A Guide to Planting Roses

A small rose bush being planted by hands
Alison Miksch/Getty Images

When you buy a rose plant, it often looks nothing like the beautiful rose bush you imagine blooming in your yard. Rose plants for sale often have short, leafless canes and many come bare root. You are not alone in wondering how you should plant your new roses. Seeing a plant like this can leave anyone wondering if it is even alive, let alone how to plant it.

Roses are not nearly as fragile as they might appear and you could probably plop it in a hole and have success. However, a little extra effort when planting roses, will pay off in healthier plants and more blooms.

Where to Plant Roses

Choose a site with full sun. Six hours or more of the sun is recommended. Some roses will be perfectly happy in partial shade, but most roses bloom their best if they are in a spot that gets sun all day. The exception to this rule of thumb would be when roses are grown in areas with extremely hot growing seasons and limited water. In that case, your roses will appreciate the relief offered by some afternoon shade.

Roses are not fussy about soil, but since they are heavy feeders, a rich loam would be ideal. The soil pH can be slightly acidic to neutral (5.5 to 7.0). It is usually advisable to work in several inches of organic matter, especially if you have poor soil or heavy clay,

Make sure the soil you plant your roses in has good drainage. Roses need regular deep watering, but their roots will rot if left to sit for days in wet soil.

And finally, do not crowd your rose bushes. The more air flow around the plants, the less likely they will be to get fungal diseases, like black spot and powdery mildew, on their leaves.

How to Plant Rose Bushes

  1. Dig out a hole that is slightly wider, but about as deep as the roses root ball. This will generally be about 15 to 18 inches deep by 18 to 24 inches wide.
  2. Mix a handful of bone meal or superphosphate into the soil you removed from the hole and save it for refilling the hole, once the rose is planted. This will help the rose bush acclimate to its new home. Don’t feed with anything else at planting time. You want the roots to take hold before the top starts sending out a lot of new growth.
  3. If your rose came in a container, gently remove it from the pot and loosen the roots a bit, so they will start to extend out, as soon as they are planted.
  4. If your rose is bare root, soak the roots for about an hour, before planting, to ensure they don't dry out after planting.
  5. Make a mound in the center of the hole, with the soil and bone meal or superphosphate mix. Make the mound high enough so that when you place the rose bush on top of it, the knobby graft union is barely below soil level. When the plant settles, the graft union should be fully buried, about 1 inch underground. [If you live in a frost-free climate, go to the next step.]
  6. Gardeners in warm climates may prefer to leave the bud union above ground since there is little chance of frost damage. You can bury the graft no matter where you are gardening, but when it is underground, there is always the chance that sprouts will grow from the rootstock, resulting in a plant different from the one grafted on top.
  7. Spread the roots down the sides of the mound. Begin filling in with the soil and superphosphate, keeping the roots as spread out as possible. Water the soil when the hole is just about filled, to help settle it in. Continue filling the hole and gently pat down.
  8. Water deeply and apply 1 to 2 inches of mulch. Water at least once per week, to get your rose plant established. You will know it has acclimated when it starts to send out new growth.
illustration of how to plant roses
 Illustration: Kelly Miller. © The Spruce, 2019

Additional Rose Planting Tips:

  • If there is still a chance of freezing temps, you can loosely pile soil or mulch around the base of the rose canes, to keep them from drying out. Remove this soil when the temperatures warm.
  • Prune the canes of larger rose bushes that are being transplanted, to 6 to 8 inches long. This will allow the rose bush to put more of its energy into its roots, rather than trying to keep excessive top growth alive.

Caring for Roses After Planting

Continue to water your roses every week, so that the plants develop a deep root system. Feed them when they start to leaf out in spring and after each flush of bloom or about every six weeks throughout the growing season. Stop feeding about six weeks before your first frost date, but continue watering until the ground is frozen, watering all winter in frost-free areas.