Will Roses Grow Successfully in Clay Soil?

Last Updated on November 24, 2022 by Stephanie

Clay soils are good for rose growing because they are naturally fertile. Mulch is essential in heavy clay soils to reduce compaction and improve drainage, so the roses roots arent waterlogged. 

Regular addition of soil amendments and mulch helps improve clay soil structure so roots can penetrate more easily and water can drain away. If you do this the roses will thrive.

Mulch made from leaf mold or compost is the best way to soften the soil surface and allow water to drain to the roots. Clay is porous and can cause drainage problems. So be cautious in summer because clay can bake hard, making it difficult for water and nutrients to penetrate the soil to reach the roots.

Remember that roses also must be in direct sunlight for at least 6 hours daily. They prefer morning sunshine. The best time to plant a new rose in autumn is when it is dormant. However, you can still plant roses successfully anytime you have the right conditions.

Growing Roses in Clay Soil Can Have Potential Issues

Clay soil is extremely fertile and rich in nutrients. There is more calcium, potassium, and magnesium than other soil types.
Important nutrients to grow strong, healthy roses that resist disease.

However, clay soil has some drawbacks that you should be aware of:

  •  The main problem with clay soil is its lower porosity than other soils, which slows down water drainage. This can cause puddling and waterlog, especially after heavy rains.
  • Roses require lots of water, but they also need well-draining soil. Root rot can cause root rot in saturated soil, which can lead to the death of the plant.
  • Clay can also be compacted if you frequently walk on the beds to weed the area or use a rotavator to till it. This can lead to drainage issues and make it more difficult for rose roots to reach water and nutrients.
  • Whilst clay soils can be acidic, they do more often tend to be alkaline. Before you buy expensive plants, it is a good idea check the pH level of your soil using an amazon soil test kit.

These problems can be overcome by amending your soil to achieve the right texture, pH, drainage, and nutrients. Your rose will have the most beautiful blooms.

Pink Rose Bush

How to Amend Clay Properly

Before planting, roses, make sure you have enough soil.  If the area in which you plan to plant your roses is not listed. If the draining is slow, I recommend digging the hole prepared. Your new rose plant will be much deeper and more extensive than the root ball. The volume should be about two to three times that of the original volume.

Once your hole has been dug to the correct size, you can begin to use organic material to surround your roses roots, for example:

  • Leaf mold
  • Rotted horse manure
  • Compost made from grass clippings and leaves
  • Compost made with kitchen scraps

The organic material will continue to be broken down to loosen the clay texture. This will make the soil more porous, allowing water to reach the roots. The excess water can be drained so that the roots cant sit in stagnant waters.

Organic materials will absorb water so the roots can draw on it when they need it in dry weather, but it will also create a structure that allows excess water to drain away.

Add sand orgrit to your compost mix if you have heavy clay. Add about 1/3 to 2/3 of the compost. Mix the sand and grit in the compost mix before you plant to ensure that it is evenly distributed. This will help improve drainage.

Once you have placed your rose in the hole, add more organic material to the hole and your mixture of sand. Finally, mulch the area around your roses base with a 2-3 inch layer of surface mulch. It is important that the mulch does not come in direct contact with the rosewood. Exposure to moisture for too long can cause the wood to rot.

Adding all of this organic material to the mix will reenergize the soil. All microbes, yeasts, fungus, and earthworms are beneficial to the soil and work to remove organic material so that nutrients can be made available for the rose to absorb.

Earthworms can integrate organic material into clay soil and make the soil more fertile for roses. They create channels that allow water and air to flow through the soil, allowing roots to grow in the heavy clay.

Another reason to keep your rose beds topped up with mulch is the fact that it will neutralize alkaline soils. Compost is generally pH neutral but can be slightly acidic. Roses prefer a pH range between 6 (slightly alkaline) and 7 (neutral). It is a good idea again to test the pH level of your rose bed soil as alkaline soil can kill roses.

Organic mulch can be applied to rose beds with clay soil once at the start of the season for additional nutrients to promote growth. Then again, in the height of Summer, when the sun is beating down on the soil.

Clay soils can dry out and become hardened over time, making them less permeable. To allow water to penetrate the soil and reach the roots of your roses, it is best to add mulch in the summer sun. It is always a good idea for your rose to add mulch a third time during winter. This will protect the roots from the harsh winter chill and give you a head start in spring when the weather warms up.

The mulch and compost should not be dug into the ground. This will cause unneeded disturbance to the soils ecosystem, as well as potential damage to the roots. You can let the earthworms pull organic material from the ground to feed.

Wood ash contains a high concentration of potash which promotes healthy growth and resistance to diseases. However, it is important not to add too much at once. Too much wood ash can cause problems for roses. Sprinkle about a cup of wood ash on the roses base early in the growing season and water it in. Potash is water-soluble, so it will quickly wash into the soil and reach roots.

As long as your soil is amended with organic matter and that rainwater does not collect on the surface, you can grow any variety of roses you want. Clay soils are favorable for natural fertility.

How to Fertilize Roses in Clay Soil

Fertilizing roses in clay soil is the same as fertilizing roses in any other soil.

If you prefer to fertilize roses organically, alternate between fish oil, bone meal, and alfalfa. Roses thrive on a balanced diet. By switching between these three fertilizers, your roses will receive the right nutrients it needs to thrive.

Apply fertilizer once a month, starting in April, just before the leaves are fully open. Continue to apply fertilizer throughout the spring and summer. Do not apply after August.

Fertilizing encourages new soft growth. If you fertilize too late, your rose will not be able to mature or harden before winter. You need to give your rose time to get ready for winter dormancy. Any new growth that is too late will result in frost damage.

How to Water Roses in Clay Soil

Roses can go into semi-dormancy during hot weather. This is to preserve resources and reduce the production of blooms. This is normal and common in rose gardens. When the temperature drops, roses will resuscitate.

Because clay soils can hold water, they are more flexible when it comes time to water. Rose bushes wont need watering if there is more than an inch of rainfall in a week. If the soil is dry, it will not need to be watered.

To determine how much rain falls in a given time period you can use a rain gauge to monitor the weather and water your roses accordingly.

Roses in humid climates will require less watering due to lower rates of transpiration and evaporation.

Strong sunlight can bake clay soils to the point where water will run off them, but not to the roots of your plants. Add some compost to the area if the soil feels dry and hard. Place the rose at the base and give it a slow, long soak. The compost will retain water and encourage it soak into the soil instead of running off into cracks.

In dry conditions, it is better to give your rose a good soak once a week with lots of water than watering every day.



Went from an inexperienced gardener to a half-decent one over 10+ years. I cover anything from general indoor plant guides and lawn care, to succulents and flowers. Super happy to share my tips and tricks with you :)