How to Plant and Care for Roses

By Andrea Pisani Babich

Widely admired for their gracefully unfolding buds and sweet, delicate fragrance, roses have been a symbol of love and passion since ancient times. In colors ranging from soft pastel to vivid bold, roses can climb trellises, creep along the ground, or bloom on shrubs. It’s no wonder they’re enjoying a resurgence in popularity in modern gardens for their versatility.

Once the prima donnas of the garden, new hybridized species have been bred for easy care and maintenance, hardiness, and disease resistance. Now even the inexperienced gardener can grow them successfully, with over 150 species and thousands of hybrids to choose from.

Types of roses

The American Rose Society classifies all of the many rose varieties in two main categories.

Old roses

Also known as old-fashioned roses and heirloom roses, the titles refer to roses that were cultivated before 1867. As a group, these roses survived for thousands of years due to their adaptability and their low maintenance needs. They grew well in many different types of soil, needed no pruning, and could survive harsh winter weather without extra care. They were known for their classic, intoxicating fragrance.

But all was not rosy with old roses. Most old roses bloomed only once in the summer on shrubs that needed plenty of room to grow. Blossoms appeared singly, only in shades of pink, and typically not attractive enough to make desirable cut flowers. So hybridizers got to work on creating new cultivars.

Modern roses

Hybridizers tinkered with different species to create the first hybrid tea rose in 1867 and changed the new history of roses. Since then, thousands of modern cultivars have been produced with showy, long-blooming blossoms, hardiness, and disease resistance. And many of the new varieties have retained the low maintenance requirements of the old roses.

When to plant roses

You can purchase container roses or bare root roses to plant in your garden. A selection of bare root roses will look like bundles of sticks. (They’re simply dormant, which is how you want them for planting.)

If you live north of latitude running from San Francisco to Washington, DC, you can plant container or bare root varieties. If you live in the southern regions of the country, choose container roses for the best results.

Bare root roses should be planted in early spring to protect the immature roots from the winter cold. Dormant container roses can be planted anytime between the spring and the fall.

More tips for planting roses in the fall:

  • Plant only dormant roses (those without leaves.)
  • Make sure there is at least one month before the first frost, which can be lethal to immature roses.
  • Do not fertilize your roses until after the winter is over.
  • Add an extra layer of mulch over the roots of newly planted roses to delay the ground from freezing.
  • Do not prune roses until the spring.

How to plant roses

Learn how to plant roses with the following steps.

  1. Choose a location with at least six hours of sun exposure per day. Soil should be fertile and well drained.
  2. Bare root roses should be soaked in water for at least 24 hours before planting.
  3. Dig a hole about two feet deep, leaving enough room to spread the roots.
  4. Fill the hole with soil and well-rotted manure. You can also mix manure with your compost pile for organic matter that has the proper nitrogen level for roses.
  5. Pack additional soil around the base of the plant.
  6. Water thoroughly.

Caring for roses

There are four ways to ensure proper rose care—watering, fertilization, pruning, and winterizing.

Water abundantly

In the summer, fully soak the entire root zone at least twice a week. Once new growth emerges, avoid watering from above to prevent the foliage from remaining too wet. Wet foliage encourages the growth of fungal diseases such as black spot and powdery mildew.

Lay two to four inches of mulch to help prevent rose roots from drying out. Leave about one inch of space around the base of the plant.

Feed your roses through the blooming season

Once a month between April and July, apply one cup of a balanced granular fertilizer (5-10-5 or 5-10-10) several inches from the stem. To encourage new growth from the bottom of the bush, add a tablespoon of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) to the fertilizer in May and June.

Pruning roses

Prune roses every spring to remove all dead, damaged, and diseased canes and to make room for new growth. Make sure you remove all clippings to avoid spreading disease and insects.

Deadhead your rose bushes to encourage new growth, and keep the beds clean of faded blooms. Stop deadheading three to four weeks before the first hard frost to discourage new growth that will be damaged by the cold.


Whether you need to winterize your roses depends on your location’s climate, the type of roses you plant, and where they’re located in your garden. Because local climate is the most important factor, we recommend contacting your local nursery to ask about their recommended winterization methods.

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