September 17, 2011

1 - Move old established roses at the end of the winter, but root prune them in late summer or early fall to increase your chance of success.

Yard and Garden - September 17, 2011


Driving around town, I noticed a beautiful climbing rose on the East facing side of an old abandoned hotel here in town. The rose bush has worked its way up the wall nearly to the ceiling and has lush green leaves and profuse blooms throughout. And all with no care whatsoever. There is no water spigot anywhere near and no way to get water to it, I doubt if anyone else has even noticed this plant.

How and when can I dig some up and plant? Do you recommend pruning and then replanting? What time of year should all this be done?

- Tom D.



Even though the property is abandoned, it is wise to contact the owner or property manager to ask permission to remove the rose. I wonder if there is any leakage of water from old pipes that may be helping support this rose. However, if the water has been turned off, the rose may be getting along fine on natural rainfall supplemented by roof runoff. If that was adequate this past summer, that is a very well adapted rose. If it has been abandoned for a long time, it will have a very extensive root system that you must consider when digging it. When you dig the rose, you will lose much of that root system that kept it alive, but with adequate care in transplanting and care after transplanting to encourage good root system development, it should live and prosper.

The best time to move the rose will be in late February or early March (gardeners in other parts of New Mexico will need to adapt for their area). The rose should be dormant, but the worst of winter should have been experienced.

However, now would be a good time to go and "root prune" the rose to help accommodate for the lost roots when you dig it. Dig a trench around the root system as far out as you will be digging the roots (as wide a root ball as you will be able to manage), fill this trench with good garden soil or potting soil, keep the soil moist into the fall to encourage good root growth. In February or March, while the rose is still very dormant but the end of winter is in sight, dig outside the root pruned (trench) area (new, small roots should have developed in the potting soil area to greatly improve transplant success). Have the new planting site prepared so that the roots are not exposed to dry, cold air too long. Plant the rose. You can trim back stems to make it manageable for the transplant before you move it. Trim the shoots back to 1 to 2 feet in length. Water it well after planting. Mulch deeply with straw or other insulating material (perhaps put 4 straw bales around the plant, fill in the center with loose straw, cover with plastic sheet, to keep the mulch dry. In late March, remove the straw mulch and water again. If there are enough roots, it should begin growth in late March or at least by mid-April. If it takes longer, do not be impatient. The first year, fertilize sparingly, but supply adequate water. This will encourage good root development rather than new shoots.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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