Q. When is the best time to transplant roses from one bed to another, and how do I go about it? I want to build a new deck and I want to transplant my roses without damaging them.
A. The best time to transplant roses is when they are dormant--not actively growing. Many rosarians have transplanted roses at any given time of year, though perhaps not in December or January. If you transplant in the early to mid-spring, the rose bush is still practically dormant and you therefore shock the plant less than at any other time. You also have the advantage of being able to prune correctly and inspect for obvious diseases, such as crown gall, root gall or canker. Furthermore, you will have gradually warming weather ahead of you and the growing season for regeneration of the bush.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, "Plan to transplant before the date of the last average frost for your area. You can find the average last frost date for a city near you at USA Gardener."
If you transplant in the fall, timing is crucial. You need to pick the days in which the soil is still reasonably warm for the newly transplanted bush to reestablish itself before the cold of winter arrives. If you wait too long, you risk losing the plant by virtually freezing it to death.
Prepare your new bed according to the correct planting methods. Dig a large hole to accommodate your plant--larger than you think necessary. You have a clump of soil together with roots rather than a bare-root plant. In order to make the digging easier and to keep the clump intact, soak the plant 2 days before digging. Build a small mound in the center of the hole on which to place the plant. This helps to prevent air pockets.
TIP: Kathy advises, "Most important here is the depth at which the rose is placed. Dig the hole much WIDER than you think, and not much deeper than the size of the rootmass of the rose."
Pick a day that is mild, calm and cloudy, if possible when rain is predicted. With the spade, cut a circle around the plant that is to be moved. Take as large a root/soil ball as you can comfortably lift. Lift and probe occasionally to see if the bush is moving or where the roots may be anchored. Lift the root ball and take along as much soil as possible so the root system is least disturbed. Place this on a wooden board or burlap or in the wheelbarrow.
Check the plant quickly for disease, then cover. Be especially careful not to unnecessarily expose the fine, white feeder roots to air, sun or wind. Now proceed to place the newly dug bush in the freshly prepared site, spreading out and pointing exposed roots and rootlets.
Mix in 1/2 to 1 cup of bone meal around the root system. Be sure you set the bush slightly higher than before, as it will settle 1 to 3 inches. The bud union should therefore be 1 to 2 inches above ground level. Sprinkle and fill in thoroughly around the root system with prepared soil. Pour water in. Allow it to settle, bonding roots with soil, and carefully press slightly on the plant to help eliminate air pockets.
Now prune out the twiggy, spindly growths and the stems that grow toward the center of the bush, leaving 3 to 5 good, strong canes. These should be at least the size of your index finger and not thinner than a pencil. Prune at an angle of 45 degrees and cut down to the point where you see true white pith in the center of the cane. If you notice a bud eye emerging, cut to 1/8-inch above this. It should face toward the outside of the cane. After planting and pruning, it is advisable to spray against fungus.
Above all, keep it wet. Studies have shown that this is the primary factor, which insures success in transplanting.
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