurbish old rose beds by the introduction of some young plants. The usual cause of such disappointment is that the beds have been filled with roses for several years and have become ‘rose-sick’. This condition may be overcome by a system used by the RNRS at St Albans, where many roses are grown for trial. The system involves grassing down beds of rose-sick soil and bringing intervening grass paths under cultivation for the next period. In a garden this would involve grassing down the old bed and cutting out a new one, which might not be practicable. Changing the topsoil is another possibility if the garden is large enough but this is a laborious job. Another alternative is to use a proprietary soil sterilant. If you do so, be careful to follow the instructions on the container.

When planting has been finished, the soil should be forked through and levelled up so as to leave the top 25 mm (1 in) loose. If you have planted in autumn, you should make an occasional inspection of the new-planted bushes to ensure that they have remained firm: severe frost or high winds may loosen them, in which case you should firm them in by treading when the soil surface is dry.


08. March 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Propagating Roses, Rose Care, Roses | Tags: , | Comments Off on Planting Roses and Rose Bushes


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