How to Plant Roses

A small rose bush being planted by hands
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When you buy a rose plant, it often looks nothing like the beautiful rose bush you imagine blooming in your yard. Instead, they often have short, leafless canes and may even come bare root.

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

Where to Plant Roses

Choose a site with full sun. Six or more hours of 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 is when roses are grown in areas with extremely hot growing seasons and limited water. In this 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 is 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 in wet soil.

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

illustration of how to plant roses
Kelly Miller / The Spruce

How to Plant a Rose Bush

  1. Dig a hole that is slightly wider but about as deep as the rose's 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 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 it 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.
  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 the soil level. When the plant settles, the graft union should be fully buried, about 1 inch underground.
  6. Gardeners planting roses 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 the hole with 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.

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 to encourage the plants to develop a deep root system. Feed them when they start to leaf out in spring and after each flush of blooms, 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.