Siting and planting Roses FAQs

What is the best garden site for my roses?

Almost anywhere as long as the soil is well drained and the plants will have full sun for most of the day. Avoid narrow, potentially draughty spaces—for instance, between closely adjoining houses.

What is the ideal soil for roses?

A good, well-drained, medium loam, not too acid and not too alkaline, is the aim—although roses are in fact very tolerant. Heavy clay retains moisture, which roses like, but some clays do not drain well and these will need lightening and breaking up. Light soils may drain too readily, so that the nutrients in them are all too quickly washed away.

How do I improve soil that is not ideal?

Only with very heavy, badly-drained clay should it be necessary to carry out double digging . If you do this, incorporate chopped turves and plenty of well-rotted manure (if you can get it) or well-rotted compost in the top spit, and add two or three handfuls of bone meal or hoof-and-horn meal per square metre (square yard). Peat can also be used to improve the soil structure; but remember that it contains no plant nutrients, so if you use it you may need to add fertiliser. Peat may make soil more acid, while nitro-chalk makes it more alkaline and provides nitrogen for vigorous growth.

On light and medium soils it should be necessary to dig over only the top spit—one spade’s depth—but manure, compost, and/or peat should be worked into it. This must be done two or three months before the roses are to be planted, so that the soil can settle down again, air pockets left by the digging have time to fill in, and the humus-forming materials can begin their work. Your roses will be many years in their new home, so this work should not be skimped.

Very few roses will thrive on chalk with a thin layer of soil over it. So dig out as much of the chalk as is physically possible for you and fill in the hole or holes with soil, peat, and other humus-forming materials. Lining the holes with polythene, which is sometimes recommended, can cause drainage problems after a time.

Can I plant my new roses in the bed from which I have removed older ones?

Not unless the soil is changed first—which can be a daunting job if it is a large bed. The old soil may have become what is known as ‘rose sick’, and even if manure or fertilisers are added, the new bushes will never do well, although other types of plants will be quite happy in it. Better to choose another site. If you just want to plant the odd new rose or two as replacements in an existing bed, dig out as much soil as possible without damage to the roots of nearby bushes, making if possible a hole at least 450 mm (18 in) deep and 750 mm (30 in) across.

How close together can I plant my roses?

This depends to some extent on the vigour and habit of growth of the different varieties. However, a good average distance between plants for large-flowered and cluster-flowered bedding roses is 450-600 mm (18-24 in). Vigorous climbers may need more space.

I have ordered some roses by post from a reputable nursery. How can I tell if they are good, healthy plants?

Each new rose should have a minimum of two strong canes (but preferably three or four) at least as thick as a pencil; they should be firm, healthy, and the bark unwrinkled. The roots should be plentiful and fibrous, and the neck (the section of stem between the roots and the point from which the shoots are growing) should be of thumb thickness at least.

I may not be able to plant my new roses immediately they arrive. How should I store them?

Roses, if ordered during the summer, will usually be despatched from the nursery in November, which is the best month for planting them. If planting is likely to be delayed longer than a week, leave them unopened in a cool, frost-proof shed. For longer periods, heel them in; that is, dig a trench, unpack the roses, and put them in the trench, covering the roots—or even the whole of the bushes— with plenty of soil. But do plant your roses as soon as possible.

Are there any special problems in planting climbing roses?

Follow the procedure as for bush roses, but if they are to go against a wall remember that the soil will be very dry there as bricks, stone, and masonry all absorb moisture. You should plant at least 450 mm (18 in) away from the wall, positioning each rose at the inside edge of its hole and fanning the roots outwards, away from the wall and towards moister earth. The shoots can be trained in towards the wall when they begin to grow.

How do I plant bush roses?

For the best results and quick rooting, prepare a planting mixture of granulated peat and soil in equal proportions; about one shovelful per plant will be needed, and mix into it one handful per plant of bone meal. Do your planting on a frost-free day and make sure the soil is not waterlogged. Dig the holes wide enough for the roots to be well spread out, and deep enough for the budding union (from which the shoots grow) to be located just below the soil surface. Cut away any weak, twiggy, or diseased growth down to a healthy bud, cut back long, thick roots by about two thirds to encourage fine feeding roots to sprout from them; if the bushes look dry, soak them in a bucket of water for an hour.

If the way the roots are growing allows for this, place the bush in the centre of its planting hole and, holding it upright, spread the roots out evenly without straining any of them into unnatural positions. If, as is often the case, they all run in one direction, plant more of them to one side of the hole. Check the depth of the budding union with a cane placed across the hole and adjust the depth as necessary. Put in your shovelful of planting mixture and firm it round the roots. Fill the hole with soil and tread it firmly but not so heavily on heavy soils as to expel the air). Water well if the soil is dry. Firm the soil again after the first frosty spell.

I have been given a container-grown rose as a present. How should I plant it?

This will already be established in the soil in the container, so it can be planted out at any time, even when it is in flower. Make your planting hole a good deal larger than the root ball. Remove the rose from the container, loosen the outer soil of the root ball a little, and place the rose in the centre of the hole to check the depth; if this is correct, fill in around the root ball with planting mixture and tread firm. Water well.

Are there any special problems in planting standard roses?

Two things are especially important. First, plant no deeper than the soil-mark, which should be visible on the stem: with the type of rose used as rootstock for standards, deeper planting will only encourage undesirable suckers. Second, drive in the supporting stake before planting: if you do this after planting you may damage the roots. The top of the stake should just reach into the head of the standard to give it support. When the rose is planted attach the stem to the stake with special rose ties. Leave them quite loose for a week or two to allow the rose to settle down in the soil. When tightening them up later, remember to leave room for stem growth.

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