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Choosing and planting roses

Val Bourne / 06 October 2016

Roses come in a wide range of varieties. Find out how to choose the right rose variety for your garden, and how to plant it.

Hybrid tea rose 'Double Delight'
Hybrid tea rose 'Double Delight'

October is one of the best months to think about planting new roses, because it is right at the start of the bare-root season when dormant roses are sent out for planting between November and the middle of March. These have three main advantages. The range is far greater for more roses are field grown than container grown. They are cheaper to buy and cheaper to post and, once planted, they settle in far quicker and can be planted up to April.

Find out how to liven up a rose bed

Get the ground ready for roses

Rose growers lift the roses whenever the weather allows and they always try to send their roses out in good weather, but it’s very sensible to get the ground ready now so that when your roses come you can plant them quickly.

Add at least a bucket of organic material to the hole and well-rotted garden compost is ideal. If this is impossible incorporate some John Innes no 3, a loam-based compost, and then cover the ground with cardboard or old carpet so that it stays frost-free.

When your roses arrive

Your bare-root roses will look like sticks and several will be tied together in a bundle.

Untie the string and try to get on with planting them straight away.

If you’ve covered your ground with cardboard, the soil should be frost-free so this should be possible. If you can’t plant straight away, lay the roses on the ground and give them a good soaking and then store them somewhere cool until you can.

Damp newspaper will help to keep them hydrated.

How to plant a bare-root rose

Aim to dig a hole twice as large as the roots. However, bare-root roses can have extensive, long roots and these can be trimmed back if they are too long.

Place the rose in the centre of your hole and make sure the graft union, the bumpy part of the stem, is at soil level and not below. This prevents die back and lessens the chance of suckers springing up from the root stock. You can use a small cane and suspend it over the hole in order to gauge the depth.

The best way to ensure vigorous regrowth in the spring is to prune the rose hard, back to outward facing buds. Although this seems harsh, this will help the rose to get going. It will respond by forming roots and then produce strong new growth.

All roses take a year or two to get going.

Choosing your roses

Repeat-flowering roses should from the basis of your planting. However, you should also grow some roses that flower only once in June, because these roses have one glorious flourish and they drip with masses of flowers, making June wonderfully fragrant. ‘Once and onlies’ also tend to be healthier and many are heavily scented.

Rambling roses

Most ramblers flower only once, but they vary in size and vigour. Few of us have room for ‘Kiftsgate’ for instance, a rose that has covered and killed six beech trees at the Gloucestershire garden it is named after.

Check on sizes by asking a reputable rose nursery. Most were mainly bred a hundred years ago, so they’ve stood the test of time, and most have clusters of small flowers. They combine well with Viticella Clematis and these will flower after the roses have finished.

Prune rambling roses in November, whilst the wood is pliable, by removing some of the older branches from the base and tie in the new olive-green wands.

A manageable rambler with small semi-double apricot flowers.

‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’
A tree-climbing waterfall of tiny pink blooms. 15ft/ 4.5m

‘Sander’s White’
Useful because this more-subdued white rambler flowers two weeks later than most. This will take some shade too and the green foliage is very good. 25ft/ 7.5m

Dainty rose-pink flowers with a primrose scent, but vigorous. 20ft/ 6m

Find out more about the difference between rambling and climbing roses


Gallicas are some of the oldest cultivated roses and are good on poorer soil, with mainly pink flowers and large matt-green leaves. These tend to have an upright growth habit - but do check, and they tend to be extremely healthy. Many are mid-19th century roses.

Prune Gallica roses in mid-spring and shorten the main stems by a third or less. Also remove the 3 Ds - dead, diseased and dying wood now whilst it’s easy to spot.

‘Cardinal Richelieu’
Purple-pink flowers and large mid-green leaves. 5 x 4 ft / 1.5 x 1.2m

‘Charles de Mill’
Crimson-pink blooms with petals that swirl tightly within, on an arching bush. 5 x 4 ft / 1.5 x 1.2m

‘Belle de Crécy’
Extremely fragrant cerise-pink flowers that fade to violet, with olive-green foliage. 5 x 4 ft / 1.5 x 1.2m

More 'Once and Only’ flowering old roses

These are all reliable and should be pruned in February. Shorten the main stems by a third or less and remove the 3 Ds - the dead, diseased and dying wood whilst it’s easy to spot.

‘Fantin Latour’
A baby pink rose with a delicate fragrance. The cup-shaped blooms are framed by glossy dark foliage. 6 x 5ft/ 1.8m x 1.5m

A Damask rose with very fragrant clear-pink flowers. The swirl of petals always shows the middle boss of yellow stamens. 5 x 4ft / 1.5 x 1.2m

‘Nuits de Young’
A moss rose, with bristled buds that open to produce fragrant, purple-red flowers on a small bush. 3 x 2.5ft/ almost 1m x 0.7m

‘Maiden’s Blush’
An Alba rose with greyish foliage and soft-pink rosette-shaped flowers. 5 x 4 ft / 1.5 x 1.2m

Modern repeat flowering roses

These offer a greater colour range that includes creams, yellows and oranges. Modern breeding has moved towards producing healthier roses that won’t become diseased. Modern varieties also tend to be shorter so fit in amongst herbaceous planting really well. The Rose of the Year competition, which started in 1982, has produced some first rate roses.


These have clusters of flowers on shorter stems and many have a shorter stature, so they slot into summer borders very easily. They are floriferous and healthy. The following are widely available and winners of the Rose of the Year. Prune in February, cutting back to an outward-facing bud so that the roses measure 18 inches (0.4m) in height. Also remove the 3 Ds - the dead, diseased and dying wood. Harder pruning is fine, and it does regenerate a rose, but it delays flowering by a couple of weeks.

‘Joie de Vivre’ (Rose of the Year 2011)
Low growing, light creamy salmon-pink rose with old-fashioned looking quartered flowers and dark foliage. Could be grown in a container or at the front of a border. Ideal for a small garden. 2 x 2ft / 60cm x 60cm

‘You’re Beautiful’ (Rose of the Year - 2013)
Tall and robust with strong-pink flowers, this rose is upright and extremely flower packed. 4 x 2ft / 1.2m x 0.6m

‘Champagne Moment’ (Rose of the Year - 2006)
Soft cream and champagne coloured rose bearing large trusses of flower above glossy healthy foliage. Taller than many floribundas. 4 x 2ft / 1.2m x 0.6m

Hybrid teas

Perfect for picking due to have long, strong stems and exquisitely shaped buds. The following are healthy.

‘Chandos Beauty’
Very fragrant, pearl-pink hybrid tea which is hardly ever out of flower. Very healthy and adored by flower ladies for arranging. 4 x 3ft/ 1.2 x 0.9m

‘Sunny Sky’ (Rose of the Year 2016)
A pale yellow hybrid tea with spiral buds that open to a full frilly edged rose. Bred fort disease resistance -so perfect for organic gardeners 4 x 3ft/ 1.2 x 0.9m

A German-bred healthy pink hybrid tea. Bushy and vigorous with shiny foliage but only slightly fragrant. 3 - 4 ft x 2.5ft/ 1.1 x 0.75m

Climbers and pillar roses

A mixed band, because some are very tall and leggy. Pillar roses are clothes in foliage from the bottom -so often better in a smaller garden.

Nicer than it sounds, with frilly old-rose flowers in strong pink. These shine against luxurious dark-green foliage, but this rose loves a warm site.

‘The Generous Gardener’
Bred by David Austin, this wonderfully generous provider of flowers is extremely healthy with an abundance of fragrant soft-pink flowers. The stems are very smooth and thornless. up to 15ft/ 4.5m

‘New Dawn’
Technically a repeat-flowering rambler, but the silver-pink flowers and paler shiny foliage go so well with lavender and traditional herbaceous perennials. 15ft/ 4.5m

Roses from David Austin

The following are very vigorous and disease-free. Prune them in February. Shorten the main stems by a third or less and remove the 3 Ds - the dead, diseased and dying wood whilst it’s easy to spot.

‘The Lark Ascending’
Tall and airy rose that really does ascend, with clusters of cupped apricot-yellow flowers that keep coming. Extremely healthy.

Robust and healthy rose which makes a wide bush that’s not too tall, so this is excellent in mixed borders. The perfectly quartered pink blooms are excellent in a vase and this is healthy and floriferous. 3ft x 4ft / 1x 1.2m

‘Olivia Rose Austin’
Pale matt-green foliage and rounded blooms of cool-pink rosettes on the first rose from a new healthy breeding programme. Named after David Austin’s granddaughter in 2014. 3.5 x 3ft / 1 x 0.9m

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.