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Planting and Pruning Roses

When planted correctly and pruned at the right time, roses can thrive in their environment. However, when roses are planted in the wrong location and left un-pruned, they easily get diseases, pest pressure, and leggy stems. This post is all about learning how to plant and prune your roses so they thrive. Stay tuned for next week's post with tips and tricks for fertilizing, harvesting, and more.


When you purchase a rose bush, the bush can come two ways: in a pot with soil surrounding the root or as a plant with bare roots. Roses in a pot or container roses will be more expensive than bare root roses but will be easier for beginners to plant. You can find container roses at a local nursery, though selection may be limited. You do not have to plant the rose right away if it is in a pot. If you decide to go the other route and purchase a bare root rose, make sure to soak the roots in water for 24 hours after you receive it, and then plant the rose right away. After planting, the roots will continue to need regular soaking for the next few months.

Let's talk a little about rose anatomy to help us plant correctly. In the photo below, you can see the bare root roses soaking in buckets before being planted. You can see the roots in the water connected to the shank. On top of the shank is the bud union where you can see the site of the rose graft. Roses are grafted onto a different rootstock because the hardiness of the rootstock allows the flowering plant to survive in colder climates, withstand disease, and grow more vigorously. A rose that is not grafted has its own roots and is called an own-root rose. However, it may not be as hardy as a grafted rose.

Planting Roses



Buckets or wheelbarrow to hold dirt


As explained in the introduction to growing roses, rose bushes need a sunny location that gets 6-8 hours of sun a day. They need well-draining soil and regular watering. They should be spaced about 3 feet from one another to ensure air circulation.

Try to time your planting correctly. Roses do best when planted in the spring after the last frost or in the fall about 6 weeks before the first frost. The best time of day to plant most plants is in the evening before a rain. Planting in the evening gives the plant time to adjust before the intense heat of the sun hits it. Rain helps the plant settle in and keeps the ground moist.

To plant a container rose, dig a hole that is as deep as the pot and twice as wide. Gently remove the bush from the pot, place in the hole and backfill with soil and compost. Water deeply.

To plant a bare root rose, dig a hole deeper than the bud union. Make a mound in the center around which you place the roots. If you are in colder climates, the bud union should be an inch below the surface. In warmer climates, the bud union can be an inch above ground. Fill in the hole with soil and compost mixed and water deeply.

An interesting way to ensure that your rose bush stays healthy and vigorous is to plant the bare root rose up to the canes. The canes under the soil will produce roots of the plant that is flowering even if it is a grafted root rose. (1)

Mulch the soil well around the rose. Mulch will help maintain moisture levels. Make sure to water deeply for the first few months as the rose is getting established. Deep watering less frequently is better than frequent light watering.

Pruning Roses

There are a lot of different opinions about how to best prune a rose. After doing research and having pruned many roses, below is what I have come up with. Keep in mind, you may read something different somewhere else. In the end, it is all about learning about your roses and how they grow. Let's start with busting some myths.

  1. Always cut a 45-degree angle when pruning. A 45-degree angle creates a larger wound that the plant has to heal. Cut straight across the cane. This allows the rose to heal faster.

  2. Always prune to an outward facing bud. The idea here is that the outward facing bud will grow outward and keep the new growth from crossing inward. It turns out that the plant may choose to sprout from 2 or 3 buds below and cross inward anyway. It is hard to control the direction of new growth. Prune where needed (see below).

  3. Prune crossing canes. The reality is that you can prune your rose so that it is an organic criss-crossing mass of leaves and flowers or you can prune it so that it is a neatly groomed specimen. You can choose how you want your rose to look. Generally, the rule is to prune crossing canes; but rules can also be broken if that is the look you are going for.

  4. Prune every year. When you skip pruning, you allow the energy that the plant would use to establish new growth to go into the establishment of a deeper root system. Consider pruning established roses every second or third year. Newly planted roses should be pruned only 3-5 inches in their first year and by 1/3 or less their second year.

How to Prune

The best time to prune a rose is early winter or late spring just as new growth begins to appear on the rose. Make sure not to prune too early as a late frost may kill much of the new growth.


Leather gloves

Sharp and clean pruners

Cleaning solution

Tarp or wheelbarrow for collecting debris

Step 1: Cut out any diseased, damaged, dead, or dying parts of the rose. Anything brown, dead, or diseased needs to go. This is the easiest part of the pruning process and gets you warmed up.

Step 2: Maintain the shape of the rose that you want. Prune the canes to the size and shape that you desire. By pruning about 1/3 off the top of the canes, you will maintain the size of the rose prior to pruning. For a larger rose, prune less than 1/3. When the rose is a climber, consider pegging the cane instead of pruning. This tip will be discussed further in the next post.

Step 3: Remove remaining foliage from the rose as it may harbor disease.

Step 4: Clean your pruners as you move to different roses. You can use a diluted bleach solution or isopropyl alcohol.

Helpful resources include:

Top photo by Ilya Chunin on Unsplash


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