Dealing with Bare Root Roses

When and How to Deal with Bare Root Roses

By Bob Bauer

You will begin to see bare root roses appearing at your local big box stores and even some garden stores any time from February first until the end of March or even a bit later. Unfortunately for us, most of these roses are distributed too early for our area to put them directly in the ground. Bare root roses in general are difficult to grow in our area when planted directly into the ground for two primary reasons: 1) we usually have one or more late frosts, and that will damage or kill the sensitive buds and new shoots of a just planted bare root rose, and 2) our climate is very low in humidity and that can easily dry out the buds and shoots of the bare root and either kill it or set it back severely. Another option is to plant your bare root roses in 5 gallon plastic pots and grow them out until after their first bloom before you plant them into the ground.

A bit of advice on buying bare root roses. The “bare root in a bag” roses you see at the local hardware store are usually lower quality roses that can be infected with rose mosaic virus. These roses are packed in sawdust and you should remove them from that medium and soak them before planting. Try to avoid buying a bare root rose that has already budded or leafed out. You want them as dormant as possible. In general, buying them from a mail order rose specialty nursery will mean a higher quality of bare root rose. Most roses ordered from nurseries will be delivered around the end of March in time for planting in our hardiness zone.

How to plant bare root roses in a pot:

  1. Soak your bare root rose overnight in a bucket of water to get it fully hydrated.
  2. Use a standard 5 gallon garden pot. In the gardening world the “five gallon” pot is smaller than an actual 5 gallon food grade bucket, but that is what they call the pots that you want. If you have bought potted roses before you probably have some of these lying around your yard.
  3. Get some standard potting soil from the garden store.
  4. Pour soil into the pot about 3 inches deep.
  5. Spread the roots of the plant out to form an inverted cone and place it in the pot.
  6. Fill up the rest of the pot up to the knob of the “bud union” of the bare root rose, tamping the soil down firmly.
  7. Water the pot well until the soil is fully soaked.
  8. Put the potted rose in a full sun area, and make sure that you water it regularly. If it looks like frost is coming, move the pot into your garage or other area where it won’t get hit with frost. You might have to do this daily. This is why you don’t want to plant your bare root rose too early.
  9. Add a small amount of fertilizer to the pot after the bare root rose is leafing out. Don’t overdo it; just a small amount sprinkled on the surface is sufficient.
  10.  Once the rose has leafed out make sure it is in a full sun area and keep it watered. After it has finished blooming, the roots will be well developed enough to remove the whole thing carefully with the root ball and soil and carefully plant it in a prepared hole where you want it to stay.