The Money-Saving Trick for Planting Roses — Even if You’re a Beginner Gardener

updated Mar 17, 2021
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Rose bushes with pink and red blooms in summer
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Roses can be intimidating to beginner gardeners — after all, these gorgeous blooming perennials have a regal look that makes them look downright fussy and, most of all, expensive. Not to mention, there are what seems like a million choices to sort through. Roses run the gamut on varieties, prices, and care requirements. There are climbers, shrubs, and tree sculptures. There are Knock Outs (and even itty bitty Petite Knock Outs that only grow to a cute 18 inches tall). There are high-dollar David Austin roses and cheaper, generic varieties. It’s a lot to sort through!

Thankfully, there are plenty of picks that are beginner- and wallet-friendly. And this month, there’s one choice in particular that should catch your attention: bare-root roses. While most people are familiar with buying potted plants, buying bare-root versions might just be the money-saving hack you’ve been looking for, especially if you want to plant multiple bushes.

Bare-root plants are different from plants that come potted in containers with soil around their roots. They come in plastic bags without any soil and are typically much more affordable than their potted counterparts. There’s also a time constraint on purchasing them — roses can only be shipped bare-root when they’re dormant, so only in the late fall through the winter months. Come the end of March or early April, nurseries and growers switch over to only selling potted roses because they’re beginning to sprout new growth.

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Bare-root roses are different, but not difficult.

Yes, bare-root roses might be different from what you’re used to when it comes to buying plants, but different doesn’t mean difficult! Almost all bare-root roses come with very specific information about how to plant them. The only thing you really need to remember is that once you receive your bare-root rose, you need to get it in the ground as soon as possible.  

If you don’t have the time to plant right away, store your rose outside and make sure the roots are slightly damp. You need to plant when the rose is still dormant, which makes late winter to early spring the best time to purchase bare-root roses. If you can’t plant them within a few days, the easiest thing to do is to quickly plant them in a container. You can leave them in there until you find somewhere to permanently plant them in your garden.

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Here’s how to plant bare-root roses.

When you’re ready to plant your bare-root roses in your garden, there are a few simple steps to follow:

1. Soak the roots.

Grab a bucket and fill it with water, then soak the roots of your plant for 20 to 30 minutes. This will rehydrate the rose and prep it for the planting process. If you notice that the roots of the plant are extra dry, soak the plant for a bit longer, around an hour. 

2. Dig your hole.

Typically roses enjoy at least five hours of direct sun a day. My David Austin roses get up to eight hours of direct sun, and they love it. If you’re not sure where to plant your bush, do a little research on the specific variety. Keep in mind that roses don’t like to be planted in windy or ultra-exposed areas. They also won’t do well if they have to compete, so make sure your roses are far enough away (at least three feet) from other plants, especially other roses and lagers shrubs. 

For bare-root roses, dig a hole that’s at least two feet deep and one-and-a-half feet wide. Add compost to the bottom of the hole and settle your plant in. 

As you’re planting, it’s important to remember that many roses are grafted together (kind of like Frankenstein). Grafted roses have the above-ground rose bush that will produce the blooms you want, and what is called the rootstock below ground. They’re typically grafted in this way because the above-ground rose isn’t tough enough to withstand the environment in every agricultural zone, so it’s attached (via the graft) to the roots of another rose that is hardier and will be able to survive harsher winters. It’s plant magic!

Grafting is also one of the fastest and most affordable ways to produce roses for wholesale, which is why there are so many of them on the market. 

You need to make sure that the grafted point (sometimes called a bud union) is planted beneath the soil by at least two inches; if that point is left above ground level, the roses will be susceptible to damage. It’s a relatively easy point to find and is typically a rounding section between the roots and the stem. 

If you don’t plant past the bud union, there’s a good chance the graft will be damaged in the winter and your rose will revert back to blooms from the rootstock plant, which are typically radically different from the plant you purchased. 

3. Water it thoroughly.

After you finish planting your rose, it’s imperative that you water it in thoroughly. Instead of pouring water over the entire plant, focus on pouring the water around the base of the rose. Mulch it and leave it alone until you notice new growth later in the spring season. Then, follow watering instructions for your particular rose variety and enjoy showy blooms through summer.