All about... Bare Root Roses

Naturally a lot of people do not know what a bare root rose is, let’s take a look below with a guide to the bare root, including the keys to success, the history and some answers to common questions we receive. 


What is a bare root plant?

Put simply, it means a plant that is sold without having been potted. Roses are grown for about eighteen months outside in fields. The plants are lifted from the soil during late autumn until early spring, and the soil is removed and the top is cut back and the plant packaged and sold. This can only take place when the plants are dormant – any attempt to do it during the growing season would mean a lot of plant losses.

What is the history of bare root roses?

Before the extremely cold winters of the early 1960’s nearly all plants were sold bare root during the autumn and winter. Pots were made of clay, DPD and Parcel Force didn’t exist and the postal service couldn’t handle them. So, when growers were left with their plants unsold because the frozen soil meant that lifting was impossible they had to think of something – they potted them up, grew them on and sold them in pots. 


  • Bare root roses are less expensive to buy (no pot, compost and reduced labour) also there are savings on packaging and delivery costs.
  • There are some environmental benefits as there is no plastic pot to dispose of and no peat based compost used.
  • It is a proven way to buy plants which establish just as well as potted plants, so long as a few basic rules are followed.


  • The planting season is limited – usually between November and the end of February, depending on the weather.
  • There can be occasional plant failures. 
  • They do not allow the gardener as much flexibility and the instant impact that buying a potted plant does.

Key’s to Success:

  1. It’s important to remember that although a bare root plant looks pretty lifeless they are just the opposite and need the same attention as a potted plant during planting for best results.
  2. It is all about the roots, they are the plants lifeline they are also the vulnerable part of the plant, the tops are more hardy and resistant to freezing weather.
  3. Open the packaging as soon as possible after arrival, if you can't plant make sure the roots don’t get dry and keep in a cool dark place, replace in the packaging.
  4. Before planting soak the plant roots in a bucket of water for a few hours.
  5. Dig a large planting hole, improved with manure / compost and with fertilizer added.
  6. Spread the roots out and backfill the hole with fine soil, making sure there is good contact with the root and firm gently.
  7. Plant with the union of the rootstock and graft about an inch above finished soil level.
  8. Mulch around the plant with compost or manure if available to about 25/30 cm radius.

Commonly asked questions on bare root roses: 

We are often asked about frost and bare root plants. People are concerned that the plant will get damaged, as long as the soil can be handled well the plants are much better off in the ground because as we know the tops are tough but the roots less so. Suppose after planting there is a period of cold weather – well the soil may freeze to a couple of inches depth but below that the soil remains relatively warm, so there is no chance of root damage. In fact the roots will slowly start to grow, even though the top stays dormant, meaning good establishment ready for the plant to flourish in warmer weather.

In essence, recognising the wonder of bare root roses and nurturing them with the above factors for success will enable resilient growth. 

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