How to plant roses

Roses bring joyous color and fragrance to a garden – our step-by-step guide to planting them will give you an expert edge

How to plant roses
(Image credit: Pippa Blenkinsop)

Loved for their elegance and romance, the rose is a garden favorite. Available in an enormous variety of colors, sizes and with an array of fragrances, roses are also long flowering and can bring delight to your garden from June right through to December.

Even if you don't have many rose garden ideas in your own backyard, roses are incredibly generous. So you can usually enjoy the sight and scent of one spilling out of a neighbor's garden or even growing in a hedgerow.

Where to plant roses

How to plant roses - Leigh Clapp rose

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Knowing where to plant roses is largely down to the variety. Roses are very versatile, with hundreds of varieties, from climbers and ramblers, to bush and shrub, and even ground cover roses – there's a type of rose for almost every situation in the garden. 

Before planting, it’s important to choose a cultivator appropriate for the conditions in your chosen position. 

Generally, all roses require plenty of sunlight, at least four hours a day, as well as shelter from strong winds. However there are even varieties that can be grown in north facing positions with poor soil quality. 

Roses will not like a waterlogged position, but like water retentive yet well draining soil, and will not thrive in shade or if crowded by other plants. If planting multiple shrub roses, ensure spacing of around 40-65cm and about 30cm from the edge of the rose bed.

Container-grown roses or bare root roses?

How to plant roses - rambling rose in cottage garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

There are two ways to buy roses: as container-grown plants, or as bare root plants. 

Bare root plants are usually purchased online or via mail-order and come in a semi dormant or dormant state with no soil on the roots. They are the preferred choice for many gardeners – according to gardening expert, Leigh Clapp, 'bare-root roses are generally the best quality and have a wider spread of roots than container plants.' 

If planting multiple roses it is recommended to buy bare root plants as it is more economical and there’s also a great variety.

When to plant roses

How to plant roses - roses leigh clapp climbing roses

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Knowing when to plant roses is important to growing success. 

'June through to August is a good time to make a note of which roses you like best and want to introduce into your garden,' says National Trust (opens in new tab) garden researcher Rebecca Bevan. 'Try to hold off buying and planting them until the autumn or winter when you can order them bare root.'

Bare root roses can be bought from late fall to early spring and are best planted just before or at the beginning of their dormant period, in late fall, or early winter. This gives them time to establish roots ready to flourish in summer time. 

Container-grown roses can be planted at any time, provided the ground is not extremely dry or frozen. 

How to plant roses

How you plant roses will vary slightly depending on what type of rose you chose, whether climber, standard or shrub. The step-by-step instructions below are for planting a bare root shrub rose.

If replacing old roses with new then care needs to be taken, as gardening expert Leigh Clapp explains: 'It's advised to dig out the soil to a depth and width of 45cm and to swap it with soil from a different part of the garden to reduce the risk of replant disease.' 

You will need:

  • Garden fork or spade
  • Bucket
  • Watering can
  • Soil improver or well-rotted manure

1. Check the conditions and the roots

Aim to plant the rose as soon as possible after its arrival, but delay planting if the ground is waterlogged or frozen. Examine the rose to make sure it has not dried out in transit. The rose should have two or three strong shoots and a healthy network of routes. Remove diseased or any damaged growth and remove any straggly stems.

2. Hydrate the rose

Soak the bare root rose in a bucket of water for an hour or two before planting.

3. Prepare the soil for planting roses

Prepare the bed by digging over with a garden fork and removing any stones or weeds. Dig a planting hole in your prepared bed large enough to fit the roots – this will depend on their span and length, but a hole around 40cm wide and 40cm deep should be adequate. 

Roses are hungry plants, so add a shovel of soil improver or well-rotted manure to the hole and fork it into the soil at the bottom.

4. Boost the roots

Before planting the rose consider sprinkling the roots with mycorrhizal fungi. Recommended by British rose breeder David Austin, this will increase the absorption and boost the performance of the root system.

5. Position the rose in the hole

Place the rose in the center of the hole taking care to spread out the roots. At this point it is important to make sure the graft of the rose – where the stems meet the roots – is buried around an inch under the soil. To help check this, you can lay a bamboo cane horizontally over the hole.

6. Back-fill and finish the planting

Back fill the hole with soil, forking in a shovel of soil improver or manure before infilling. Lightly tread around the rose to make sure there are not air pockets, then rake over the soil and water well.

How to plant container grown roses

How to plant roses - Leigh Clapp Gertrude Jekyll

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

There is no rush when it comes to planting container roses, they can be left outside three weeks or more before planting provided they are kept watered. Before planting place in a bucket of water until moisture comes to the surface of the compost and follow the same steps as above.

How to plant roses in pots

How to plant roses - Evelyn rose bloom

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

If you're limited with space roses can also be grown in pots. You will need a large pot with drainage, around 30-45cm deep. Place crocks at the bottom to aid drainage and fill with a standard loam potting compost. Place the rose in the pot and infill with compost, followed by a good water. 

'Water roses in pots and feed them with a liquid feed every few weeks. Patio roses such as "Queen Mother" are the best for growing in containers,' advises Rebecca Bevan.

'They need to be planted in a pot that is at least 40cm deep. Make sure you use a soil-based compost which holds water and nutrients.'

How to care for roses

'Much of the work which goes into keeping roses healthy should have been done by spring,' says National Trust garden researcher Rebecca Bevan. 'That would include pruning to stop them getting congested. Also, mulching to feed the soil, trap in moisture and bury fungal spores.'

However there are still some jobs to be done throughout the year. Here are Rebecca's essential tips for caring for roses.

How to deadhead roses

How to plant roses - how to deadhead roses

(Image credit: National Trust Images Arnhel de Serra)

'While traditional rambling roses tend to flower once, in great profusion, modern, repeat-flowering roses begin more slowly, but send up new blooms throughout the summer,' says Rebecca.

'Deadheading repeat-flowering roses such as climbers and hybrid tea roses to encourage more blooms.

'Use scissors or secateurs to snip off the spent flowers, cutting back to just above a leaf, from where the new flower shoot will form.

'Stop deadheading in late summer to let a few hips form for the birds,' she adds.

See: How to deadhead roses – for more flowers in a matter of weeks

When to prune roses?

How to plant roses: rose pruning sissinghurst gardens national trust images ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley 1556995

(Image credit: ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckle)

Be sure to prune them before they come into leaf to prevent damaging buds and shoots, ideally in October or November but you can get away with as late as February depending on the weather and where and you live in the country.

'For those who live in the north, where some roses are yet to leaf, you could get bending in spring,' gardening expert advises Sarah Raven (opens in new tab)

If your roses still look dormant and haven't got buds yet you can still get your pruning done.

See: This Sissinghurst rose pruning trick – this will boost your blooms

How to get rid of aphids on roses?

'Watch out for pests such as aphids and sawfly larvae,' advises Rebecca. 'Most roses can accommodate a few aphids, which provide a food source for other insects and small birds. But if an infestation is affecting the health of your rose, you can try squashing them by hand or using an organic insecticide.

'There are no products for treating the caterpillar-like larvae of sawfly and roses will soon recover when they mature and leave the plant.'

How to treat black spot on roses

'Sadly, fungal diseases like mildew and blackspot are very common. They're usually worst when roses are stressed by drought, poor soil or overcrowding,' continues Rebecca Bevan.

'If your rose has a small amount of mildew or blackspot, you can pick off the affected leaves to try to slow the spread.' liquid feeding it – and even spraying the foliage with a foliar feed, rose tonic or plant invigorator – may also help boost its health.

See: How to take rose cuttings – tips for propagating roses

'If the plant is badly affected, you may wish to try a fungicide. Look for products that don’t also contain an insecticide, which can harm pollinating insects.

'Routinely using a combined insecticide and fungicide is not good for the environment,' Rebecca warns.

Pippa is Content Editor on Homes & Gardens online contributing to Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors print issues. A graduate of Art History and formerly Style Editor at Period Living, she is passionate about architecture, creating decorating content, interior styling and writing about craft and historic homes. She enjoys searching out beautiful images and the latest trends to share with the Homes & Gardens audience. A keen gardener, when she’s not writing you’ll find her growing flowers on her village allotment for styling projects.