Planting Roses in Northern Colorado
By Stan V. Griep
Rocky Mountain Area
Colorado Native Rosarian 40+ years experience
Some early planning precedes a good planting. I like to plan where some new roses will go the next spring in the preceding fall. I dig the holes for them, amend the soils well and then refill the holes for the roses leaving a 5 or 6-inch mound of the amended soils in each location. By doing this very early digging and amending, the soils have all the rest of the fall and winter to get fully activated. By the time I am ready to plant a new rose, its new home is all ready and in top condition to welcome the new or transplanted rose. The natural nutrients in the amended soils are ready and waiting for the rose to take them up for good growth as well as creating a very favorable environment for the root zone to take hold in.
This same preparation for the new rose or roses can take place in early spring as well, however the amended soils will not have as much time to get activated and ready for optimum root zone use.
I dig the rose holes approximately 18 inches in diameter and approximately 18 inches deep. The freshly dug soils are placed in a wheelbarrow along with some compost, a good clay buster amendment and some play sand. I sprinkle alfalfa meal over the contents of the wheelbarrow until the entire surface area has a greenish coloration from the alfalfa meal. Using my garden fork I turn the original soils and amendments over and over until well mixed. You will find that the soils mix gets easier and easier to work as it is turned. I remove all clumps of clay that do not want to break up and mix in well. If I have some rabbit droppings available at the time I am doing the soils amending, a heaping garden shovel full of the droppings is added into the soils mix as well.
All tiny and large roots in the planting hole area are cut back and removed. While digging the planting hole the sides of the hole can become very packed. I use my hand cultivator and loosen up the soils on the sides of the planting hole before refilling the hole or doing any future plantings as well. The freshly amended soils are then placed back into the planting hole leaving the 5 to 6 inch mound at the top. I create a little bowl edge around the mound to help trap any moisture and help carry that moisture in to the newly amended soils area.
When the time comes to plant the new rose or roses, the earlier amended soils are much easier to dig out to create room for the new planting. As the soils are removed for the planting they are placed either in a wheel barrow or five gallon bucket making it easy to use them to fill in around the new planting. I place some super phosphate or bone meal in the bottom of the planting hole and mix it in with the soils there. This natural food gives the roots a real boost to get things growing. Once the planting hole is about half full with the replaced soils, I sprinkle ½ cup of alfalfa meal and 1/3 cup Epsom Salts all around the new bush mixing it in lightly with the soils.
The planting hole is then filled the rest of the way up to ground level. I move some of the soils in and around the union of the rose and may or may not cover the union at this time depending on the timing of the planting.
The rest of the soils are pulled back to form a bowl of sorts all around the outer diameter of the bush. The rosebush looks a little bit like a castle in the center of a moat. Extra amended soils are used to build up and firm up the edges of the bowl around the bush. The bush is watered well and the bowl around it filled with mulch. In my case I use either shredded cedar mulch or pebble mulch. (I call the bowls formed this way “banquet bowls” as they help deliver the food and water to my roses.) :o) The bowl formed around the rosebushes acts as a great catch basin for spring rains as well as aiding in the overall deep watering of the rose bush when watered by hand or even with a drip irrigation system.
I have found this method of planting my roses eliminates the forming or encouragement of “rose suckers” from planting the rose union deeply right away (As an aid in future winter protection the union is often buried a good 2 inches below the surrounding grade level.).
Rose suckers are new shoots that come up from the rose planting that are below the grafting or union point of the rose bush.
If you plant only “own root” roses you will not have to concern yourself with taking such precautions against sucker shoots.
With my bowl method the graft or union area of the rose is left above the planting soils yet still below the surrounding grade level until the time comes for it to be protected. Very early spring plantings may require that the union/graft area be covered for a while until the weather gets more settled towards being warmer.
Once the time comes for winter protection, the bowl around the rose is used to add extra soils to create part of the mound for protection of the rose’s union/graft area. Soils are mounded up over the graft/union area first.
Mulch of some kind is then added to help hold the soils in place and help prevent the protection of the mounded soils from eroding away throughout the winter.
The last frost date here in Northern Colorado is around May 15th, but keep your eye on the weather reports.
Plant some new roses to add beautiful color and wonderful fragrance to your gardens this year!