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Transplanting rose bushes

Q: I have three well-established old hybrid tea rose bushes that I need to transplant. How do I transplant them? And should I tackle this project in the fall or spring?

Sherri Browne Seyfert, Stony Brook, NY

Water is essential to transplanting. First fill the hole half way with soil, then fill it with water and allow it to drain before completely backfilling to the existing soil level. Water is essential to transplanting. First fill the hole half way with soil, then fill it with water and allow it to drain before completely backfilling to the existing soil level. Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume

A: Andrew Schulman, a landscape designer who collects old roses for his garden in Seattle, Washington, responds: I have found that the best time of year to transplant roses is during winter dormancy. You’ll need to choose a time when the ground is not frozen solid, but before the plants break dormancy and begin active spring growth.

Before attempting to move the plants, prune back their top growth to three or four stout, healthy canes, and shorten these to 12 or 18 inches. Dig the roses with as large a root ball as you can manage. Plant them as quickly as possible in their new site, which I recommend preparing beforehand. Be careful while digging and handling the roses that you do not injure their bud union, which is the swollen area near the crown where each rose is grafted to its rootstock.

If the soil should break away from the roots during transfer, do not despair. Roses are routinely harvested for bareroot shipment during their dormancy, and yours are likely to survive the ordeal. Simply trim away any broken or injured roots and continue with the planting instructions that follow.

Set the transplanted roses at the same depth at which they originally grew, and backfill the planting hole halfway with a mixture of soil, organic compost, and a handful of superphosphate. Fill the remaining depression with water and let it drain completely before backfilling to the surrounding soil level. Tamp down the soil gently and water once more. I recommend mulching transplanted roses until warm weather arrives in spring. Be sure to keep the plants well watered during their first growing season in their new location.

From Fine Gardening 81, pp. 70