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Florida Gardening 101: Planting Grafted Roses

Growing roses in Florida is a challenge, which is a lesson I learned well after killing a few. After you have chosen your grafted rose bushes, you must learn the proper way to plant and fertilize them. Except for some heirloom old garden roses (OGR), most roses will not thrive on their own roots in our native Florida soils. In order to get optimum growth and bloom from your Florida roses, you will have to plant them properly.

I learned this technique from a rose expert in South Florida, and it gets raves from everyone I've taught it to.

How to Plant Grafted Roses in Florida

Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day, preferably with some morning sun. Roses can't get too much sun, so don't hesitate to plant them in full sun if possible.

Nematodes are the main enemy of roses in Florida. These microscopic worms attack the roots, leaving them gnarled and knotty, unable to absorb nutrients. The best defense against nematode infestation in your roses is organic matter in the soil.

Roses need rich, loamy soil to thrive. To ensure that they have this, you have to totally replace the native Florida soil with organic peat. Organic peat is not the same as composted manure, however, you will also need composted manure when planting your grafted roses.

NOTE: Planting container roses and bareroot roses is different, and both will be explained in this article.

How to Transplant Container Grown Grafted Roses

First, you will dig a hole twice the diameter of and 3" deeper than the pot the rose bush came in (i.e., if the pot is a 10" pot, the hole should be 20" wide). Add 3 inches of composted manure into the bottom of the hole, fill the hole with water twice and let it soak in.

Remove the rose bush from the pot and cut the rootball with a box cutter or other sharp knife on four sides, going from top to bottom. This will loosen the roots so that they can spread. If the bottom roots have grown into a tight in a circle, and you cannot loosen them, you may have to slice off from 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the bottom, but if possible, just tease the bottom roots away from the rootball.

Place the rose bush in the center of the hole, spreading out the bottom roots as much as possible, and fill halfway with organic peat. Fill the hole with water, and let it soak in. This serves two purposes: to wet the soil and rootball, and to settle the soil so that there are no air holes.

Continue to add organic peat to the hole to within three inches of the top, and water again as before, letting it soak in well. Fill the rest of the hole with organic peat, making sure that the top of the rootball is approximately 1" above the top of the hole.

Sprinkle 1 cup of epsom salts around the top of the hole and water in well. This will gets your roots off to a good start, just as the composted manure in the bottom will feed your rose until it is established.

How to Plant Bare Root Grafted Roses

Dig your hole to a diameter of at least 20 inches and 3" deeper than the rootball. Fill with water twice, and let it soak completely in to moisten the soil around the hole.

Put 3 inches of composted manure into the bottom of the hole. Now, you must build a cone shaped mound in the middle of the hole with the organic peat, and spread the rose roots out over the mound as evenly as possible. Do not let the rose roots scrunch up on the bottom. If they do, build the mound higher.

Fill the hole with organic peat to within 3" of the top. Sprinkle 1 cup of epsom salts into the hole, and fill with water twice, letting it soak in between each watering. Fill the rest of the hole, making sure to leave the graft above the level where it will be mulched.

Build your watering well as outlined above and water the rose once to settle the soil down around the roots. Thereafter, water as outlined above.

Watering Newly Planted Grafted Roses

Build a dam of the soil you dug out of the hole in a circle around the bush, about 12 inches out from the trunk, and 2 inches high. This is your watering well. You will water the rose by filling the well three times every other day for 2 weeks, twice a week for two weeks, and give it at least one inch of water, twice a week thereafter. After 4 weeks, you may take down the well, fertilize and mulch the rose.

Mulching Grafted Roses

VERY IMPORTANT: Do not ever let the mulch or anything else cover the top of the graft bud (where the rose is grafted onto the rootstock). This will cause graft rot that will kill the hybrid rose on top and cause the bush to come back from the rootstock. While the rose is growing, quickly cut away any growth from below the graft.

Although it's a bit more work to plant these grafted roses properly, and provide a place where they can grow and thrive, it's well worth the effort and will pay off with lovely blooms for years to come.