How to Plant and Transplant Roses

The first step in the successful culture of roses is correct planting. Roses can be purchased as container-grown or potted plants from the garden center or as bare-root plants from the garden center or mail-order source. 

Bare Root Roses By Paul Maguire AdobeStock_382628240
Roses are often planted as bare root plants.

Roses should be planted in their ideal growing conditions. Roses perform best in well-drained soils in full sun. Sites should receive at least 6 hours of sun. In poorly drained areas, plant roses in raised beds. Learn more about the best growing conditions for roses in this article: Growing Roses in Iowa.

Below is more information on successfully planting and transplanting roses in your garden.

Planting Container-Grown  |  Planting Bare Root  |  Transplanting  |  More Information

Planting Container-Grown Roses

Container-grown roses can be planted from May through midsummer.

Dig a hole about two times wider than the diameter of the container. The depth of the hole should be the height of the rootball, which will be shorter than the height of the container. 

Next, carefully lay the rose on its side. Tap the sides of the container to loosen the soil ball, then slide the plant out of its container.  Be sure to keep the root ball intact.  Some poorly established shrubs may readily fall apart with removed from the container unless handled carefully.  You may have to cut the containers off large or overgrown shrubs. Cut the side and bottom of the container with a utility knife and peel the container away.  All containers should be removed, including fiber and fabric containers.

If the sides of the soil ball are a mass of roots, shave the outer 1/2 inch of soil off the rootball with a sharp knife or spade. The goal is to remove any roots circling the rootball and leave behind roots pointed straight out from the rootball.  

Carefully place the rose in the hole. The top of the soil ball should be at the same grade as the surrounding soil.  Gradually fill the hole with soil and firm it in place with your hands. Do not add compost, peat, or other organic materials to the soil.  Once planted, water thoroughly.  

Planting Bare Root Roses

Dormant, bare-root roses should be planted in early spring before spring growth begins as soon as they are received or purchased from the nursery (late March or April).   If you cannot plant right away, store plants in a cool, non-freezing location (~40°F), such as a refrigerator, unheated garage, or root cellar.  Keep the packing material around the roots damp and moisten the materials if they dry out.  Do not let any part of the bare root plant dry out, especially the root system. 

Prior to planting, soak the shrubs’ roots in a bucket of water for one to two hours. Also, prune off damaged or broken roots. 

When ready to plant, dig a hole that is two to two-and-a-half times wider than the spread of the shrub’s root system. Identify the base of the stem by locating where the uppermost roots attach to the stem.  These uppermost roots will be placed just below the soil level.  The depth of the hole should be deep enough to place the shrub at a level in the ground that puts the uppermost roots just below the soil surface and allows for the remainder of the root mass to fit comfortably in the hole.

Some roses, such as hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda types, are grafted.  In Iowa, the bud/graft union (denoted by a knob or crook in the plant stem) should be planted 2 to 4 inches below the soil surface. This helps protect the rose from harsh winter weather. The depth of the hole for these roses should be deep enough to accommodate the root system and bury the graft union at the appropriate depth.

Build a cone-shaped mound of soil in the center of the hole. Place the shrub on top of the mound. Spread the roots evenly over the mound. Then begin backfilling with the original soil. Do not amend the soil with compost, sphagnum moss, sand, or other soil amendments.  The soil that comes out of the planting hole should go back into the hole.  As you backfill, firm the soil in the hole with your hands. Finally, water the shrub thoroughly.

Learn more about planting and care for barer oot plants in this article: How to Plant Bare Root Plants

Transplanting Roses

In Iowa, early spring (before the plant begins to leaf out) is the best time to transplant a rose.  This is typically late March to mid-April in Iowa.

To make the transplanting process easier, wrap twine around the rose to pull stems up and out of the way. Attach twine to the base of one of the canes, then gently lift the stems upward and inward as the twine is wrapped around the shrub. With the stems compressed to a smaller area, digging and moving the shrub will be much easier. 

Shrubs are best moved with a ball of soil adhering to the roots to minimize transplant shock and allow for faster reestablishment. The radius of the root ball for roses should be approximately 15 to 30 inches across, depending on the size of the plant.  Ideally, you will move as much of the root ball as you can, keeping in mind that root balls can get very heavy. Dig a trench with a spade around the plant to a depth of  8 to 12 inches. Then cut beneath the roots, rounding the bottom of the soil mass into a ball. Lift the rose plant from the ground without allowing the soil to fall apart.  Consider wrapping the root ball in burlap.  If replanting, immediately utilize a bag or tarp to help lift and hold the root ball together.  Lift and carry the plant by the root ball rather than grasping the stems. 

If possible, replant immediately. Dig a hole approximately twice the width of the shrub's root ball. The depth of the hole should be equal to the height of the soil ball. Carefully lower the rose plant into the hole and place soil back into it, firming it up with your hands. Finally, water the shrub thoroughly.

After transplanting, water the rose on a regular basis, especially during dry periods, for the first growing season.

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Last reviewed:
June 2023