Why and How to Plant Dormant Roses During Cool of Winter

Why and how to plant dominant roses during cold winter at a Southern California garden center.

Written by Alicia R.

Winter rain and cooler soil temperatures make January a top month for planting dormant roses in Southern California. If you’ve never grown dormant stock, it comes planted in small paper pots filled with potting mix that are place in plastic sleeves.

So Cal’s winter conditions encourage root growth so newly planted dormant roses are ready to leaf out and convert solar energy into food for the plants as daylight lengthens. Winter growth helps new roses withstand the heat and dryness of late spring and summer.

Sometimes dormant roses are referred to as “bare root” stock if the roots are surrounded by sawdust. At Green Thumb Nursery, we prefer surrounding roots with a bit of soil for better root maintenance in case planting is delayed after purchase.

Why Grow Dormant Roses

Perhaps the best reason to grow dormant roses is that they are less costly than ones with large root balls in containers or burlap wrap. But that doesn’t answer the even bigger question of why growing roses is a good choice. So, let’s dig a little deeper here.

One excellent characteristic of many rose species is their ability to survive tough treatment from gardeners and mother nature. Consider the case of one gardener we know who inherited a rose bush when buying her house and decided to tear it out to avoid the thorns. But it came back. She ripped it out again, and again it returned.

Of course, it probably wasn’t the original rose bush that kept shooting up. It’s common for a chunk of the sturdy, disease-resistant root stock — the rose stem and roots to which another, rose is grafted — to shoot up when the grafted species is gone.

The gardener in our story was so impressed with her rose bush’s will to live and its abundant, deep red flowers that she learned to live with thorns and began planting more roses.

Roses thrive if you select ones right for our climate and give them what they need, including plentiful sun, soil with good drainage, and deep watering twice a week.

At Green Thumb Nursery, our experienced garden advisors can help you find the right roses for your garden project and other necessary products, such as compost, fertilizer, mulch, top soil, and trellises. Stop by one of our five garden centers or contact us online or by telephone to talk with an advisor.

Types of Dormant Roses

Another matter you may want to discuss with one of our advisors concerns what purpose you want roses to serve in your landscape. Are you planning an entire rose bed, a border, a hedge, a trellis display, or a single planting to serve as an accent?

At Green Thumb, we sell the following kinds of dormant rose stock:

  • Climber — Tied to supports, the long, stiff canes are easy to train up vertical structures like fences, trellises, and walls.
  • Hybrid tea — A staple of rose gardens, these bushes may grow up to six feet tall. Each stem has one large, single flower.
  • Floribunda — Place these shorter bushes in front of hybrid teas. Their flowers are abundant with  multiple blossoms per stem.
  • Grandiflora — A cross between floribunda and hybrid tea roses, grandifloras generally are taller than floribundas and more floriferous than hybrid teas.
  • Shrub — These are great hedge plants and tend to be the easiest roses to maintain.

Keep in mind that our stock varies from one of Green Thumb center to another. If you don’t see what you want, please let us know so we can try to obtain it for you.

How to Plant Dormant Roses

The first step in a planting a dormant rose bush is to remove the little pot and soil from its roots and, then, fill a bucket with enough water to soak the plant’s roots for about four hours.

Next, prepare the planting site by removing any weeds and improving the soil. Although roses tolerate many soils, they prefer a loose, loamy soil like in a vegetable garden. Adding compost improves soil chemistry and aerates it for better water and root penetration.

If your soil is difficult to dig due to compaction or high clay content, you may need to limit improvement to the planting hole, which should be as big and deep as a five-gallon pot. Create a mixture of equal parts bagged topsoil and compost, and add in some of the original soil, which likely contains valuable minerals.

Build up a cone of soil at the bottom of the hole, rising about half-way to the top. Remove the plant from its bucket and gently stretch out the roots. Place the stem at the peak of the cone, arranging the roots around its sides.

Holding the plant upright, refill the hole with the new soil mix until the main stem of the plant is about 1 to 2 inches  above the soil line at the top of the hole. Using any remaining soil mix and original soil to create a raised ring around the hole so it looks like a shallow bowl. Spread about two to three inches of bark or wood chip mulch around the planting but not right against the crown of the plant.

Gradually sprinkle about two gallons of water in the hole. Repeat the two-gallon hand watering two times a week or more for the first year depending on heat and rainfall.

Finally, if you have any questions or concerns after planting, feel free to contact us at Green Thumb. We want you to make your gardening experiences as rosy as possible.

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