Seven Thoughts on Successfully Planting Roses

Planting roses is one of the things that rose growers disagree about (often with passion) but I simply look at the results.


To begin with, it is important to understand one small bit of rose anatomy. The spot where the rootstock meets the top desirable flowering rose canes is called the bud graft or bud union. You'll see this as a swelling and the canes will shoot from this area while the roots go down from it.

The discussion in the rose gardening community (and I'm polite when I call it a discussion) is about how deep to plant this bud union.

Warmer Climates For Planting Roses

In warm climates such as England, when we're planting roses, the bud union is planted at or slightly above the soil level.

Cooler Climates

In cooler climates, traditionally that bud union has been planted two inches deep in the soil to protect it from winter. Mind you, you still have to protect the top growth to stop it from freezing as well.

The newer or “deep” planting roses recommendation calls for this bud union on tender roses to be planted six inches deep in colder gardening regions.

Rose Feeding

My experience is that planting the bud union this deep works well IF you feed your roses heavily. If you do not feed your roses regularly and well, then the rose will slowly peter out and not do well.

The key is to understand that by planting the bud union six inches deep, you are putting the roots deeper than normal and the soil at that depth has to be able to sustain excellent growth. This is why I recommend double digging the area where you're going to be planting your rose and ensuring the soil fertility is excellent all the way to the bottom of the planting hole.

Hole Digging

Dig the hole. This is more important than you might imagine. Never put a ten dollar plant in a five dollar hole. Put a ten dollar plant in a twenty dollar hole and your plant will become a twenty dollar plant. For the average rose dig a hole approximately twenty four inches across and as deep as you need to go so you don't have to bend the roots to plant that bud union at the appropriate depth.

Set the plant upright with the bud union at the right depth. You'll have to hold it upright or get some help doing this while you backfill. I note that some instructions on planting roses tells you to spread the rose roots out over a pyramid or cone of soil at the bottom of the hole. This comes from books written in England about growing specialist plants for show roses and has absolutely no use (in my not-so-humble opinion) in the home garden. Besides, I've never seen a rose that was all that keen on letting me spread its roots out – those are really woody roots (surprised? – don't be- the rose is a woody shrub) :-) Gardeners who do this have more time on their hands than I do.

Backfilling Is Important

Important: the soil being backfilled is the critical part of the start for growing your rose. For every three shovels of the original soil I return to the hole, I add one shovel of compost and one shovel of peat moss. I'm trying to create super soil (and this is the only woody plant I do this for I note) in the hole.

Backfill the dormant rose so the canes are covered and the bud union is six inches deep. Press the soil down quite firmly and water heavily. You're going to be creating a mud zone around your rose and slowly but surely “muddify” the entire planting hole. The soil will sink as it compacts and works around the rose roots. Simply add more of the soil to even it out. Some gardeners like to leave a slight depression around the rose so the water will not run away from the roots (this is fine).

Must Be Well Watered

Keep this plant well watered as rose roots do not like to dry out. Use your finger on the soil and if it is at all dryish for the first month, water heavily. After this first month, you should be fine with a weekly or twice-weekly watering.

These are the same instructions I would use for planting roses with the bud unions only two inches deep. Same sized hole, same backfilling instructions. The difference is that the bud union is shallow and I prefer a deeper one.

Roses in deep plantings are easier to overwinter and require no protection (see article on overwintering). Roses that are shallow planted will require protection to survive winter.

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