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Note: There are as many ways to grow roses as there are rosarians. This information is offered as a general guideline for growing roses in the cool, damp, maritime Pacific Northwest. No guarantees!

Site Preparation

Single rows of roses require beds at least 3 feet wide; double rows need 4 to 5 feet. For convenience, it is preferable to not have more than two rows. Well prepared beds pay big returns in rose enjoyment!

Dig a hole about 18 inches deep by 2 feet in diameter for each bush.  Make sure the roots will fit in the hole without bending. Add compost to the native soil and 1 cup of dolomite lime.  Ideal proportions are about 10% compost by volume. Mix thoroughly. If the soil is not well drained, consider growing roses in raised beds--roses need plenty of water, but the soil has to drain well. They don't like wet feet.

For organic materials, use what is available locally.  Home-made compost - leaves, grass clippings, garden trimmings, weeds, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds -  is great for the garden.  Composted animal manures, particularly chicken, rabbit, llama or horse, are excellent additions to your garden soil.  Leaf mold is simply rotted leaves, and is also a good soil amendment.  Compost can also be purchased in bags or in bulk.  Mushroom compost is great for roses - sterilized composted steer manure and wood shavings that has been used to grow mushrooms in.  It's readily available in bulk, and relatively inexpensive.

Some materials to avoid using as soil amendments are peat moss, ground or beauty bark, and potting soil.  Peat moss is widely recommended, but just doesn't work in West Coast soils, due to our wet winters and dry summers.  Peat moss soaks up and holds large amounts of water when wet, keeping your rose roots waterlogged in our wet winters.  Dry peat moss is hydrophobic - it repels water, so in summer's drought, peat moss keeps water away from your rose roots.  Beauty bark isn't particularly bad for your garden, since is is organic material, but it doesn't add any nutrients, and it's slow to decompose, being made from conifer bark.  Potting soil is designed to be used by itself in pots, not mixed with soil in the ground.  It won't drain correctly if used as a soil amendment, potentially rotting your rose roots.  And, it's more expensive than soil amendments.

Many people like to add fertilizers when preparing a planting hole, however it's best to keep fertilizers towards the top of the hole, not the bottom, where they tend to be lost to the roots.  Small amounts of dry slow-release (organic) fertilizer can be added to the top layers of the hole.  Avoid adding bone meal, superphosphate, triple phosphate, or nitrogen in the backfill.  Timed-release fertilizers like Osmocote should also be avoided, as they don't work well in our area - our soil is too cool for their nutrients to be released.

Timing and Planting

Plant bare root roses from November through March when the soil is not frozen. Potted roses may be planted at almost any time.

Select good quality rose bushes (preferably from a reputable nursery or mail order, NOT the drugstore) which have not dried out in storage or shipment. Store bare root roses in a cool dark place if they are not to be planted immediately. Keep them moist. Soak roots briefly before planting. Potted roses may be held indefinitely before planting, provided usual watering and feeding continue. Bare root roses should be pruned back slightly before planting, cutting back to strong buds.  Trim broken roots.  Potted roses need to be pruned when planted. Dig a hole at least 18 inches deep in a prepared bed, mound up the soil in a cone in the middle, and arrange the roots over this cone so that the bud union (where the rose is grafted to the root) is a couple of inches below the soil level.  Cover the roots with some soil, firm the soil around the roots and water thoroughly. When the soil has settled, finish filling the hole and mound soil over the canes to conserve moisture. (Note: This is important when planting in the early spring. Don't let the rose canes dry out before the roots get a chance to grow and supply moisture to the canes!) When new growth has started, remove the mounded soil.

If you're planting later in spring, you might want to construct a watering moat around your newly planted rose; but if you're planting in fall or winter, a moat could easily drown your rose.


Roses grow best in a sunny location; six hours daily is considered a minimum for lots of blooms.   Try to select a location where there will be sun for at least half the day, not too near large trees or hedges. Roses described as 'shade tolerant', aren't here.  Between the frequent cloud cover and the northern latitude that puts the sun low in the sky, roses need every last bit of direct sun you can give them.  Sunrise to sunset won't be too much sun.   Roses do best in relatively fine textured, but well drained, soils.  Sandy loams are ideal, but any soil will work with the addition of sufficient organic material, and attention to drainage.

2008,  The Olympia Rose Society . This page last modified:  Saturday, March 21, 2015