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How to Plant Roses in Clay Soil

rose rose image by trottier samuel from

Roses are a favorite among flower gardeners. Despite their delicate appearance, with the right conditions, roses are not difficult to grow. They require lots of sun, water and rich, well-draining soil. Sandy soil does not retain water, while clay soils do not drain well. This does not mean that roses cannot be grown in gardens with heavy clay. Amending clay soil makes it ideal for growing roses.

Select the site for the rose. Roses need at least six hours of full sunlight each day. If the site gets some shade, then morning sun is preferable to afternoon sun, as intense summer heat can cause affect the size and color of the rose blossoms.

Test the clay soil. Roses thrive in a slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 6.0 to 6.5. Use a soil testing kit purchased from a local garden center or take a sample of soil to the local extension agency. Based upon the test results, add sulfur or lime to the soil to alter the pH.

Amend the soil in the rose bed; do this any time from as early as the fall before a spring planting up to three weeks before to allow the additives time to amend the soil. Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic matter, such as well-rotted compost or manure and use a shovel or pitch fork to mix it into the clay soil.

Plant the rose in the morning, when the temperatures are cool. Dig a hole that is 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep; add the soil to a wheelbarrow or onto a tarp. Approximate the amount of removed soil and add that amount of peat moss and mulch; mix well to create a planting mix.

Fill the hole with water and add some of the planting mix until the water/planting mix has the consistency of unset pudding. Place the rose in the hole, with the bud union—the part where the canes meet the roots—right above ground level.

Add the planting mix around the rose’s roots until the hole is filled and the water/planting mix has firmed. Tamp the planting mix down with your foot or the shovel.

Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the base of the rose and mound it up around the bud union. Build up a circle of mulch 1 foot in diameter around the rose. This "dam" will help retain water during the first few weeks as the rose settles into the garden.

Pour 1 gallon of water around the rose each day in the morning for two weeks or until the rose produces red leaves, which is the sign of new growth. Pour the water slowly within the dam, avoiding wetting the leaves. Wet leaves can scorch during the intense midday heat or encourage the growth of disease.


Remove the mulch from around the bud union gradually during the first month or until new growth is seen. At this point, remove all the mulch from the bud union.

After the rose is established in the garden, it needs 1 inch of water a week and 2 inches during periods of intense heat. How much water 1 inch is varies with watering techniques and temperatures. One way to determine this amount is to mark 1 inch on an empty tuna can. Set the can near the rose before watering. Check the can periodically until the water has reached the 1 inch mark.


Use gardening gloves to protect your hands from the rose thorns.

Do not use fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides on the rose until it shows new growth.

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