One of the biggest gardening misconceptions desert newcomers have is that it’s hard to grow roses here. In fact, roses can do well in the desert; I grow beautiful roses at my home, and they are no harder to grow and care for than citrus trees and seasonal potted annuals.

The practice of growing roses in pots at desert homes has grown significantly in the past decade. It makes sense; potted roses offer ease in planting and maintenance, as well as flexibility in placement.

Here are some tips on enjoying great roses in the Coachella Valley.

Pot Size

When it comes to pots for roses, bigger is often better!

For roses 4 feet tall or more (such as floribundas, climbers, standard tree roses and hybrid teas), choose pots that are a minimum of 24 inches in diameter, and 22 to 24 inches deep. Roses need a lot of root room.

Roses less than 4 feet tall (ground cover and miniature varieties) will do best in pots that are at least 16 to 18 inches in diameter, and equally tall.

As for putting tiny or cascading roses in small pots and/or hanging baskets: It may be fun to try, but they’ll be quite difficult to keep watered during the summer!

Pot Materials

Terra Cotta and other clay pots; whiskey barrels; glazed ceramic pots; and double-walled lightweight pots are all suitable for roses.

Check to see that each pot has a hole in the bottom for draining. If there isn’t one, drill a one-inch hole.

Be sure there is air space under the pot by raising the pot off your deck, your patio or the ground with pot feet, bricks or a pot stand. Do not place the pot directly into a saucer.


Nurseries will be happy to help you select an ideal potting mix that allows for good drainage, plenty of air space and moisture retention. I also recommend adding super phosphate to help with root development, as well as a slow-release fertilizer.

  • Place a folded coffee filter or a window-screen square over the hole in the bottom of the pot to allow drainage, but retain the soil.
  • Gently remove the rose from the pot in which it came, and untangle matted roots. You want to encourage the roots to move out in the new container.
  • Add potting mix to bottom of the new pot so that the top of the root ball will rest within a couple of inches of the rim.
  • Add super phosphate and fertilizer into the potting soil.
  • Add potting mix around the root ball, pressing the soil firmly as you work. The final fill line should be no more than two inches from the rim of the pot and level with the top of the root ball. (If you over-fill the pot with soil, you will lose soil when you water.)
  • Mulch with a 1-to-2-inch layer of compost or bark to conserve moisture and keep weeds from sprouting in the pot.

If You’re Planting a Bare-Root Rose

  • Form a small mound of moistened potting mix in the bottom of the pot.
  • Place the plant on the mound, fanning the roots out in a circle to cover it.
  • Add potting mix to fill around the roots.
  • Level the rose so the crown (the graph of the rose to its root stock) is 1 to 2 inches below the rim of the pot.
  • Fill the pot up to the rose’s crown.
  • Water thoroughly, but gently, to settle the soil.

Caring for Your Potted Roses

Place your rose in a sunny and airy location that gets at least six hours of full sun and some afternoon shade. Space pots about 2 feet apart (to reduce the possible spread of fungus-related rose diseases).

Potted roses will need daily deep watering in the summer, and watering every two to three days in the winter. Each time you water, you should see water draining from the bottom of the pot. This is good: It reduces salt buildup in the soil.

Add soil if needed. Fertilize and prune established potted roses the same as you would ground-planted roses.

Your Shopping List:

  • One rose plant of your choice.
  • Potting soil.
  • Pot with a hole.
  • Pot feet or something else to lift the pot.
  • Coffee filter.
  • Time-release fertilizer.
  • Super phosphate (fertilizer).
  • Bark mulch.

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at, and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.