What to plant in March: roses

March is often the first month that starts to feel Spring-like.  The equinox (20th March) followed by the clocks changing (the last weekend of March) always feel like positive steps towards being able to spend more time in the garden!

Arguably, March is a great time to plant almost anything; the soil is warming up and plants are starting to grow, so take that opportunity to establish them just before they get into glorious growth.  For us, however, in March we would choose to plant a rose.  Perhaps the most loved and most English of flowers (even though their origins hark from far more exotic shores than this), a rose is always a statement plant in any garden, and there is always a rose variety to suit any spot.  Here is our guide to planting a potted rose so that it will thrive.

Where to plant?

Roses are quite versatile plants but they do like sunshine.  Their ideal spot should get at least four hours of sunlight a day (so east or west facing aspects are very suitable).

Roses – especially hybrid tea varieties – can be a little bit like ‘prima donnas’; they don’t like too much competition.  If you can, give your rose plenty of space so that its roots don’t have to compete with large, established plants, like trees or hedges; it will be happier.

What is your soil like?

Roses thrive in ‘Goldilocks’ soil – not too sandy, not too clayey.  What gardeners describe as a good loam is best: it has enough organic matter to hold water long enough for the roots to drink without becoming waterlogged. If your soil is sandy, add as much compost, leaf mould or well-rotted manure as you can to provide that organic ‘body’.  If your soil is very heavy or clay, add some sand or gravel to provide drainage. Many gardeners choose to add some fertilizer or specialist rose food to their soil before planting a rose to give it extra food – but we’ll touch on that again in our ‘after planting’ section.

Preparing to plant

While you’re getting ready to plant, it’s a good idea to sit your new rose – pot and all – in a bucket of water for 20 minutes or so.  This gives it a good drink ready for planting.

While it’s rehydrating, prepare the place you want to plant.  Dig through well, removing any weeds, roots and large stones.  If you’re adding anything to the soil, now is the time to work it in.  Dig a hole that is wide enough to accommodate the existing pot, with plenty of room to spare; it should just be deep enough that the soil in the pot will be level with the ground.  With a garden fork, break up the soil at the base of the hole to improve drainage and ensure the roots can easily grow downwards.


Lift your pot from the bucket and let the excess water drain out, then knock the rose out of the pot.  If the rose seems to be root-bound (lots of roots circling around the root ball) gently break some of them loose; this helps to generate new root growth and stop them continuing to grow in circles.

If you are using it, apply a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungi* over the exposed roots and the sides and bottom of your hole.

Now sit your rose in the hole and stand back to look at it.  Check it is level and aligned as you want it.  When you are happy with the positioning, you can back fill the hole with your soil or organic matter.  Lightly firm the soil in to ensure there are no air pockets and the roots are making good contact with the soil.

Finally, give it a good watering.  Although we watered the pot before planting, watering now also helps to ensure good contact with the soil and gives the plant the best start.

After planting

To help your rose establish, ensure it gets plenty of water for the first summer and during dry spells in any season. A stressed plant (whether through drought, pests or disease) is likely to show in its leaves first so keep an eye on any changes or unseasonal leaf-dropping for early signs of distress.

Roses can be quite greedy plants so an annual feed with rose food or well-rotted manure will be appreciated.  You may also want to give it an organic mulch; as well as helping to retain moisture and reduce weeds, many organic mulch materials will slowly breakdown into the soil, providing an extra source of enrichment.  Just make sure to leave ‘breathing space’ around the trunk and base of your rose so the mulch doesn’t cause it to rot.

To keep your rose blooming, be sure to cut – or at least dead head – blooms regularly.  Most roses prefer to be pruned from late winter so check back and we’ll have our advice on doing that for you!

In the meantime, if you’d like our guide to the different varieties of rose and which might suit your garden, click here.

* A note on mycorrhizal fungi

Mycorrhizas are tiny but beneficial fungi which grow around plants’ roots.  They take natural sugars from the plants’ roots in exchange for moisture and nutrients the fungi have gathered from the soil.  This exchange – effectively – increases the capacity of a plants roots to absorb water and important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

To help a plant establish and to boost fruits and flowers, gardeners sometimes add mycorrhizal fungi to the planting hole and sprinkled over the roots. Mycorrhizas also seem to give some protection against root diseases.




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