Planting Roses

In the Carolinas, roses are best planted in spring or autumn. In my experience, autumn planting is optimal. Generally, more plants are available in spring.

This is the result of vendors wanting to capitalize on the gardener’s itch to get outside and plant once the weather warms a bit. Summer planting is acceptable as long as one is willing to make sure the plant stays well watered until it becomes established. It is not advised that a planting hole be supplemented with quick acting synthetic fertilizers. This is a common reason for complete plant flop. Roots are burned. Secondarily, new roots fail to grow vigorously. Long acting organic supplements are fine to use in appropriate quantities.

Remember the soil prep basics: lots of natural organic material worked into the native soil is best. Rose plants with larger root structures (especially bare root specimens) will require planting in spot that has been dug to a depth of at least 18-24 inches. Mound a bit of soil under the central root structure, centering the root ball on top of this mound then fill around the remaining roots and edges of the planting hole. Overfill the hole by 1 or 2 inches and water the site thoroughly to settle the soil. Grafted roses will have a bud union. This is a knobby growth from which the top canes grow, located above central root(s). Many sources advise planting this union below the soil level. This is not necessary or recommended in the Carolinas.
That advice generally applies to plantings in colder areas of the country.

Place the bud union at or 1-2 inches above the soil line. In our warmer climate, placing the bud union of a grafted rose below the soil line can encourage growth of the unwanted root stock instead of the grafted plant that you paid for. Pot grown roses will also require the same planting practices, especially larger and/or grafted specimens. Increasing numbers of nurseries and breeders are offering “own root” grown roses. These may be smaller in overall size than grafted ones. There are definite advantages to purchasing and planting own root plants. The planting hole will not have to be dug as deeply and there will be no growth of unwanted rootstock suckers. The roots of a potted plant should be loose and mobile when planted. A tight root ball or roots that curl around the inside of the pot should be disturbed before planting. Pull or cut out these peripheral roots. Irritating the root structure will induce the plant to quickly start growing new roots once planted This ensures better overall plant development and rapid adaptation to its new home.

It is crucial that any newly planted rose receive adequate water until established. Fall planting makes this much easier. Ai temps are cooler but the soil is still relatively warm. The hot, dry periods of summer have passed. The water from autumn rains evaporates slowly, remaining in the soil much longer. In spring, the Carolinas usually receive regular bouts of rain as we shift away from winter. The air and soils are still cool and again, soil moisture evaporates less quickly. Supplemental watering may not even be necessary for roses planted in spring or fall unless we experience an uncommon dry spell.

Roses planted between mid May and mid September will probably need extra water during the hot dry spells of summer here in the Carolinas. Ground level watering during morning hours is best (soaker hoses, low level misters). Overhead watering, especially in the evening, leaving foliage wet for extended periods can encourage development of fungal diseases during our humid summers.

Lynn Cochran member of American Rose Society.

Helpful Links

Roses for North Carolina
NC State information
NCSU Rose information