Planting Roses Properly

In order to give roses a good start, prepare the soil well, space the plants properly, and use the right method of planting.

If you are breaking new ground for rosebushes, then preparing the soil several months before you plant is ideal. This allows the soil to settle and any soil amendments (e.g., compost) to blend. Also, when prepared in advance, soil is able to develop the active microbial growth that is essential for plant health.

The first thing to do is get the soil in shape. To do this, remove any grass, weeds, undesirable plants, and large stones. Dig into the soil one spade's depth, and loosen the soil below with a spading fork. Mix together by volume one third organic material--like rotted leaves, manure, or compost""with two thirds of soil. The only other thing you need to add at this time is a cupful of alfalfa meal for each plant. This can be purchased at garden supply or farm supply store. Alfalfa meal is high in nitrogen, and it adds trace elements and a natural plant growth stimulant to the soil.

Timing is very important when planting roses. Bare-root roses are usually dormant and should be planted in late fall or early spring. If you are ordering by mail, nurseries will try to send your plants as close as possible to the best planting time for your area. Container-grown roses are actively growing and can be planted anytime during the growing season. Still, "the earlier, the better" is still a good motto in this case. If possible, plant roses in the spring once the frosts are over so that they have more time to grow in the ground.

Spacing for roses depends on their ultimate size and use. Most importantly, adequate space is necessary for good air circulation. Also, if you're planting more than one rose together in an area, you want them close enough to one another to create a mass and make a visual impact. Take climate into consideration, since in colder areas, roses never achieve the size they would in warmer regions. In areas with long periods of freezing weather, set floribundas, hybrid teas, and grandifloras 24 to 30 inches apart. Polyanthas should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. Set miniature, shrub, and old garden roses about as far apart as their mature height. For a hedge, space roses 3 to 4 feet apart. Set climbers planted along fences 8 to 10 feet apart, but if you're training them up a wall, plant them 3 feet apart. In climates with no frost or only short periods of frost, add 6 inches to the spacing.

To plant bare-root roses, make sure the soil is relatively dry. Digging in wet soil can destroy soil structure and make it compact. If your bare-root roses arrive or you buy them when planting conditions aren't appropriate, plant them temporarily in containers or dig a trench, lay the plants in at a 45-degree angle, and completely cover them with soil. This is a process called "heeling in."

When you're ready to plant bare-root bush roses, set the plants in a bucket of water. This is important so that the roots don't dry out during the planting process. Prune any damaged or dead roots. Then prune any damaged or dead canes back to a healthy bud. Dig a hole large enough for the roots to spread out naturally. Make a mound of soil in the bottom of the planting hole, and set the rose on this mound, spreading out its roots. Make sure the bud union is at the correct depth for the type of rose and your climate zone. This is usually ½ to 1 inch below ground level or just above ground level in warm climate zones. Completely cover the roots with soil, tamp gently, and water well. Allow the soil to settle, and then finish filling the hole with soil.

Planting a climbing rose is done in much the same way as a bush rose. The only difference is that you position the plant in a prepared hole and lean it toward a support (usually a wall) at 45 degrees. Fan the roots out toward moist ground. After planting and watering, attach the shoots to support wires with string, plastic straps, or burlap ties, taking care not to make them too tight. You will need to check the support wires periodically and loosen them as the plant grows. Also, at the time of planting your climbing rose, you must prune the main shoots to encourage new growth.

To plant a standard rose, insert a stake that has been treated with a nontoxic preservative into the center of the planting hole. Position the rose next to the stake so that the stake is on the side of the prevailing winds, and check that the stake is no taller than the lowest set of branches on the plant. After making sure that the bud union is at the correct level, plant the rose as you would a bush rose. Secure the stem to the stake. If you are not using plastic straps especially designed for roses, then tie in a figure eight so that the stake does not rub against the stem of the plant.

By taking the proper steps at planting time, you can avoid problems with routine care later. Also, by giving your roses a good, early start, you will be rewarded with strong, healthy plants.

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