Get your roses off to the best possible start by choosing their growing site carefully and then planting them using the techniques most suitable for your climate. Bare-root rose plants -- those sold without soil -- offer the best value and grow quickly after planting.
Choose a planting site. Roses need at least 6 hours of direct sun each day, although some afternoon shade is best in hot climates. Plant them in a spot where air can circulate and dry their leaves soon after a rain, and give them fertile soil that drains quickly.
Determine planting depth. Most rose plants consist of two parts: the rootstock and the flowering canes. The bulge where the parts join, called the graft union, gets planted just at or below ground level, depending on your climate. Where winter temperatures drop to -10° F or colder, plant the graft union 4 to 6 inches deep. In warmer climates, place it just at or slightly above the soil surface.
Dig the hole. Keep the roots cool and moist while you dig the planting hole. The hole should be deep enough to set the graft union at the proper depth and at least wide enough to allow the roots to extend without bending. Put the removed soil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp.
Set rose in the hole. Partially fill the hole with the backfill, making a cone or mound in the center over which to drape the roots. Adjust the height of the cone so that the graft union is at the right level, as determined using the guidelines above. Spread the roots evenly around the cone.
Backfill and water. Holding the rose at the right planting depth, fill the hole with soil, working it carefully around the roots. When the hole is nearly full, water thoroughly to settle the soil. Finish filling the hole and create a low ring of soil around the perimeter of the hole. Water again. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch in a circle around the plant, taking care to keep the mulch 3 to 4 inches away from the canes. Water as necessary to keep the soil evenly moist until the rose resumes vigorous growth.
After your roses become dormant in the fall, protect them from severe freezing weather by piling a mound of soil over the canes. Lay down climbing rose canes and cover them, too. Buy non-grafted or "own-root" roses if you live where temperatures drop to -20° F or colder. These roses can often grow back from their roots if their tops die from winter cold.
Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association