Transplanting Roses in Winter


Yesterday [January 2], I built a new arbor from old, salvaged fencing; and I transplanted my New Dawn Rose.  Today, the ground is covered with mounds of snow; and it seems that this would be a terrible time to transplant anything; but experts say that winter is a great time for transplanting roses.

Transplanting Established Roses

1. When to move:

Roses can be moved anytime during the year.
If you transplant a rose when it’s dormant, you’ll only have to move the plant.
If you’re making a move during the growing season, you’ll have to move both the plant and a big chunk of soil.
So, the easiest time to move a rose is during the winter.

2. Tools:

You’ll want to have a pair of pruners, a long-bladed spade or shovel, and a pair of sturdy gloves.
Spades, which have flat blades, work better than round-pointed shovels.
Sharpening the leading edge of your spade or shovel with a metal file will help cut it through soil and roots.
The best tool I ever had for moving roses was an orchard spade with a narrow blade that was over 16” long.
If the bush that you are moving is really big, you may want to have a friend and a pair of long-handled loppers on hand as well.

3. Cutting the roots:

The most important task in moving a rose is to keep as much of the roots as possible.
Transplanted roses with large root systems will get off to a faster start than roses that have only a small fraction of their roots.
This is why it’s helpful to have a spade with a really long blade.
Start by cutting the soil in a circle about 30-45cm around the base of the plant.
Angle the blade a bit so that it cuts towards the center of the plant.
However, it’s not necessary to cut completely under the plant.

4. Lifting the plant – dormant season:

If the plant is dormant (and you don’t have to move the soil), grab the base of the plant and lift up while shaking the soil away from the roots.
For big plants, you may find that it is easier to grab a couple of large canes rather than the base.
For really big plants, you may want your friend help with the lifting and shaking.
Roots that were not cut will either break or pull out of the soil.
If you have a particularly large root that’s too stubborn to break or pull free, have your friend lift the plant as far as it will go while you work to cut the root with your spade or a pair of long-handled loppers. (If you’re trying to move a plant during the growing season, see the special note at the end).

5. Trimming the canes:

One of the keys to preventing transplant shock is to balance the length of the canes with the length of the roots.
Prune the canes so that they are the same length as the roots.
It does not matter if your plant is 1.2m tall — if you pulled up 30cm of roots, then the canes need to be pruned back to 30cm.

The danger with having canes that are much longer than the roots is that an over-abundance of new leaves will not be fed by newly emerging roots.
Cutting the canes back will give the roots a chance to establish themselves before the leaves get really thirsty.

6. Remove all remaining leaves:

It’s important that the canes not be encouraged to grow before the roots can get re-established.
So, pull off all leaves that may be lingering on the canes.
This will slow down photosynthesis and help keep valuable moisture in the canes.

7. Planting a bareroot:

Shaking the soil from the roots of a dormant plant turns it into a bareroot plant.

From here on out follow the standard steps for planting a bareroot:

  • soak the plant completely underwater for 12 to 24 hours before planting,
  • dig a hole deep enough so that the crown of the plant sits level with the soil and wide enough to accommodate the roots,
  • amend the soil so that it drains well and has an ample amount of organics,
  • hill up a mound of amended soil in the bottom of the planting hole,
  • set the roots onto the mound of soil (if the crown is too high or too low, adjust the size of the mound and/or the hole accordingly and reset the plant)
  • fill the hole with amended soil,
  • water the plant gently several times to settle the soil around the roots (we do not advocate compacting the soil by stepping on it).

8. Protect the canes from loss of moisture:

It is important to protect the canes from loss of moisture while the roots reestablish.

One way is to hill up a tall mound of mulch over the canes until the new shoots begin growing in a week or two.
Another way is to spray the canes liberally with an anti-transpirant like Water-Tite.
The anti-transpirant will keep the canes from evaporating too much moisture.
If the weather is really warm and dry, pound in four long stakes around the plant and use them to support a large square of shade cloth or burlap.


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