Roses Are Plants Too!

Why Some New Roses Are Slow to Start and What to Do About It

rose garden
This rose bed in my garden was planted two years ago. While some started slower than others, they are now all growing beautifully.
Photo/Illustration: Paul Zimmerman Roses

Recently on our discussion forum a question was asked why some newly planted roses were starting to actively grow and some were just sitting there doing nothing. They were all planted at the same time and treated the same way. The ones doing nothing are still green and don’t look dead, they just aren’t growing.

It’s a legitimate question, and frankly something I’ve met with off and on over the years myself. I’ve frequently planted even roses of the same variety side by side only to see some take off and some languish. I think the tendency when coming across this for the first time is to panic and think you are doing something wrong. The response is frequently fertilizing more heavily or watering more. In all honesty the last thing you should be doing.

Let’s start with some ideas why I suspect this happens. Notice I used the world “suspect.” I’ve never seen a study on this so instead these are just some thoughts of my own.

We’ve talked in the past about roses harvested from a field being held in cold storage until they are shipped. We talked about them drawing on their reserve of starches to stay alive during that period. The longer the rose has been in cold storage the more starches it uses, and so the less it has available when it’s planted to emerge from dormancy. Emerging from dormancy simply means it starts to actively grow and produce roots and leaves.

When you buy several roses it is very likely some have been in cold storage longer than others. I’ve found the longer a rose has been in cold storage the slower it starts to grow. I think that’s what happened in this case.

So what can we do about it? If it happens in your garden after you’ve bought the plants the best course of action is to do nothing. Fertilizing won’t help and neither will additional water. I feel adding more water might hurt it because if the rose is not actively growing, it’s not taking up water and you may drown it. Additional fertilizer may push it too fast and burn it out. Let nature’s natural rhythms wake it up.

I will advise you to make note of which roses are not growing and even take some photos. Good Garden Centers stand behind their products and if the rose never starts to grow they will replace it. However, you need to have evidence.

The above is a likely scenario with mail order roses where you can’t see them before you buy them. If you buy roses locally in pots to help avoid this make sure to look for roses that are actively growing. If you buy bareroot roses locally, look for ones with the bud eyes starting to swell or even pushing small growth. Avoid bareroot roses with leaves on them because in my opinion they are too far ahead of themselves in pushing new growth. Frequently when you plant these roses the leaves die and rose often follows because there is no root system to support that top growth.

If you come across this in your garden, don’t panic. You are not alone and I suspect almost every rose grower has had this happen over the years. Keep in mind it’s likely you’ve done nothing wrong. It’s just that some roses, like people, simply take longer to get up the morning!

Happy Roseing


View Comments


  1. taleena 08/17/2017

    Is it normal for roses that were purchase mail order (through J&P) to stay dormant for over 2 months??? I purchased 8 buses (different varieties) in May and planted at the end of May. 7 of them have hardly grown at all. The one that I planted in a stand alone pot (the white one) is growing great.

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