How to Plant and Support Roses

Written by: Lesley Ann Sandbach



Time to read 7 min

Now’s the time to plant roses. Whether you want to train them up an obelisk, drape them over a garden arch or fill a border with shrubs, this is the time to get them established. Our easy guide to choosing, planting and supporting your roses will help you to enhance your garden.

Climbing rose Tea Clipper is also very good as a cut flower

Do I buy bare root, root balled or potted plants?

  • Bare Root Plants: bare root plants are available for a short season while the plants are dormant. They are cheaper than root-balled or potted plants but, as long as they are carefully planted, they will grow away just as fast as the others

  • Root Balled: this is a plant that has been lifted with the mass of roots and soil at the base. The root, together with its protection is then wrapped in wire and hessian to protect it until it is put into its new position. A little more expensive than bare root, this is the ideal time to plant these roses

  • Potted Plants: Potted plants have either been lifted and grown on in pots or grown from cuttings in gradually larger pots. They are more labour-intensive to produce and have been grown on for a number of years. There is no particular advantage to buying pot-grown plants at this time of year although, later on, these are the only plants available

What sort of rose should I chose?

Roses come in an infinite variety of types but, for the gardener choosing a rose it’s important to decide where it will grow and what effect you want:

Climbing and Rambling Roses: climbers and ramblers are different types of roses but both will grow up a wall; twine round an obelisk or cover an arch. Rambling roses are more vigorous (you only have to think of the famous ‘Rambling Rector’ at Hidcote); they tend to have smaller flowers held in sprays (‘Wedding Day’ is one of my favourites) and usually only flower once in a season. Climbing roses are less vigorous with larger blooms that appear over the season (another of my favourites, the glorious ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, can be trained either as a shrub or as a climber). Climbers are the ideal plants to train across a wall or fence, supported by a trellis

Image: Roses tumble over an arch in B Brooks’ garden

Roses tumble over an arch in B Brooks’ garden

Standard Roses: standard roses (sometimes called weeping standard roses) can be magnificent when properly pruned and supported. The standard is formed by grafting two or three buds from a shrub rose variety onto a vigorous (often native) stock. The head is encouraged to natural, bushy growth by pruning and training. Once the head of a standard is fully formed it does need support to stop branches from breaking off or, worse, the whole head snapping. I put a standard rose support in alongside my standards when I plant them and prune the rose back to the support over successive years.

Image: A young rose is trained up a trellis

A young rose is trained up a trellis

Shrub and Patio Roses: shrub and patio roses are generally more compact than other types. They can be trained by pruning or supported by a lobster pot but they are generally self-supporting

Ground Cover Roses: these are roses with a lax habit that can be left to sprawl over a bed or drape themselves over the edge of a wall (the best-known ground cover roses are the counties: ‘Kent’, ‘Cambridge’, ‘Worcestershire’ but I am also very fond of ‘Fairy Rose White’). They can be trained very effectively over hoops (see @niff_barnes on Instagram for masterclasses on how to train and prune roses).

Image: A Clematis & Rose Obelisk with Rosa ‘Keith Vaughan’ being trained around it

A Clematis & Rose Obelisk with Rosa ‘Keith Vaughan’ being trained around it

One of my failures!! This climbing rose, ‘Tea Clipper’, has got out of hand and is heading upwards. I shall cut it back to about 12” and start to train it round the Circular Obelisk as soon as the new grow starts.

One of my failures!! This climbing rose, ‘Tea Clipper’, has got out of hand and is heading upwards. I shall cut it back to about 12” and start to train it round the Circular Obelisk as soon as the new grow starts.

My standard rose is pruned and tied in to the rose umbrella.

My standard rose is pruned and tied in to the rose umbrella.

New growth comes through the Standard Rose Umbrella.

New growth comes through the Standard Rose Umbrella.

How do I plant my roses?

The method for planting any rose is similar. Roses like rich, heavy soil and full sun (they turned up their elegant noses at my green sand in Surrey but get their feet well settled into my heavy clay here in Gloucestershire).

  • Prepare the ground well, digging a generous hole (at least twice the depth and width of the pot) and adding a soil improver or well-rotted manure

  • All plants, whether bare root, root balled or pot grown should be well watered and handled carefully to prevent damage to the roots

  • Plants will benefit from a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungi to stimulate root growth

  • Position the root carefully in the centre of the hole. Bury the graft of the rose to its stock about 2” below ground level. Ensure that the roots of bare-rooted plants are well spread and that the plant is upright. Leave the hessian wrapping on root balled roses – it is biodegradable and will rot over time

  • Fill in the hole and firm well around the base 

What supports should I use for my roses?

Climbing and Rambling Roses: the right support depends on the vigour of the rose and its eventual height and span. For a rose such as ‘Keith Maughan’ or ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ which grow to not more than 3-5m, an obelisk is the ideal support. The rose can be trained in spirals round the support (the nearer to horizontal the better as the plants will flower better). For more vigorous roses (‘Bobby James’ is one I love but it is a thug!) consider a trellis or an arch/tunnel/pergola. A trellis is ideal to train any rose against a wall or fence; an arch can be a feature in any garden framing a seat, emphasising a path or making the transition from one room in the garden to the next 

Image: Roses and other climbers can. be trained to make the transition from one part of the garden to the next

Roses and other climbers can. betrained to make the transition from one part of the garden to the next

Standard Roses: rose umbrellas were a great favourite of the Victorians and Edwardians who wove enormous confections in wire-work. Our standard rose umbrella gives the head of the rose the support it needs while allowing the rose itself to be the star. Before filling in the hole in which a standard rose is planted, position the rose umbrella close to the stem of the rose; hammer or push it in until the umbrella is as close to the break as possible; tie the stake and the stem together so that they provide mutual support; as the new growth comes through the spokes, tie them in horizontally

Image: A Standard Rose Umbrella supports a rose in full flower

Shrub and Patio Roses: generally, these need little support but can be trained (perhaps with an accompanying clematis) to grow inside a Lobster Pot which will provide architectural interest when the rose is dormant

Ground Cover Roses: again, these can be left to their own devices but can also be trained very effectively over large Border Hoops to make domes of flowers

‘Bobby James’ is a wonderful rose to grow up a trellis

A young climbing rose is trained in a double spiral round a Clematis&Rose Obelisk

A climber will flower more abundantly if trained horizontally

Rosa ‘Cecile Brunner’ makes a perfect patio rose

Semi-circular supports are used to keep heavy shrub roses from flopping at Morton Hall

Shrub roses in Candy Kelly’s garden spill out of Lobster Pots

Shrub roses in Candy Kelly’s garden spill out of Lobster Pots

I am often asked what underplanting to use in a rose border to extend the flowering period of the border. The classic accompaniment is lavender – it’s a low growing, low maintenance shrub whose colour and shape complement the roses and set them off well. I have seen other plants used very effectively: perennial geraniums, as long as they are not too vigorous; teucrium fructans or licidrys are both attractive and evergreen; late-flowering, low-growing asters can provide a shot of colour in the autumn. It’s always worth thinking of clipped taxus or euonymous ‘Green Spire’ to give fun or formality to the border (I tend to avoid buxus because of the problems with blight and moth damage).

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Frequently Asked Questions

What growing conditions do roses like?

Roses like rich, heavy soil (they love clay) with plenty of compost and a sunny position.

Where do roses grow best?

Roses grow best in full sun although some are happy in semi-shade (look at the David Austin and Peter Beales websites for advice).

Is it hard to grow roses?

Give roses the right conditions and they will flourish for years (my cousin tended roses that were planted by my grandfather). 

They are greedy so give them food in the form of well-rotted compost or a balanced fertiliser, keep them moist (but not too wet) and prune them annually and you will enjoy years of flowers.

How fast do roses grow?

Depending on the variety, roses are fairly rapidly-growing perennials; most of them will flower in their first year. Pruning and training your roses will make them flower more prolifically.

Where do I buy roses?

For many years new varieties of roses have been brought onto the market by two long-established companies: David Austin and Peter Beales (as the names suggest they were founded by families who spent their lifetimes breeding roses). Most garden centres will stock roses from these reliable growers.

Further Reading