What to Know About Transplanting Roses

Blushing Knock Out roses in bloom.

 T.Kiya/Flickr/CC By-SA 2.0

The rose (Rosa spp.) is a deciduous shrub best known for its fragrant, colorful flowers. A great number of gardeners choose to include a rose bush in the garden, either to bring cut flowers indoors to enjoy or simply for the beauty a rose bush adds the landscape. Although many roses available today are considered easy care, they are a focal point in the landscape that require a bit of attention. If your rose is failing to thrive, you may need to move it to a more suitable location. Learn how to transplant roses and the best time to do the job.

Why Transplant Roses

Roses have gotten an undeserved reputation for being difficult to grow. That assertion is largely untrue; in fact, there are many types of roses that are easy to grow for beginning and experienced gardeners alike. Like all plants, roses need certain conditions to grow well and one of the most important of these is the right location.

There are several reasons why you might need to transplant your roses. For roses to grow well, they need a lot of sunlight. If you have mistakenly planted your rose bush in a spot with too much shade, it will not thrive. You can transplant the rose to a location with more optimal lighting conditions.

Roses also need good drainage. If your rose bush is located in a low spot or one that remains soggy you need to transplant it to a spot with better soil. To improve drainage add compost to the existing soil to create a high-quality loam.

Additionally, gardeners sometimes fail to take into account the mature size of their shrub before they plant. Allowing enough space for your full-size rose solves a number of problems caused by overcrowding. Leaving adequate space between plants provides good air circulation which improves the overall health of the plant and helps to prevent the spread of disease. If planted too close to walkways and high traffic areas, a mature variety with thorns can turn into a painful problem. Pruning can sometimes help but transplanting is another option.

Best Time to Transplant Roses

Three conditions will help you determine the best time to transplant your rose shrub. First, choose a time when your rose is dormant (not actively growing). The correct time of year will differ depending on your climate and growing zone. Second, moderate temperatures are more conducive to success. You won't be able to move the plant if the ground is frozen. On the other hand, hot weather can cause wilting and transplant shock. The third condition concerns moisture. A cloudy, overcast day will raise moisture levels in the air which is much better for your transplant than hot, dry conditions.

Taking those factors into account, the best time to transplant a rose in the northern hardiness zones is in early spring. For those living in more southern hardiness zones, you can transplant roses in spring or fall. Most roses will be dormant during these times. Temperatures are usually more moderate with a greater number of moist, cloudy days.

How to Transplant Rose Bushes

For safety, wear thick gloves to protect your hands from thorns. Prune the bush to make it more compact. Not only will it look better, but there's a practical reason to prune. Digging up the rose will likely result in the loss of some roots which will diminish support for the above-ground growth. Pruning or cutting back helps to even the balance and gives the entire plant a better chance for a successful transplant.

  1. Dig around the perimeter of the bush, preserving as much of the rootball as possible.
  2. When you feel you've reached a sufficient depth, maneuver the shovel under the rootball and begin prying it loose. When it's loose enough to lift, grip the bush at the base of the stem to remove it from the soil.
  3. To make the move easier and keep the plant more intact, wrap the rootball in burlap. Tie the canes loosely together with twine.
  4. To prepare the new planting hole, dig to the same depth as the rootball and slightly wider.
  5. Bring the plant to the new location, and remove the twine and burlap. If the plant is rootbound, tease a few of the roots apart. Place the rootball in the new hole.
  6. If the graft union is above the soil line, remove the rootball and make the hole a bit deeper. When your rose settles into the new hole, its graft union should rest an inch or two below ground level.

Tip

It's debated be experts whether or not the graft union should rest slightly above or below the soil line. Regardless of whether you put it above or below, it will still be a weak spot for a woody young plant.


To get the transplant off to a good start, mix a handful of bone meal and some compost into the soil you removed from the new planting hole. Begin filling in around the roots, feathering the roots in places where they may be compacted. Gently tamp down the soil as you refill the hole then water the shrub thoroughly. You may need to add more soil after watering to keep the graft union in the proper position. It's best to check your rose every few days to make sure the soil stays moist. Once you begin to see new green growth, the shrub has set in and you can continue with regular maintenance. A layer of mulch will conserve moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds.