Planting Bare Root Roses

Planting Bare Root Roses

Planting Bare Root Roses

Planting bare root roses is a snap.  Learn how to do it by following this simple plan, and grow yourself some big, blooming, beautiful bushes.

Unbelievable Speed 2023

Greetings, all.  I’ve got a pretty timely one for you today.  Here in the Midwestern U.S., in hardiness zone 5B/6A (where my own garden and I are situated), early April is the perfect time to be thinking about planting bare root roses.  Assuming, of course, that you’re someone who actually wants to stck some rose bushes in the ground.  Otherwise, early April is a much better time to be thinking about Major League Baseball.  But for argument’s sake, let’s assume you’re a member of the first group.  In that case, you’ll want to know exactly what a bare root rose is, and how many different kinds, if any, there are (and what makes them different).  You’re probably going to be curious about the advantages and disadvantages to planting bare root roses (as opposed to potted specimens).  You’ll want to know the absolute best time of year to plant a bare root rose, and you’ll also want to know how to do it step-by-step, from the time you get one of these things into your hot little hands, to the time you congratulate yourself for getting your bare root rose planted without herniating a few disks.  You’ll probably also want some pictures, and you might just want to know about a product or two that will help you accomplish this all important task.  Finally, you might want to know where I got the information for this article that wasn’t pounded into my head by way of my own massive gardening mistake-making, and you might want to do some additional boning up of your own on this subject.

Ask, and ye shall receive.  Here you go…

Planting Bare Root Roses: What Exactly Is a Bare Root Rose?

A bare root rose is pretty much what it sounds like: a non-potted rose that comes into your possession in un-leafed, roots-exposed form.  And the way it comes into your possession is via delivery from an online retailer and/or their proprietary growers.  What you’ll get is a plant that is generally around two years old, the canes (main stems) of which have been cut to usually somewhere between 8″ and 14″ in length, are covered in a healthy amount of nodes (which may or not be in a state of active sprouting), and protrude from a substantial mass of exposed, non-potted bare roots.  The way those canes attach to that mass of bare roots determines the kind of bare root rose you’ll be planting, and is the subject of the next few paragraphs.

Own Root versus Grafted: Know One from the Other When You’re Planting Bare Root Roses

What’s an own root bare root rose?  It’s a rose plant that’s been grown, typically from a stem cutting, on its own root system.  During this process, which is technically known as vegetative propagation,¹⁻² a stem cutting is taken from a particular variety*, and it’s placed in an environment that encourages the development of its adventitious roots and, ultimately, its very own complete new root system.  Both the roots and the stem of this new plant belong to the same specific plant – it is an own root rose plant.  Once these own root new plants have sufficiently rooted, they’re grown in soil for approximately two years, then cut back and kept in a cool, dormant state by growers until they’re ready to be shipped.  Then one of these pruned, dormant, bare root, two year old plants – the one you’ve just finished reading about in a springtime rose bush catalog and absolutely couldn’t live without – shows up on your doorstep in a cardboard box.  Presto!  You’re now the proud owner of an own root, bare root rose plant.  Pretty cool, huh?

*A note about “varieties,” “cultivars,” and “hybrids:”  Although these terms do mean different things, and roses as a genus can exist in any one of these forms, for the sake of simplification as we’re going forward here, I’m going to use the term “variety” or “varieties” to indicate any and/or all three of these forms.

What’s a grafted bare root rose?  I’ve written extensively here in The RGG about this very subject (you’ll see some corresponding links to my articles in the bibliography at the end of the article), and it’s a topic that continues to generate inquiries here in RGG land from readers who want to the skinny on grafted bare root rose plants.  A grafted bare root rose plant (also called a budded bare root rose plant) is basically two plants in one that are joined at a point called the graft union, or bud union (also known, as the “knuckle”).  The part above this knuckle consists of the canes (stems) of the plant that will sprout, leaf, grow, and bloom as one particular cultivar (it’ll be the rose that’s advertised by the retailer and purchased by the customer), and is considered to be the grafted plant.  The part below the knuckle is an entirely different story, and an entirely different plant.  This part is the rootstock, or understock, of a separate rose plant that’s considered to be hardier and more robust by the grower than the original rootstock/understock of the grafted plant.  The rootstock of ‘Dr, Huey’³, an incredibly robust and assertive rambling rose (although some experts – depending on which one you talk to – consider it either a climbing rose or a shrub rose, as well), is what’s commonly used by commercial propagators to develop their grafted bare root roses (although ‘Multiflora’ and ‘Fortuniana’ roses are also fairly commonly used).⁴  The process of propagating a bare root rose in this fashion involves making complementary cuts in the stem of the grafted (top) plant and the stem (usually at a point a couple of inches above the very top parts of the roots) of the rootstock donor plant, and “interlocking” the two plants together, then keeping them physically joined together until the graft/bud union heals and a knuckle forms.  Three main canes from the grafted rose (the one intended for sale to consumers) are generally used in propagating a grafted bare root plant, and the knuckle that forms at the point where the two separate plants have been joined is very visibly evident.  Once these plants are propagated in this fashion, they’re typically grown, pruned, cooled, and prepared for shipping in the same fashion and over the same period of time (about two years) as own root bare root roses.  The three photos below illustrate the differences in appearance and structure between own root and grafted bare root rose plants.  These differences will help guide your methodology when you’re planting bare root roses in your own garden.

Planting Bare Root Roses
Above left is a grafted bare root rose, and next to it on the right is an own root bare root rose..
Planting Bare Root Roses
The graft/bud union, or knuckle (circled), is visible in the above close-up of the grafted bare root rose plant. Everything above the knuckle is the grafted plant, and everything below is the base stem and rootstock of an entirely different plant. The knuckle is the point where the two plants are joined.
Planting Bare Root Roses
The close-up above of the own root bare root rose plant illustrates how the plant's canes (main stems) arise directly from its own crown and rootstock (as indicated by the circled area). An own root bare root rose plant is exactly as its name suggests: a single bare root plant growing from its own rootstock.

Own Root and Grafted Roses: Pluses and Minuses of Each

When you decide that planting bare root roses is what you want to do with your time, there’s going to come a point where buying some becomes a reality for you.  When you get to that point, you’ll need to decide if you want to be planting either own root or grafted bare root roses, or both.  Here are a few things to consider.

Own Root Bare Root Rose Pluses 

  • One plant only.  The stems, crown, and roots of an own root bare root rose are all part of the same plant.  No suckers (you’ll read about those very shortly).
  • No weak points.  As you’ll read below, the knuckle on a grafted rose bush could end up being a weak point – both structurally and performance-wise – for the plant as a whole.  Since this weak point does not exist in the case of an own root bare root rose, the bush is potentially more durable.
  • Longevity.  Since there are no structural or performance issues associated with these plants, it’s possible that they might enjoy greater longevity than their grafted cousins.
  • Cold hardiness.  It’s definitely not always the case that own root plants can handle the cold better than grafted plants (particularly when the own root plant in question is of a variety rated only for warmer zones), but all things being equal, the own root bare root plant does not have any structural or physiological properties (specifically, the knuckle) that could be more easily compromised by freezing temperatures.

Own Root Bare Root Rose Minuses

  • Cold hardiness limitations.  In the case of an individual own root bare root rose variety, its ability to take the cold is entirely determined by its breeding.  If it’s been bred to withstand nothing colder than a zone 6 winter, than it will withstand nothing colder than a zone 6 winter.  The roots, crown, and stems all come from, and comprise the same non-cold hardy plant.  (You’ll see where I’m going with this in a second.)  You, however, as a consumer, can circumvent this problem simply by choosing a more cold hardy own root variety.

Grafted Bare Root Rose Pluses

  • Robust and cold hardy.  Since the understock of a grafted bare root rose comes from one of a few incredibly hardy, robust, and assertive rose varieties, the entire resultant grafted plant will share those same properties.  There are a huge number of floribunda, hybrid tea, shrub, etc. rose varieties that are able to grow in colder hardiness zones as a direct result of their non-cold hardy, less durable upper portions being grafted to the incredibly hardy rootstock of ‘Dr. Huey’ et al.  If these varieties were sold as own root rather than grafted roses, they simply wouldn’t have the ability to withstand the same cold temperatures.  In grafted form, their cold hardiness is excellent and it allows these varieties to be grown in more frigid hardiness zones.
  • Larger delivered size and quicker first year growth.   Many bare root roses, whether own root or grafted, are sold to consumers at approximately two years of age.  A grafted bare root rose, however, is more than likely considered to be two years old in its grafted state.  In many cases, the graft portion and the rootstock/understock portion of the plant, respectively, could already be relatively old and matured at the time they were grafted together.  So even though it had been growing as a single plant for two years at the time of its shipping from the grower, its individual components could be, and more often than not are, older two years.  This makes for a bigger plant.  Further, the aggressive, robust rootstock portion of this plant is delivering nutrients and moisture to its upper grafted portion at a rate commensurate with its own size and assertiveness, thereby contributing to faster initial growth.

Grafted Bare Root Rose Minuses

  • Suckers.  This is a serious problem with many grafted rose varieties.  Simply put, suckers are canes that arise from the rootstock or areas of the stem/crown section that exists below the graft knuckle of a grafted rose plant.  Since these canes are more robust, assertive, and aggressive than those of the grafted portion of the plant, they can quickly overrun and choke out, or “suck” the life out of the grafted portion of the plant, which is the portion that you, as the consumer, bargained for.  If you’re not careful, Dr, Huey suckers will turn your Mister Lincoln hybrid tea rose into none other than a full-on Dr. Huey himself.  I’m serious.  I’ve seen it happen.  For more on suckers, and how to deal with them, please feel free to read the RGG articles cited right here⁵⁻⁶ and listed, with direct links to them, in the bibliography at the end of this article.
  • Shorter life spans.  Theoretically (and in many cases, in actuality) this can be a legitimate problem with grafted roses.  Many professional and competitive rose growers I know swear that most grafted roses don’t live much beyond fifteen years.  I, however, happen to have known some pretty serious rose growers – my parents – who had grafted roses growing in their gardens for well over thirty years (for all I know, these roses could still be truckin’ on) with no evidence of burnout.  Did they have suckers?  Sure.  Some of them did.  But my dad always put an end to them.  The science behind the shorter-life-spans-for-grafted-roses hypothesis dictates that the grafted (upper) section of the plant becomes too substantial for the knuckle to support and the graft ultimately fails, killing the upper grafted portion of the plant.  Does it really happen?  It evidently does because the position is embraced by so many talented and experienced rose growers.  But there are also a whole bunch of grafted roses out there currently living lives of good health and abundance far beyond that dreaded 15-year mark.
  • Cold weather and structural problems.  “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  This old saying is particularly true in the case of grafted roses.  The knuckle, or graft/bud union, is one of two weakest links.  This section of a grafted rose plant is particularly sensitive to frigid temperatures.  A wicked temperature drop could kill a grafted rose plant (at least the upper grafted portion) by wiping out the sensitive knuckle.  The other of the two weakest links is the section of cane (main stem) between the top of the root structure and the bottom of the knuckle.  It is only one single section of main stem and it’s being called upon to support an ever-growing, multi-caned mass of branches, foliage, and flowers.  The structural compromise could be disastrous for the plant.  Fortunately, as you’ll read shortly, the knuckle’s cold weather sensitivity, as well as the structural concerns of the single main cane of the grafted rose plant’s understock can be easily mitigated and even eliminated through intelligent planting practices.

Planting Bare Root Roses versus Potted Roses

Are there advantages to planting bare root roses versus potted roses?  Sure there are.  But the decision to plant potted roses comes with its advantages, too.  I’ll go over a few benefits of each of these rose-planting methodologies right here.

Benefits to Planting Bare Root Roses

Cost.  If you’re ordering rose plants online, you’re going to save money by going the bare root route.  Roses purchased in bare root form – whether own root or grafted, are going to be somewhere around 30% cheaper than buying a 2-quart potted version (a very commonly offered size) of the same plant.  Sometimes, when a gallon (or larger) potted version is the only alternative to bare root, the savings could be even more substantial by opting for the bare root version.

No-brainer identification of own root or grafted status.  When you order a bare root plant from a reputable grower and/or seller of roses (either online or from a catalog), you’re going to know whether you’re ordering an own root or grafted plant.  You’ll know this because that reputable online grower and/or seller of roses will tell you.  It’ll be made clear on their website or in their catalog.  (Incidentally, if you order a 2-quart potted rose from one of these growers, or a miniature rose, you’re going to be getting an own root rose.)  Many local bricks and mortar nurseries also sell potted full-sized (not miniature) roses that come in gallon-sized or larger pots.  Unfortunately, it’s often impossible to tell whether these potted specimens are own root or grafted plants without excavating the soil from the pot and having a look at the roots and crown of the plant.  When you order either an own root or grafted bare root rose, you know exactly what you’re getting.

Well-established root systems.  A major benefit to planting bare root roses accrues when those massively developed two year old roots start doing their thing and begin to deliver nutrients and mosture at a rapid clip up to those sprouting and blossoming aerial structures.  Nothing explodes into growth quite like a healthy, newly potted bare root rose. 

Benefits to Planting Potted Roses

Knowing that some are own root plants.  As stated, when you order a 2-quart potted specimen from a reputable rose grower/seller, you’re getting an own root plant.  Whether you order a potted miniature rose from a reputable grower/seller, or buy one from a local nursery or big box store, you’ll be getting an own root plant.  This is the case because miniature roses are propagated  by stem cuttings.  A stem is cut from one plant and encouraged to grow its own roots.¹⁻²  Bingo bango.

Long planting window.  Because potted roses have grown to the point that they possess comparatively well-developed aerial structures (stems, branches, and leaves) and fairly extensive root systems, it’s evident that, for a fairly substantial period of time, they’ve been processing and storing moisture, nutrients, and energy through uptake by their roots and through the process of photosynthesis.⁷ These facts make them excellent candidates for planting at virtually any time that the ground in their respective hardiness zones is workable.  In my hardiness zone of 5B/6A, potted roses can be bedded almost any time from late winter to late fall.  These potted specimens, by virtue of their complete and working aerial and root structures, have stored and processed enough of what they need to withstand the extremes of any season.

Planting Bare Root Roses
This floribunda rose ('Ebb Tide') was planted as an own root bare root four years ago. It's huge, healthy, and covered with blooms all spring and summer long.
Planting Bare Root Roses
Another floribunda ('Livin' Easy') I planted four years ago in own root bare root form. Like the 'Ebb Tide', it grows huge, bushy, and bloom-covered all spring and summer.
Planting Bare Root Roses
This hybrid tea rose ('Blue Girl') is a huge, bushy, exhibition rose that I planted as a grafted bare root last year.
Planting Bare Root Roses
This miniature ('Whimsy') grows 3' tall and wide, and is covered in blooms that are nearly 3" wide. It was planted as an own root bare root four years ago.
Planting Bare Root Roses
I've written about this beautiful miniature rose bush before - it's the very first plant that I purchased for my garden. It came in a tiny pot from a big box store, and, like the 'Whimsy' miniature rose, grows nearly 3' tall and wide, and is covered in blooms that, are almost 3" in diameter. This beautiful little bush has no known name.

What's the Best Time for Planting Bare Root Roses?

Unlike potted rose bushes, which, as I wrote above, come in a form with fully developed aerial structures and roots, and can be planted almost any time from late winter through late fall (due to the fact that they’re substantially developed and have been absorbing moisture, nutrients, and energy as only fully developed rose plants can), the window of time for planting bare root roses is comparatively small.  A general window of January through early June is often the rule.  But this window is only a generality.  What will define your own specific window of time for planting bare root roses is your specific hardiness zone, and the hardiness of the varieties you choose to plant.  In my hardiness zone of 5B/6A, this window is typically from early March through early June.  It’s best to know your own hardiness zone, and to know the rated hardiness of any bare root rose you want to plant.  If you’re ordering your bare root roses from a reputable grower and/or seller, they’re not going to ship your roses any earlier or later than the optimum planting window for yor particular hardiness zone.  In my zone, for instance, if I order a bare root rose from a reputable organization between early March and Late May/early/June, that’s when it’ll ship.  Ordering outside of this window means waiting until the middle of the next March for my bare root rose.  Two important notes: 1) When you’re planting bare root roses, you’ll want them to put on enough aerial growth and establish substantial root development before winter’s onset, so it’s best to get them in the ground as early as your hardiness zone permits.  2) Caution – get your orders in early!  Bare root roses sell like hotcakes.  If you wait to order until well into your planting window, you’ll probably be getting your plant the following year.

The reason the window for planting bare root roses is smaller than that of potted roses is a simple one.  A bare root rose begins to wake up from dormancy when it’s taken out of its shipping package (although I’ve had many that had started sprouting from their nodes in their dark boxes during their trip to my house).  The organism you’ll be planting is essentially a root system and a few canes with some little yellowish green nodes sprinkled on them.  If you were to plant something like this in the late fall, the cold would kill its minimal aerial growth.  Further, as a bare root plant in this newly-awakened state, it would not have had enough time to drink, feed, and store energy sufficiently in order to withstand the extreme weather conditions of winter.  This also holds true for attempting to plant a recently awakened bare root rose in the heat of summer.  The intense sun and heat would fry those tender, insufficiently-moisturized/nourished nodes and canes, and would ultimately kill the plant.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve cooked up more than one or two well-done bare root rose rump roasts by trying to bed them in the heat of summer.  

Planting Bare Root Roses: Time to Get ’em in the Ground!

From the second they show up at my front door, until the time they’re in the ground and my back and knees are bitching at me, here’s my step-by-step game plan for planting bare root roses.

1. Unpack them or store them.  If you’re going to plant your bare root rose within a day or so of receiving them, unpack them.  If you’re waiting to plant them for longer than a day or two, you’ll need to store them.  Leave them in their boxes and put them in your fridge or in a cool, dark protected area like an unheated garage or shed until you’re ready to plant them.

2. Rinse them off.  Most reputable rose growers/sellers will ship your bare root roses to you in leak-proof packaging (usually wrapped in plastic) with some of the soil medium in which they’s be growing sent along to help keep the plants moist.  David Austin Roses, for example, sends my roses to me beautifully packaged with a proprietary moisture-retaining medium that includes some of the soil composite in which the plants had been growing.  When you’re ready to begin your own planting process, remove your bare root rose from its packaging and rinse it off with cool to tepid water (distilled water is best, but any freshwater is better than no water).  Remember that your newly acquired bare root roses have been in a state of suspended animation, in the cold and dark, for quite some time.  Welcome them back to the land of sentience by cleaning off their coatings of dirt and letting some light into their lives.

3. Soak them.  When it comes to dehydration, it doesn’t matter how effectively a bare root rose is shipped – it’s going to be at least slightly dehydrated.  Probably more than slightly.  So, before you plant your own recently un-boxed, more-than-slightly-desiccated bare root rose, you’ll want to rehydrate it.  Do this by soaking it in a clean, leak-proof container.  (I use plastic 5-gallon buckets.)  There are many differing opinions as to the length of time a bare root rose plant should be soaked prior to planting, and to what depth it should be immersed, but there’s no question about the medium in which they must be soaked – it’s freshwater.  Distilled water is obviously a great choice, but any freshwater (tap water is just fine) will do.  When I soak my bare root roses prior to planting, I immerse them in tap water up to a point just below the knuckle for grafted bare root plants, and to about the middle of the root crown on own root bare roots, and I let them soak for approximately twelve hours.  This ensures sufficient rehydration for the roots and gets that bare root plant’s moisture and nutrient delivery mechanisms engaged in anticipation of being bedded in soil.  Again, you can ask ten different rose growers “How deep and how long?” and you’ll get ten different answers.  My own methodology works just fine.

Planting Bare Root Roses
The blue, wavy line in the above pic represents the depth at which I immerse my grafted bare root rose plants prior to planting. I keep the knuckle just above the water line.
Planting Bare Root Roses
When I soak my own root bare root roses, I make the sure the water level reaches a point at around the middle of the root crown. The wavy blue line in the above shot illustrates this.

4. If the weather throws you a curveball on planting day, stick your bare root roses in a container of well-watered soil and good drainage until the rain delay ends.  Yep.  It happens.  When I yank my bare root roses out of their soaking buckets with an eye on planting them, and I see a massive deluge happening right ouside the window, I’ll do one of two things, depending on the forecast: 1) In the case of a short cloudburst, I’ll stick them back in their buckets of water and wait it out.  2) If the bad weather is an all day/all night event, or longer, I’ll temporarily plant my bare root roses in a container of moist, well-drained soil and let them chill until it’s time to plant them.  In the case of these temporary lodgings, exacting planting depth is not as critical a factor as it will be when these plants are permanently bedded in their forever spots in a flower bed.  It’s a good idea to give bare root rose plants a healthy watering and a substantial misting of their canes while they wait in their temporary digs to be planted.

Planting Bare Root Roses
Crappy weather delayed the permanent placement and planting of this grafted bare root rose bush, so I harbored it in a 5-gallon bucket filled with well-watered soil and perforated with an ample numble of drainage holes. The planting depth is not critical in this temporary planting situation.
Planting Bare Root Roses
Here's one of my own root bare root roses hanging out in a potted, well-drained, temporary state until the weather broke and it was planted in its permanent position in the garden. Again, planting depth wasn't critical while the plant was in this temporary lodging.
Planting Bare Root Roses
Misting the canes of a bare root rose while it remains temporarily potted before final planting cleans the plant of any dirt and hydrates its aerial structures.

5. Dig and prep the hole.  Bare root roses need room for their roots to spread out and down.  I always make my holes about 20 inches in diameter and about 20 inches in depth.  This amount of space allows me to “fan” the plant’s roots out when I bed it, and it provides the roots themselves with plenty of growing and exploring room in a medium that is not as densely packed as the surrounding earth beyond the boundaries of the hole.  Before I position the plant and start backfilling the hole, I take a garden spade and jab multiple “slits” into the earth at the bottom of the hole.  This further loosens the ground and provides easier penetration by the plant’s roots as they grow.

6. Plant the plant and fill the hole.  This is a really critical step, so pay close attention.  I’m going to tell you and show you how far down I situate my bareroot roses when I plant them, then I’m going to tell you what you can use to fill the hole.

  • How deep should I position my own root bare root rose when I’m planting it?  My answer: Position the the plant so that the bottoms of the highest stems arising from the crown sit 2 or 3 inches below the top of the hole, then fill the hole, carefully “fanning” the roots outward and downward (don’t snap/break them) as you fill, and making sure that the fill is even with the surrounding earth and that it covers the bottoms of those highest roots by 2 to 3 inches.  Make sure that you’ve gently pressed and “patted” the soil with your hands, and that, in this firmed condition, it’s even with the surrounding earth.  I’ve found that burying the plant to this depth yields a few definite benefits: 1) The root crown is protected from temperature extremes throughout all seasons.  2) Burying the plant at this depth will not only encourage additional stem growth and branching at and from above the soil line, it will also encourage the growth of adventitious roots,⁸ which provide additional stabilization for the plant plus nutrient and moisture absorption from higher levels of the soil.  3) At this depth, the plant will receive excellent structural stabilization and support as its aerial structures become more extensive and well-developed.
  • How deep should I position my grafted bare root rose when I’m planting it?  When planting grafted bare root roses, position the plant so the top of the graft knuckle sits 3 or 4 inches below the top of the hole, then fill the hole, again, carefully spreading the roots as you fill, and making sure that you fill the hole even with the surrounding earth (and that it’s even with the surrounding earth after you’ve patted and pressed it).  Again, you want your grafted plant to sit in the ground with the top of that knuckle about 3 or 4 inches below grade.  Planting grafted bare root roses at this depth accomplishes the following objectives: 1) One of the two “weakest links,” the knuckle, is insulated from temperature extremes.  2) Additional stem growth and branching will occur at and above the soil line.  3) Stabilizing and nutrient-delivering adventitious roots will develop.  4)  With the knuckle buried to this depth, the length of main stem (the second of the “weakest links”) in the understock between the top of the roots and the knuckle does not need to support the entire aerial structure above the knuckle, which will grow larger and heavier every year by itself – it will have the additional support of the earth in which it’s buried, plus any adventitious roots that will develop.  There’s definitely a stabilization/support benefit to planting a grafted bare root rose at this depth.
  • What do I use to fill the hole?  I’ve taken three different approaches – you can do one of the following: 1) Use the soil excavated from the hole, well mixed with about 15% compost (your choice) and a dose of granular organic rose food (per the manufacturer’s recommended amount).  2) Use an organic garden soil well mixed with a handful of compost and a dose of granular organic rose food (per the manufacturer’s recommended amount).  3) Use an organic-based potting mix that comes pre-mixed with a low percentage, slow-release fertilizer well mixed with a dose of granular organic rose food at only about 75% of the manufacturer’s recommended amount (it’s a bit lower for this initial planting/feeding since the potting mix already has low amounts of fertilizer in its formulation).
Planting Bare Root Roses
The yellow line in the photo above indicates the depth to which I plant my own root bare root roses. There are a number of benefits to planting them at this depth, including protection for the crown and stabilization and support for the entire bush.
Planting Bare Root Roses
The yellow line in the above photo illustrates the depth at which I'll plant a grafted bare root rose. Insulation for the knuckle (the first of a grafted bare root roses "weakest links") and support and stabilization for the entire bush are the benefits that accrue by planting at this depth.
Planting Bare Root Roses
The area between the yellow lines in the above photo indicates the main stem section (the second of the grafted rose plant's two "weakest links") of the grafted bare root rose plant's understock. If this plant were to be bedded with the knuckle and this section of understock stem above grade, the mass and weight of the ever-growing grafted part of the plant (above the knuckle) could apply damaging structural stress to this section of the plant. Plant your grafted bare root rose plenty deep!

7. Mulch.  When planting bare root roses, whether own root or grafted, keeping their underground structures hydrated and insulated from temperature extremes is critical – so, you’ve gotta mulch.  Once your rose has been planted to the correct depth with an appropriate fill and an appropriate amount of fertilizer mixed in, cover the surface of the fill area with mulch right up to the base of the plant’s stems.  I use wood chip mulch and I add it at a thickness of 2″-3″, but as I apply it closer to the base of the plant’s stems, I decrease the thickness until it’s less than an inch by the time it reaches the actual bases of the stems.

8. Water.  Water the hell out of your newly-planted  bare root rose.  This is critical.  Heavy watering upon planting bare root roses expedites the release of the applied fertilizer’s nutrients into the soil and activates each plant’s roots and encourages their growth and functionality.  If the weather remains dry after you plant your bare root rose, give it a good long drink every couple of days during the first few weeks in its new home.

9. Congratulate yourself on successfully planting bare root roses, then, in anal, freakish fashion, obssessively check them for new growth every 15 minutes.  Hey, besides watching baseball, that’s what I do.

Planting Bare Root Roses
An own root bare root rose in successfully planted and mulched condition.

Product Recs for Planting Bare Root Roses: A Good One for Them and a Good One for You

What’s the point of planting bare root roses if you make a trainwreck out of the whole process?  You can go a long way toward avoiding derailment by feeding your new roses the good stuff, and you can take care of your good old own self in the process by dialing your plants and yourself into the following recs.

Espoma Organic Rose-tone.  Roses are seriously heavy feeders.  You’ve got to fertilize them.  Regularly.  For my full-sized rose bushes (and often for my miniature bushes, as well), I use Espoma Organic Rose-tone.  It’s an organic granular with an N-P-K ratio of 4-3-2, and it contains a bunch of different beneficial active microbe cultures.  It’s phenomenal rose food.  Espoma recommends a monthly application, so I start the first feeding for my roses at the beginning of April and feed them for the last time no later than the first day or two of September.  Click the #advertisement link to learn more, or to order this excellent product right here, directly from Amazon.

Espoma Organic Rose-tone

Click here to learn more or to order


One of my own bags of Espoma Organic Rose-tone. This product amends the soil where my roses grow by enriching it with the perfect amounts of nutrients and beneficial microbes that the plants need for optimum root, foliage, and bloom development. Great stuff, right here.

Beesential Gardener’s and Mechanics Small Batch Bar Soap.  First of all, there’s no apostrophe in “Mechanics.”  It’s how they really spell it.  Now for the nitty-gritty… this stuff is all natural, contains fresh-ground coffee, and is made and approved by beekeepers.  And it cleans and takes care of my own beat-up hands in excellent fashion.  What’s not to love?  If it works for me and my paws, it’ll work for you and your hands, too.  It’s really an amazing, one-of-a-kind bar soap.  Click the #advertisement link to learn more, or to order it here, directly from Amazon.

Beesential Gardener’s and Mechanics Small Batch Soap

Click here to learn more or to order


You can see the ground coffe beans and other natural components in one of my own bars of Beesential Gardener's and Mechanics Small Batch Bar Soap. I love the way this soap cleans and feels on my old tore up paws. I've never enjoyed washing my hands more.

Bibliography/For Further Reading


Well, gang, another whopper is in the books, and I feel pretty good about it – you’ve now got pretty much everything you need to know about planting bare root roses, in case you want to take a crack at doing it.  You know what bare root roses are, and you know about the two basic forms you’ll find them in, plus, you know the differences between, and the strengths and weaknesses of each one.  You know the pros and cons of planting bare root roses versus planting potted roses.  You’ve got the A-to-Z on how to get your bare root roses in the ground the right way.  You’ve got two great product recs and one great reading list in case you want to really get down to the brass tacks of planting bare root roses.  And, best of all, you’ve got me saying “So long!” and letting you rest your eyeballs.  

As always, my dear readers and subscribers, I thank you for your kind interest and your readership.

Cheers, and Happy Gardening!

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10 thoughts on “Planting Bare Root Roses”

  1. Everything you need to know about planting bare root roses in depth…. Amazing article, so well written and explained…, love the images … 🌹🌹🌹🙏

    1. Thank you so much, Roxxy. I’m very happy that you enjoyed reading it. There’s really so much more to planting the two bare root rose forms than simply sticking them in the ground. It definitely pays to understand their two very different physiologies and to bed them and care for them accordingly. Thanks once again, Roxxy.

    1. Many thanks, Waz. I appreciate your reading it and your kind words. It’s generally a good idea to arm oneself with enough knowledge to avoid bare root rose-planting disasters, or at least to mitigate the effects of mistake-making. I’d love to get all the money back that I’ve blown over the years doing stupid gardening things. If a book of were ever written chronicling my own gardening mistakes, it would be the cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales. It’s best to enter the rose planting arena fortified with as much info as possible. Thanks once again, Waz!

  2. John, what a great article. I never knew there was so much science surrounding the planting of roses. This is a must read for anyone interested in planting a single rose or an entire rose garden. I know that your product recommendations will really allow your roses to reach their full potential. All the roses pictured are really beautiful!

    1. Thanks so much, Kevin. I appreciate your reading it, and I’m glad you found it interesting. The science of modern rose plant propagation ensures that all roses, ultimately, are not necessarily created equal (a rose by any other name might very well not smell just as sweet), and the selections and decisions that one makes as a purchaser and grower of roses should be as informed as possible. If you’re not careful, you could buy and plant one thing, and in a few years, end up with something else entirely growing in its place. Hopefully this article will be helpful to readers when it comes down to making a rose plant buying decision and implementing a subsequent planting strategy. Thanks once again, Kevin.

  3. Solid info. We removed some “suckers” from a berm in the front yard. They grew long shoots under the weed blocker fabric. Sprouted up at the grass line. Just peeled back the fabric and chopped off the stem with some roots and potted them up. Put them out in the willow garden area. Also, cut them down to about 10-12 inches tall. They have leafed out (the ones that survived) and I am in the midst of transplanting them into the back garden. I love when I have plants that make more plants!

    I admit, I am a kinda rough gardener. I will use your methods in the next go around. (The soaking thing). Cheers, John. Have a lovely Spring day.

    1. Thank you for reading the article, Lane. I’m glad you found some useful info there. It’s really awesome that you salvaged the suckers – the three or four varieties that I know about are all really beautiful, vital plants. You’ll have to share some pics when they really get going! And yeah, the soaking thing really does make a difference. If you try it, let me know if you think it helps. Thanks again, Lane, for reading and for commenting – I really appreciate it.

    1. Thank you for reading the article, Rick, and thanks for your kind words. It’s really amazing how much there is to know about these beautiful and amazing plants. But with a little info and some decent planning, really anyone can plant and raise beautiful, long-lived roses. The lifetime of beauty that each of these wonderful plants is capable of delivering is worth the investment of a little studying, preparation, and planning. Thanks once again, Rick.

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