Bare Root Roses – What to Look For When Buying One To Plant In Your Garden

bare root roses

bare root roses

Roses are such a popular plant in the home garden, with their beautiful blooms and fragrance, but do you know what to look for when buying bare root roses to plant in the garden?

Gardeners will happily buy bare-root roses to take pride of place in their garden. They painstakingly prepare the soil, plant  and water their newly purchased bareroot roses and are then aghast when nothing happens at the start of the growing season. Not one leaf bud shoots out from the branches. They usually put it down to their lack of skill in the gardening department but more often than not, they have bought a bareroot rose bush whose roots have dried out and created a dead rose bush. So they have basically planted a rose bush that was dead to start with.

Of course bare rooted roses do look a little dead when you purchase them. There are no leaves on the plant, just bark, so it is hard for the untrained eye to determine if it’s alive or dead. Usually the bare-roots are packaged in some kind of moist media like saw dust which is then held in place by some paper, then wrapped in a plastic bag that is sealed below the bud union. This conceals them so it’s impossible to really check out the roots when the rose is packaged this way.

bare-root roses

bare-root roses

So the only visual detail you can rely on is the bark of the stem itself. What you need to look for is bark that feels soft to the touch and is greenish in color like the one in the photo on the left. If the bark is brown, hard and has fine lines along the stems then it’s more than likely wood that is dead or dying.

The fine lines formed along the stems are caused from the bark shrinking around the stem through lack of moisture. This could be caused by the fibrous roots drying out because there was not enough moisture in the media they were packaged in; not very many fibrous roots were left on the rose bush to begin with, so it couldn’t uptake the moisture in the media it was packed in; or poor storage practice of the store where you purchased your rose bush – for example if the roses were left out in the sun and the packaging dried out.

No matter the cause, if the stems look dried out because the bark has shrunk on the stem; the color of the bark is more a woody brown than green and the stem feels hard and looks wrinkly rather than being soft and yielding, don’t buy the rose plant. If you look at enough of them, you will get your eye in, and be able to differentiate between the healthy looking stems and the dead or dying “sticks” of bare root roses.

17 Comments so far

  1. Noreen on February 22nd, 2010

    Thank you
    After living in an alien environment for 20 yrs I still have difficulty gardening in Tucson. About 6 years ago I took out stress by digging out a trench in my caliche backyard. I was aided by unseasonal winter rain. I planted very inexpensive roses assuming the worst. They have actually survived. However, with the history of failure here I have been insecure re the ongoing care. I had never struggled so much in other locations. You have been my therapist for roses –I am confidently pruning and expanding my rose garden. Thank you very much. N

  2. admin on February 22nd, 2010

    Thanks for the feedback Noreen. It’s good to know you’re now enjoying your rose gardening – that’s what it’s all about. Keep following the advice and tips in these articles and you can’t go wrong. Wishing you continued success and pleasure with it

  3. kathy Seager on April 6th, 2010

    I received roses from my grandchildren. I cut the bottoms for them, put them in a vase and a week later, I started to see new green growth on them. I have never seen this happen before. Can I plant the roses? will they grow without roots? The roses are so unique that I would love to plant them.

  4. admin on April 6th, 2010

    I have never seen that happen to cut roses in a vase of water either. Unfortunately you won’t be able to plant the roses – they have no roots to uptake water and nutrients. It’s a shame we can’t do this kind of thing though – just imagine all the unique roses we could grow.

  5. leonard silvani on May 16th, 2010

    thanks fore your infoe about planting and picking bareroot roses. I purchased 10 plants from lowes, hybred tea Mr lincoln “Rosa” only 5 are growing. I like a red, vragrant rose. Though I am 80, I am a novice about growing roses. Are there any other varieties I might try and where to purchase. thanks for the planting help.

  6. admin on May 17th, 2010

    you’ve certainly picked a beautifully fragrant rose in Mr Lincoln, which is one of my favorites. It’s a shame that only 5 of the 10 roses you purchased are growing. Some other red fragrant roses you might like to try are Papa Meilland and Oklahoma. both these have strong fragrances. Kardinal is a beautiful rose, with perfectly formed rose blooms that last well on the bush. It is great for picking – it has a long vase life and keeps its form once picked. It has little to no fragrance but it’s perfect form makes it well worthwhile planting in the garden. All these are fairly popular varieties so you should be able to buy them from a nursery specializing in roses. Look online for rose nurseries and see if there are any near you.

  7. Ruth McIntyre on July 11th, 2010

    I have an “elderly” Mr. Lincoln that my mom planted back in about 1991. It has survived even with my lack of gardening skills since my mom passed away about 6 years ago and it became my job to nurture it. It only (but always) produces one rose bud each year and it’s beautiful. Any idea why it doesn’t give us more buds?
    We’re in the Portland, Oregon area so could weather possibly be a factor?
    Thanks for any ideas.

  8. admin on July 12th, 2010

    That is really unusual that it only produces one flower each year as this rose is usually a prolific flowerer. There is a test rose garden in Portland Oregan, so I don’t think the weather has anything to do with it only producing one flower each year. It is getting on in years for a hybrid tea but you should still get a few more years out of it, and you say that it has only ever given one bloom for the last 6 years, so I don’t think the age has anything to do with it. Is it in a position where it gets 5-6 hours of sun per day? Do you prune the rose each year? Pruning a rose, getting rid of the old deadwood promotes the production of new shoots which should produce plenty of flowers for you, so I’d suggest pruning it. Because you live in a cold climate I would visit the test gardens or phone them and ask them the best time to prune your rose in your location. In your type of climate it is usually after the danger of frost has ended, but to be sure I would ask locally. Or you could ask at your local plant nursery. Also do you regularly feed it in the growing season? Roses need regular fertilizing every 6 weeks in the growing season, so get a good rose fertilizer and start feeding it regularly. You could also get some composted cow manure (often sold in bags at the nursery) make sure it’s been composted so it doesn’t burn the roots and put a good 3 inch layer around the base of the rose out to about a 2 foot diameter– not too close to the stem – and incorporate this gently into the top inch of soil – no deeper. Just use one of those little hand held rakes and gently does it. Composted cow manure doesn’t add a lot of nutrition to the soil; it’s more of a soil conditioner and adds soil enzymes to improve the soil. If you can’t get composted cow manure get some good quality compost. I’d then give it some seaweed extract. Use a watering can and follow the dilution rate on the bottle. Use this once a month on your rose as well – during the growing season and in addition to the 6-weekly fertilizing. Again seaweed isn’t so much a fertilizer, it’s like a tonic for your roses, and it sounds like your rose could do with some soil improvement via the composted cow manure or compost and then the liquid seaweed. I think if you follow this regime each year – prune after the last frost, then add the compost, use liquid seaweed, fertilize every 6 weeks in growing season – you should be rewarded with more than one rose from your plant. Let me know how it goes and best of luck with it.

  9. Ruth McIntyre on July 12th, 2010

    Thanks for the words of advice. I’ll try the suggestions you gave me and see what happens. I’ll let you know.

  10. Lisa Dovey on August 25th, 2010

    Greetings from Sydney Australia & Thank you for the info.
    I bought two bare rooted roses,Iceburg and Blue Moon, the later not doing anything at all.
    The Iceburg is growing little leaves all over the place…So now I am happy to know it is not me and just bad selection. I have no experience with roses, it’s just live and learn I guess. Wish me luck on the rest of the quater acre block of my Dads I am landscaping and planting over the next few months LOL

  11. admin on August 26th, 2010

    Hi Lisa
    Blue Moon can be a fussy rose, I haven’t found it to be a really strong grower, but I love its intoxicating fragrance, which makes up for its less than robust, sometimes spindly growth habit. It is one of my all-time favorite roses. I hope it comes good for you as it is such a lovely rose.

  12. Jenny on April 14th, 2011

    Greetings from England. I purchased thru the press 5 bareroot roses in February this year. Due to the snow I was unable to plant out till March but during this time I kept them in the bag they arrived in and sprayed them with water for two weeks until the snow cleared. I then soak them well and p;lanted covering them with bark mulch.
    Here we are mid April and no sign of any shoots except suckers! Should I give up and buy some more (not from the paper) or just be patient and wait? All the wood looks dead but they are producing suckers. Any suggestions.

  13. admin on April 14th, 2011

    Hi Jenny. You should definitely be seeing signs of shoot growth by now on the grafted stems, or at the very least, buds that are swelling and will soon turn into new shoots. By the sound of things I’d say the grafted sections have died even though the rootstock is shooting suckers. This may not be your fault as you could have been sent dud plants to begin with. I’d toss them and buy new ones. Re the bark mulch; make sure you don’t put it too close to the trunk of the rose. Good luck with your second batch! BTW I love England. We went over there for a holiday 4 years ago to visit my eldest daughter who was doing nanny work over in London for 2 years. We went in September/October. The weather was beautiful and I fell in love with some of the gardens I visited over there. Can’t wait to go back one day.

  14. Dorene on April 16th, 2011

    I am a total newbie on growing roses though I have loved them all my life and wanted to grow them all that time, too. I just bought some bare-root roses and they were reduced to fifty cents each so maybe they are in the sad condition you mention here…but maybe not. I will check the stems as you suggest but I want to know what I should do to try and resurrect them. I cannot afford better plants at this time. I was hoping love and water and maybe some nutrients would do the trick but if there is the slightest flicker of life in them I don’t want to do the wrong thing and snuff it out. I live in SC, USA and the soil here is red clay. I did buy some potting soil to incorporate into the holes. Help???

  15. admin on April 17th, 2011

    Hi Dorene

    You may as well plant them and see if some buds start swelling from which shoots will grow. I hope they do respond with some life seeing you’re on a budget and can’t afford to buy any more at this stage. You mention red clay soil, so before planting the roses, check the drainage. Dig a hole a foot deep, fill with water and let drain, then fill with water again and check how long it takes to drain.

    If it’s longer than 12 hours you will have to either incorporate a lot of compost into the soil to help the drainage, or raise the beds, as roses hate wet feet. Just follow the various articles on the site to help you with the planting etc. If you can get some compost, and/or composted cow manure, dig plenty of that into the soil before planting. This will help with drainage in the red clay soil and get your plants off to a good start. But make sure it is well composted otherwise you will burn the newly forming roots of the roses. You could also sprinkle some gypsum onto the top of the soil as this also can also help break up the clay over a period of time. Keep adding organic matter (compost etc) to the top of the soil so that the earthworms can incorporate it down deeper into the clay. When working with clay it’s a continuous process of adding organic material to help improve the soil structure and drainage over time.

    When you plant your bare root roses, give them a water with seaweed solution at half strength, this really will help them on their way if there is any life in them. Don’t feed them with any fertilizer until say 6 weeks after planting when the shoots start growing. Good luck.

  16. courtney on March 14th, 2012

    i recently bought 2 don juans 2 the fairies a 2 white climbing dawns as bear roots only had so leafs but they have wilted most have been planted for about ten days and all but 3 have grrn stems the others have a redish color stem when might i see them start to grow im in florida they r plants in parshal shade and i water dailly not sude what to do all my other flowers r growin like crazy around them

  17. admin on March 14th, 2012

    Hi Courtney
    Not sure what you mean by “only had so leaves”. If you meant ‘some leaves’ that means the rose plant had broken it’s dormancy and started to sprout; not the ideal scenario but if you got them in the ground quickly before the roots dried out they should be fine.

    You mention wilting, if the leaves on the rose bushes are wilting it’s not a good sign; the bare roots may have dried out before you got them in the ground, or you could have drainage problems and the daily watering you’re giving them isn’t being drained away from the developing fine root hairs.

    Did you check the drainage of the area before planting? Check the soil a few hours after watering to make sure that the water is draining away. The soil should be damp, but not “wet” if it’s draining away properly.

    You don’t want to overwater your rose plants either. Before watering, check the soil around them; poke your finger into the soil to make sure they need watering in the first place and give them a good deep soak so you encourage deep rooting.

    When the buds start growing into new shoots and develop leaves, that is the sign that your roses are starting to grow and new roots are forming underneath the soil. Give them a few weeks to establish and leaf out. It also wouldn’t hurt to give them a dose of liquid seaweed made up to half the recommended strength and watered around the base of your new rose plants in a watering can with a fine spray nozzle every couple of weeks to stimulate root growth.

    Roses need 5-6 hours of sun so when you say partial shade are they getting 5-6 hours a day when not in shade.

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