Planting roses: To bury or not to bury (the union) that is the question!

It is the time of year for planting bare root roses and I have noticed recently that there seem to be a range of views and opinions on how deep bare root and potted roses should be planted.  Some argue that when planting roses the union, the point where the scion is grafted onto the rootstock, should be above ground whilst others indicate that best practice is to bury the union below ground.   As I am just about to plant a large number for bare root roses I thought it was timely to see if there is any consensus on this issue and perhaps try and understand what is behind the various recommendations.

Commercial growers rapidly multiply up their stock by grafting a named rose variety (the scion) onto a vigorous rootstock rose.  The point at which the two are grafted together is the graft union.   Commercial growers take this approach as it allows them to create a large number of roses very rapidly from a small amount of plant material as the scion can be as small as a single bud.

However, when planting bare root or potted roses should you leave the union above ground or bury it below the surface?

Both David Austin Roses and Peter Beales Roses indicate that the rose should be planted so that the union is below the soil surface (about 1 inch below).  Similarly, Monty Don on Gardeners’ World recommends that the union is planted below the ground.  He argues that this is to reduce the growth of suckers from the vigorous rootstock thus preventing them sapping the energy from the variety rose you actually want to encourage.  He also plants this way to reduce root rock.  The FineGardening website similarly argues that the union should always be buried to minimise root rock and indicates that the additional buried canes will help secure the plant and reduce potential damage to small roots by the wind.

The American Rose Society offers an interesting discussion on this topic.  In addition to the issues of suckering and wind rock mentioned above, burying the union may encourage the scion to create its own roots and it is argued that for some varieties own-root roses may in fact be healthier and more vigorous in the longer term producing more canes.  The article argues that if you prefer not to deal with stakes or maintaining the graft then you should consider burying the graft.

Conversely the American Rose Society article also cites reasons for not burying the union suggesting that a rose growing purely on its grafted rootstock will produce larger blooms.  It also indicates that some varieties do not perform well on their own roots.

The Royal Horticultural Society seem to offer different views in different publications.  On the RHS website the recommendation is to “ensure the union is at soil level” and that planting below soil level increases the risk of rose dieback.   However our copies of other RHS publications (RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening (ISBN 0-86318-979-2) and RHS Plant Guide to Roses (ISBN 0-7513-0269-4)) advocate planting the union 1 inch below soil level.

My conclusion therefore is that this is not a black and white issue and there appear to be a variety of reasons (or opinions) why you should or should not bury the union when planting roses.  The right approach may in fact differ depending on your growing conditions and the varieties you wish to grow.  “You pays your money and you takes your choice” as they say and it is really up to you which authority you feel you wish to follow.

For us I think we have good reason to continue to follow our current practice of burying the union when planting our roses.  It has certainly worked well for us over the years in our growing conditions and is recommended by the big suppliers we buy most of our roses from.  As with many gardening topics I am sure the debate will continue.



One thought on “Planting roses: To bury or not to bury (the union) that is the question!”

  1. a very well written and thoughtful article. our soil differs to where in the plot you are. planted Rosa Wickwar in quite a light free draining soil probably due to Oak roots altering the soil texture of our clay soil. One very wet winter we had a well established Wickwar die but then it has blue grey leaves. A Rosa Nevada was planted in a much heavier area of the garden but because soil had been worked previously managed to get a fine tilth when planting. Nevada was rather a poor spindly specimen, not many canes and roots at right angle to shoots. Anyway both roses were planted with graft unions below soil surface. fingers crossed

    Liked by 1 person

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