Who’s Afraid of the Big Bare Root?


Photo Credit: David Austin Roses

I remember the first time I ordered roses online and they arrived bare root. Opening that box and seeing those newspaper soaked bare roots staring back at me, I was mortified. How do I plant these? Where is the pot and the root ball? Did I waste my money? All sorts of questions raced through my head. What’s that saying: “Life is 10% what actually happens and 90% what you think might happen”. Well, that certainly held true here. All my fears were for naught. As it turns out, I have long since preferred to purchase my roses bare root, for the following reasons:

  • They can be planted earlier without the worry of an early frost. Here in zone 8a I plant six weeks before the last predicted frost and have never lost a rose.
  • You get to see the quality of the root system up close.
  • You can easily identify any problems with the rose upon arrival.

This week, I received a shipment of roses from my friends at David Austin Roses. David Austin set off a English rose growing sensation with his 1983 introductions of ‘Mary Rose’ & ‘Graham Thomas’ at the Chelsea Flower Show. The allure and beauty of these magnificent roses and hundreds of other introductions are now enjoyed by gardeners the world over.

My shipment included three shrubs of ‘Olivia Rose Austin’, one shrub of ‘The Poet’s Wife’ and two shrubs of ‘The Lady of the Lake’.  The three ‘Olivia Rose Austins’ will be planted in a “V” formation in front of a large shrub of climbing ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ which we having growing in a container against the fence. The shrubs of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ will be planted along a fence line and as you’ll see in our video below, ‘The Poet’s Wife’ is going in one of our raised beds.

2016 david austin

Photo Credit: David Austin Roses

First things first. Upon arrival, I removed the bare roots from the box they arrived in and plunged them into a bucket of manure tea and let them rest there over night. A good soaking will hydrate the roses in preparation for planting.  I’ve put together a little video to help allay any fears about planting bare root roses.

I am assuming here that you have a nutrient rich soil in which to plant your bare root rose. If not, add equal parts of top soil, composted manure and mini pine bark nuggets. For years, I have used this simple mix with wonderful results. Then, get to digging!

Step 1:
Dig the hole. Dig at least the size of the root system up to the base of the graft where the bottom of the canes are plus a few inches more.  Depending on your growing zone, you may elect to bury the bud union altogether.


Bare Root Rose Explained. Photo Credit: David Austin Roses

Step 2:
Get to know your bare root rose. Does it have strong anchor roots? these are the thick roots. Does it have a good system of feeder roots? These are the tiny fibrous roots. The feeder roots allow for nutrient uptake to the rose.  I had a lady write to me once who said all the roses she purchased had died. I went to see her to help diagnose the problem and she told me that she had “cleaned them up” before planting. She had taken the scissors and cut all the feeder roots off! Can I tell you that she learned a valuable lesson that day; both types of roots are essential to the health of your roses.

Step 3: (a best kept secret)
Add Mycorrhizal Fungi to the roots of the plant. This works best when fungi comes in contact with roots. 


Here’s Why:

  • It increases the plants ability to access the resources in the soil.
  • Stimulates root growth
  • Encourages uptake of nutrients.





Finally, place the rose in the hole. Cover the bare roots with soil all the way up to the bud union. Tamp down the soil a bit and water your rose in and you’re done.  So, who’s afraid of the big bare root? Not us!

Happy Growing!


About Chris VanCleave - America's Favorite Rose Gardener

Christopher R. VanCleave – America’s Favorite Rose Gardener Nicknamed "The Redneck Rosarian”, Chris VanCleave is passionate about gardening and growing roses. He is an active member of the Birmingham chapter of the American Rose Society, serving two terms as President. In 2007, he created the Rose Chat Podcast which has reached over a half a million listeners with news and information on growing on growing the world’s most beloved flower, the rose. He was a contributor to the 2015 Southern Living Gardening Book, has appeared on P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home television show and was featured in the June 2015 issue of Southern Living Magazine. Locally, Chris serves as Chairman of the Helena Alabama Beautification Board where he has spearheaded efforts to create a sustainable landscape in one of the top one hundred places to live in the United States. His writing is seen at About.com and on his popular website; RedneckRosarian.com, where he chronicles his gardening adventures and explores an intrinsic mix of life, faith and gardening. An agent of change with over 20 years’ experience in process innovation, Mr. VanCleave is leading the charge to reinvigorate horticultural societies and helping them to reach their full potential in the social media age.
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11 Responses to Who’s Afraid of the Big Bare Root?

  1. Thanks for all the great info on olanting. I love roses and enjoy your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. normakoonce says:

    I followed these directions last year and my roses were beautiful. Unfortunately I didn’t know until too late about gophers loving roses. This year they are in containers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much! I have a bare root rose coming, so this was hugely helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: A Case of the Aprils - Unskinny Boppy

  5. Jason Statum says:


    Great post on bare root roses. I wish I had seen this sooner. This year will be my first attempt growing roses. I planted 13 bare root David Austin roses in February. I also used Mycorrhizal Fungi when planting and it truly makes a difference. Some of my roses already have buds forming.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lilyredrose says:

    I was aghast when I received a dozen huge, bare roots. I had no idea they would be so long and wide. Digging in my rocky, hard, clay soil is rough for an old woman. I heeled them in a large container and have been slowly planting them and still not finished. Only lost one in the container so far and that was due to too much water. I think I’m finished with roses. Should have put them in large pots, but finding and getting those home is another problem. Love DA.


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