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Planting Bare Root Roses

It’s lovely to have roses in your garden, but planting them can be messier than it needs to be. Wouldn’t it be nice to find a rose shrub that doesn’t come in a pot of soil and is easy to plant? Then you should think about planting bare root roses!

New growth on a rose cane.

If you’ve never heard of bare root roses or you aren’t sure what they are, then keep reading to learn about them and how to use them in your garden.

What is a Bare Root Rose?

Bare root roses are rose shrubs that are dormant and are sold without any soil around the base. The roots are exposed and there will only be a few, rather short canes.

The roots of bare root roses may be wrapped in plastic and then packaged in a box to protect them. They can be transported in this form and you’ll find that bare root roses are popular with online garden retailers.

A group of bare root roses.

Bare root plants are often placed in cold storage to keep them dormant until they can be planted. The right humidity level is also important to prevent the roots from drying out. Without proper storage conditions, bare root rose bushes should not be kept unplanted for long periods.

Advantages of Bare Root Roses

Because bare root roses are already dormant, they can be planted at the end of winter, rather than in early spring, which means that they will be able to become established faster. Since there aren’t many canes on a bare root rose, the plant’s initial growth is focused on establishing the roots before the canes and leaves begin to grow when the weather warms up.

The plants are easy to handle, because there is no soil. This does mean you need to make sure the soil you plant them in is well prepared and has the nutrients the rose needs.

A rose shrub with roots fully exposed.

Growing Bare Root Roses

There are a few thing to know before you buy bare root roses, especially if you’re buying them online.

Pick the Right Rose

Selecting a bare root rose that will thrive in your garden means doing some homework before you buy. Research the variety you have in mind to see the minimum USDA hardiness zone that it’s rated for. While there are some special winter care techniques you can use to grow roses a zone below what they’re rated for, such as the Minnesota tip method, you’ll have better results (and save yourself some extra work in the fall) if you stick to roses that fall within your zone’s hardiness rating.

Once you’ve got your bare root roses, you need to plan for putting them in the ground.

Choose the Time to Plant

The best time to plant roses is usually in spring, because they prefer warmer weather. If you live in a temperate area, you may be able to plant in late winter. Because root bare roses are dormant and are available in winter, they can be planted earlier than rose bushes in containers.

Raking around a pruned rose shrub in late winter or early spring.

In colder areas, you may want to wait until the last frosts are over before planting a bare-root rose bush. You also have to take into account the temperature of the soil — not just the ambient temperature. If the soil is frozen, you have to wait until it thaws to plant.

If you live in warmer areas in the US, your planting time is even earlier than late winter, provided there’s no threat of frosts.

Prepare the Roots for Planting

Once you receive you bare root roses, you can keep them stored in their original packaging for up to two weeks. Any longer than that and you’ll have to put them in a temporary trench and cover the roots and up to 2/3 of the plant with soil (called “heeling in”). Don’t remove the rose from its packaging more than one or two days before you’re going to plant it, or you risk the roots drying out.

Person unwrapping a bare root rose from the packaging.

If you do expose the roots and then have to delay planting, make sure that you protect them and keep them moist — the heeling in technique above is one of the best ways to store your roses.

Inspect your roses carefully prior to planting to check the condition of the roots. To rehydrate a bare root rose that’s gotten dry, place the roots in a bucket with enough water to cover the bud union and let it sit for 8-12 hours (for example, overnight before you plant it).

Soaking a rose shrub in a bucket of water to rehydrate the root.

Site

Roses need lots of sun, so choose a spot in your garden that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. Most roses can handle some shade, so you may choose a semi-sheltered place, to offer some protection from relatively colder weather. The site also needs to be well-draining because soggy soil suffocates roots and invites fungal diseases.

Do some research to find out the average size of the rose variety you’re planting. Unless you prune your rose bush severely every year and also cut it back during the summer, it’s going to need plenty of room to grow and spread out. Roses don’t like competition for space, so make sure you take into account other plants that are nearby and what their seasonal growth will be.

Planting the Rose

The roots of bare root roses have been cut back, so you won’t need to dig a very deep hole. Digging about 18 inches deep will be sufficient, but the hole needs to be 2 feet wide to allow the roots plenty of space to spread out.

Before you take the plant out of the bucket of water, prepare the planting hole by mixing organic compost and fertilizer into the soil you dug out of the hole. Put some of this soil into the hole to hold the plant. Fill the hole so that the bud union is about two inches below the ground and the roots are covered by soil.

Planting a bare root rose shrub in a hole.

Carefully place the rose bush into the hole, keeping it steady with the bud union below the top of the hole. Fill in the space below and around the plant with the soil mix, making sure that you pack it around the plant, but don’t tamp it down and compact the soil — the soil needs to drain easily.

Filling in soil around a planted bare root rose.

After planting, water the site of the bush thoroughly so the roots will begin to absorb water and minerals for the plant.

Watering a newly planted bare root rose shrub.

There’s more to know about growing and caring for roses. Read our in-depth guide on how to grow climbing roses for helpful tips.

Varieties of Bare Root Roses

Most common varieties of roses are available in bare root form. You should be able to easily find a retailer who carries a bare root version of a specific rose you want to add to your garden. But here are a few roses for you to consider.

Mortimer Sackler

This is a light pink rose with few thorns. When pruned rigorously, it can be kept as a relatively small bush either in the garden or in a pot. However, when allowed to take its natural form it grows into a tall bush with a wide spread.

A light pink Mortimer Sackler rose shrub.

Mortimer Sackler roses prefer warmer weather and flower throughout the summer. While they prefer full sun, they can be planted in semi-shade. Plant them in late winter or early spring.

Super Trouper

This is a bright orange rose with a subtle, light fragrance. The flowers pop against the dark leaves of the foliage. It flowers throughout the summer and is a hardy plant, so it’s suitable for almost any USDA zone.

A bright orange Super Trouper rose shrub.

Super Trouper thrives in full sun and can be planted in winter as a bare root rose.

Glamis Castle

This is a white/cream rose with has a very pleasant fragrance. It is a medium-sized bush that can be used as a border/hedge plating. It can even be grown in a pot.

A creamy white Glamis Castle rose shrub.

Glamis Castle is quite sensitive to cold, so it requires protection in the winter and even early spring. It’s a shade-tolerant rose, which means it can be planted in a protected area. This will help it withstand colder weather.

As a bare root rose, it’s better to wait to plant this rose in early spring.

Abracadabra

This is a very unusual and striking rose with flowers that are deep red, with yellow stripes in the petals. It makes a statement in any garden and stands out among other plants in borders and garden beds.

A vibrant, striped Abracadabra rose shrub.

Abracadabra roses bloom throughout the season, but the flowers tend to come in ‘batches.’ The plant prefers warm weather and needs a few hours of full sun every day.

It can be planted as a bare root rose in late winter.

Where to Buy Bare Root Roses

Bare root roses can be bought from a number of online sites, such as Nature Hills Nursery. Just click on the link to access their bare root shrubs category and then browse for roses.

This Year, Go Bare If You Dare!

Bare root roses can be easily planted and they’re available starting in the winter, which gives you a jump on the planting season. They transport easily, so it won’t matter if the supplier isn’t in your local area.

A collection of bare root roses in a container.

Perhaps it is time to take the leap and go bare! With so many choices of colors and sizes of bare root roses, you’ll be able to fill your garden with color and fragrance in no time.

To learn more about roses, read our other roses blog posts. You’ll find helpful growing and care guides, plus profiles of beautiful roses you may be able to buy in bare root form.