The roses arrive... Wow! What a shock! Wrapped in plastic, these things look like sticks, and dangling roots... no soil, leaves, or flowers...helpless, and YOU are the care giver! First, look at the branches: usually 8"-12" long, anywhere from 3 to 5 of them. some may look thin. Don't worry, they'll grow nice and healthy!
Inspect the roses closely: look for broken canes or blackened roots. Prune or tip these back to healthy tissue, then plunge these "sticks" in water...TOTALLY! for 24 hours. One of the most common cause for bare root roses to fail is by drying out. Putting your new roses in the "tub" will help rehydrate them.
Do not let your new bare root roses dry out before planting. Plant your roses as soon as possible, or store them in moist soil. Just lay the roses partially on their side and heap loose soil over the roots, then keep moist. (This is also called "heeling in".)
When to plant a bare root rose is the first question, and perhaps the easiest. Bare root roses are only available from late fall through the winter months... this time frame can be extended by placing your roses in cold storage, but the general rule of thumb is to plant after the last hard frost in your area.
If you need help determining your last frost date, check with your local garden center or ag extension office. If you wait until too late in the spring, your new roses may dry out. However, if you live in the cold, frozen tundra (just kidding!), USDA Zone 5 or lower...(Brrr...) then bury the bud union 2"-6" below the soil surface for frost protection. (Not sure of your zone? See USDA Hardiness Zone Map.)
Place a garden tool handle or stick across the hole to determine the height of the bud union. To protect the newly planted bare root rose from any late frosts, cover it entirely with loose compost for the first 2-3 weeks.
Are the rose's roots — soft, healthy, no broken tips? Are all the rose canes green, well spaced? To visualize this, try placing the palm of your hand upward, forming a cup with your fingers. If there are more than 6 or 7 canes, thin prune them out to 3 to 5 canes. If possible, first locate an outward facing bud. Prune each cane 4-6" (10-15 cm) above the crown. (See Anatomy of a Bareroot Rose for help if needed.) Prune the bareroot rose tips back to white tissue to encourage new roots to develop as the wound heals. O.K. You're ready to go! Hold on a sec... roses like soils that drain well, that have substance, (like clay, not too much) and neutral or slightly acid soils. Check out how to Dig That Hole!!. (Its not just how you dig, its what you dig!)
Create a nice water basin, a circular 2"-3" berm, around your new bareroot rose.