How and When to Transplant Rose Bushes
Is your rose in a less-than-ideal spot? Roses can be successfully transplanted, but when and how you do it will affect the outcome. In this article, expert gardener and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood explains the best time for moving a rose and some steps to ensure a successful start in its new home.
There many reasons for moving a rose. Perhaps a nearby tree canopy filled out and there’s now too much shade. Maybe you’re moving and want to bring a special variety to your new home. You might need to relocate rose bushes to minimize the impact of a neighbor’s herbicide drift. Or, your rose might have just outgrown its current location.
The good news is that transplanting rose bushes doesn’t have to be difficult.
By following a few key guidelines and keeping an eye on the ideal time for your climate, your rose will soon be blooming in its new spot. If you’re wondering when and how you should transplant your rose bush, follow along for a step-by-step guide.
When to Transplant
In most climates, spring or fall is the best time to transplant roses. The cooler, milder months are optimal as your rose won’t have to deal with heat stress or frost as it acclimates to its new home.
Transplanted roses need mild weather to focus on root development before facing extremes of hot or cold that may impact growth.
Unless you have a year-round warm climate, you have two options: 1. early spring once the danger of frost has passed (Feb-May depending on your zone) or 2. early fall at least 6 weeks before the first frost (September to November). Frozen ground will shock the plant, as will a scorching hot summer day.
It’s best to transplant during the dormant season. A dormant rose (meaning canes are not currently leafing out or in bloom) will have the best chance of adapting to its new location before putting energy into developing new growth.
Gardeners with a warm year-round climate should do their best to plant in the morning or evening during mild weather to minimize stress on the plant.
How to Transplant
Roses are much tougher than commonly believed. Some varieties, like hybrid teas, require a more delicate touch, while others can be mowed down and still bounce back. Either way, you don’t need to be afraid of relocating the shrub.
Here are some transplanting steps for a beautiful season of blooms ahead!
Step 1: Dig Up the Rose
This is the part where many gardeners get nervous. Don’t be. Your goal is to get as much of the root ball as possible, but you won’t kill the plant by disturbing it a bit.
Properly Digging up Roses
- Water every day for a few days prior to digging it out.
- This will hydrate the bush and make for easier digging.
- Dig a wide hole so you can see how far out the roots reach.
- Use a shovel to scoop underneath the largest roots.
- Loosen the plant from the ground.
- It’s not realistic to get the entire root system.
- You will have to leave some of the fine feeder roots behind. This is okay.
- Your rose will recover and develop new roots once transplanted.
- If you try to pull up on the rose at the base and it won’t loosen.
- Keep digging out more of the roots or cut them off with sharp shears.
- Once the bush is out of the ground, don’t manually remove soil from the roots.
- If it naturally falls away there’s no cause for concern.
- Moving it with some soil from its current environment reduces feeder root damage.
Step 2: To Prune or Not to Prune
If you’ve recently ordered a bare-root rose, you’ll see that the canes are pruned down to 12-18 inches when you receive them. Pruning top canes at transplant time is a common nursery practice that makes it easier and more cost-effective to ship and store large plants.
Gardeners are often advised to prune their roses down in the same manner when transplanting. However, research tells us this isn’t necessary and can even harm the plant.
While the idea is to help the shrub focus on root development instead of sending energy to full-sized canes, extreme cane pruning just creates another injury that the plant must recover from while trying to adjust to a new site.
Cutting the canes low increases the chances of transplant shock and reduces the plant’s ability to photosynthesize as it acclimates. The plant will have to concentrate energy on recovering from root damage and the development of strong canes and shoots at the same time.
Additionally, heavy pruning at transplant time creates wounds that make the plant more vulnerable to diseases and pests during an already stressful move.
Instead, leave healthy canes (but do remove anything dead, diseased, or damaged) and remove any that face toward the interior of the bush or rub against each other. This helps with airflow and disease prevention.
If you’re moving an overgrown bush or a large climber, it’s okay to cut it down to the desired size. Just remember to keep all you can, and that successful transplanting doesn’t require pruning!
Step 3: Pick and Prepare the New Location
Picking a New Home
- Receive 6-8 hours of direct sun per day
- Be free of root competition from other large shrubs or trees
- Be spaced at least 2-3 feet apart from other plants.
- This helps with air curculation.
- Have loamy, well-drained soil.
Dig a hole deep and wide enough to accommodate the root ball, and plant it with the bud union (the large knobby growth where the canes meet the roots) just below soil level.
Burying the bud union protects the root crown from winter dieback and prevents wind rock that can destabilize the bush. In hot, humid climates with mild winds, you can choose to leave it just above the surface.
Step 4: Backfill with Native Soil and Mulch
Lots of gardeners mistakenly fill new planting holes with tons of amendments, organic matter, and fertilizer. If this usually helps our rose grow, more is better, right? Unfortunately, this attempt to help can do more harm than good.
Fertilization and amendments should be reserved only for established roses. While the newly transplanted roots are in a fragile state, fertilizer may burn them. It will also direct energy to the production of new top growth rather than root development- the opposite of what we want!
Do This Instead of Fertilizing
- Place your rose into the hole and backfill with your native soil.
- A hole filled with amended soil can cause circling roots.
- After the hole is filled, apply a few inches of organic mulch to retain moisture.
- Cut down on weeds, and maintain stable soil temperature.
- Wood chips, organic compost, and shredded bark are great options.
- Water thoroughly at the base of the plant.
- Apply a gentle diluted seaweed solution if you wish.
- You can resume a normal fertilization regimen after blooming.
Step 5: Provide Consistent Moisture
New transplants need consistent moisture while they adjust to their new location. Water deeply when planting, and then twice a week during cooler months.
If the weather gets unseasonably hot and dry, you may need to water as much as once a day. Roses don’t like to sit in soggy soil, so verify that the rose truly needs water by sticking your finger a few inches deep into the soil. If it’s dry at that depth, it’s time to water! If not, wait another day and test again.
Once established in their new home, they can be quite drought-tolerant and require deep watering once a week or less.
Tips for Transplanting in Summer and Winter:
Sometimes you just can’t wait around for the ideal temperatures of spring and fall. If you need to move your roses in the heat of summer or the middle of winter, you can still be successful with a few extra steps.
Hydration is crucial. Minimize heat stress by watering every day for several days before planting. Watch it carefully after planting, and check for dry soil frequently.
If the sun is particularly scorching, consider putting an umbrella or shade screen over the plant for a few days while it adjusts.
Mulch heavily to keep the soil cool and retain moisture. Make sure to leave a small ring around the base mulch-free to avoid rot.
While temps are freezing and the ground is frozen, you must first transplant the rose into a container that can be sheltered from the cold before it can be moved to a new location in-ground. Follow these steps:
- Dig up the rose, pick the largest container you can safely move.
- Trim the roots as necessary to fit inside.
- Fill with soil and water thoroughly.
- Store in an unheated garage, shed, or greenhouse.
- Keep it away from heat and too much direct sun so it doesn’t prematurely break dormancy.
- Water sparingly whenever the soil is dry.
- When the frost risk is over, transplant into the new location outdoors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I can’t replant right away?
If you can’t immediately place the rose in its new home, pot it up in a large container. Keep it in dappled shade on hot days and shelter it from frost until you can plant it. Water whenever the soil is dry.
How will I know when to fertilize after transplanting?
You can fertilize your mature transplanted rose after about 2 months, once it has produced healthy leaves and become established in its new location.
What should I do if my rose is experiencing transplant shock?
Roses experiencing transplant shock may display leaf scorch. Leaves wilt, curl up, or turn yellow and brown. You may see stunted growth or dropping leaves. To mitigate the damage, keep the rose well-watered.
Remove any new buds so the rose can focus on root regrowth and healthy foliage before investing energy in flowers. Shelter it from extreme temperatures until it recovers.
How do I transplant a standard (tree) rose?
Tree roses are transplanted in the same way as shrub roses and need the same mild conditions to establish well. However, you may want to have a wheelbarrow handy to safely move the plant to its new location and keep its root ball as undisturbed as possible.
Standard roses should be staked in their new location to encourage stability. Put a stake on either side about 5 inches away, avoiding the roots. Tie the rose trunk to the stakes at 1-foot intervals until it’s stable and well-supported.
What if I just transplanted and there’s a snapback frost?
Watch the weather and be prepared to provide extra protection if frost appears in early spring or fall. Read about protecting roses during cold temps and take steps to shelter roses if needed. If you fear long-term cold temps are coming, you can move your rose to a container and keep it indoors in an unheated garage or shed until it warms up.
Transplanting roses is pretty simple. Do it when temperatures are mild, keep the roots as intact as possible, and provide consistent moisture while the bush adapts to its new home.
Though transplanting can cause a bit of stress, moving a rose to a new location where it can thrive is always preferable to letting it struggle in less-than-ideal conditions. Roses are resilient. Tackle the project with confidence, and enjoy your roses!