15 Tips For Growing Beautiful Roses in Pots or Containers
Would you love to grow roses, but don’t have the garden space? Many roses grow beautifully in pots and containers, an ideal solution for making the most of limited room and increasing design flexibility. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood shares her top tips for growing beautiful roses in pots or containers!
Roses in pots, whether to flank an entryway, spruce up a patio, or enliven a seating area, are a timeless and elegant choice. Most roses do quite well in containers, as long as a few special considerations are kept in mind.
If you have a container garden and haven’t added roses to your collection, you are missing out! Roses have a longer bloom season than your average perennial, with most varieties blooming in flushes from spring through your first frost.
They also come back year after year, which saves you the time and expense of buying annuals every spring. As an added bonus, they have delicious fragrance. Pots will allow you to keep your roses nearer to common areas where you can enjoy it!
There are some key points to keep in mind when growing roses in containers rather than in the ground. To give you the best chance of success, I’m sharing my 15 top tips for growing beautiful roses in pots and containers!
First, Should You Container Plant?
Before you jump in, it’s important to consider a few drawbacks to container gardening. Roses in containers will need a bit of extra upkeep to do well, so make sure you’re ready to give them some time and attention.
Roses in pots dry out more easily, deplete the nutrients in soil within a few years, and are more susceptible to extreme heat, cold, and drying winds.
While most roses can live in a pot indefinitely, they may not reach their full potential size, as their roots only have so much room to grow. If you like to keep your roses compact, this is no problem. If you plan on using roses to climb up a trellis or arbor, it’s something to consider.
To keep up with the growth of larger roses, you’ll need to repot and refresh the soil every few years. This isn’t an extremely labor intensive task, but does make for an extra garden chore.
For me, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I plant roses both in-ground and in containers, because I love the look of gorgeous blooms and the aromatherapy of roses on my patio. If you feel like potted roses are the way to go for you too, the following essential tips will get you started off right!
Container Planting Benefits
Lots of us live in areas with less-than-ideal soil conditions. My garden is on top of ancient riverbed, and when I dig a hole to plant, my shovel hits basalt rock. Other parts of my yard are straight sand. If you have equally challenging conditions, you can still plant in the ground with some hard work. But container planting is so much easier!
When planting in containers and pots, you get to control the conditions your rose is grown in. You can pick the ideal soil, inspect the growth of roots from the bottom, and carefully monitor the amount of fertilization given. Plus, no digging!
Besides the obvious benefits of maximizing space for gardeners with small yards or too much shade, growing a rose in a pot allows you to observe it for a while before committing or deciding on its spot in the garden. You might discover the rose doesn’t quite have the growth habit or color you were expecting and decide to rethink where you were going to place it.
Whether you plan to keep your rose in a pot indefinitely, or just want to give it a trial period before planting in the ground, container gardening is easy and fun. With a few containers, you can completely change the mood of your entry, seating area, or patio.
Choose The Right Rose Type
Though climbing roses can be grown successfully in containers, it takes a lot of work to maintain and keep them happy. Roses that like to reach 20 feet high or large shrubs that want to become giant spreading hedges are not the best options for your patio pots.
You want to avoid any rose not suited for your USDA hardiness zone. A rose too fragile for your climate is even more likely to struggle in a pot than in the ground. If you experience harsh winters, pick a winter-hardy rose variety recommended for zones 2 lower than yours.
So which types of roses work well in containers?
As a general rule, you want to pick roses that will grow to a maximum height of 5 feet or below. Anything taller may need additional support. The exception is growing in giant, heavy pots that you don’t plan to move.
Keeping the rule of 5 feet at maturity in mind, there are lots of beautiful options and different types of roses that look gorgeous in containers!
Miniature roses are an obvious choice, and they will surprise you with how quickly they’ll fill your chosen pot with blooms. My favorites are ‘Pretty Polly Lavender’ and ‘Candy Sunblaze’.
I actually prefer the look of hybrid teas in containers rather than in-ground. Many of them have a v-shape and bare legged canes that look a bit awkward in the garden, but just right as a potted specimen plant. I love the bright cheeriness of ‘Julia Child’ and the elegant, delectably scented ‘Pope John Paul II’.
Groundcover roses are a perfect choice, and will drape charmingly out of the container. You can even try them in hanging baskets! ‘Apricot Drift’ fills pots beautifully and is a total bloom machine. ‘Flower Carpet Pink Supreme’ has beautiful double blooms and quick growth.
I’m a huge sucker for bushy, floriferous shrub roses, especially those with old-fashioned English-style blooms. Thankfully, many love growing in pots! Try the radiant warmth of ‘Roald Dahl’ or smoky red ‘Cinco de Mayo’.
Standard Roses have been grafted and pruned to look like a small rose tree. They are particularly elegant in containers and add a formal look. These will need at least 10-15 gallon pots to support their roots and additional height. Check out the standard forms of stunning multicolored rose varieties ‘Peace’ or the velvety and moody violet ‘Ebb Tide’.
Choose the Right Container
Don’t choose a container purely based on aesthetics. I love the look of classic terracotta pots, but they crack in my freezing winters. Here are some guidelines for choosing the best container for your new rose:
In general, the largest container you can accommodate, the better. The old advice that you should only move plants to a pot one size up has since been refuted in more recent studies.
While roses can last for a while in their one-to-2-gallon nursery pot, I always transplant into 5-gallon pots, at minimum. This prevents my roses from becoming rootbound and needing frequent up-potting.
Larger roses and standards should do well in 10-gallon pots for many years. For the largest roses and climbers, you’ll need to plan on a permanent location and use a half-barrel or 15 gallon pot. These will be too large to move, so make sure you’re ready to provide winter protection.
Type of Pot
Your primary concern after pot size is drainage. Roses do not like to sit in soggy soil. If water has nowhere to go, you’ll create a mini-swamp that suffocates your rose and leads to rotted roots. Make sure any pot you choose has holes in the bottom for water to run out or add them yourself.
Next is pot material. Terracotta pots allow roots to breathe and look timeless. They are excellent choices for growers in mild climates. Clay and terracotta are attractive and durable in many conditions, but they allow for faster evaporation and may need watered more often.
I have very cold winters, and learned the hard way that terracotta doesn’t cut it. Fiberglass, wood, and concrete work well for me. Plastic containers are inexpensive and hold water well, but aren’t as durable.
If you live in a hot climate, plastic planters work well. They retain moisture and require less frequent watering. However, you want to avoid dark colors that hold heat and bake the roots.
Choose the Right Location
One of the best parts of growing in pots is the flexibility to move them wherever you’d like. Like all roses, container-grown roses need a minimum of 6 hours of bright, direct sunlight. Sunny patios are ideal. Light-colored roses can sometimes scorch on hot afternoons, so a location with sunny mornings and dappled afternoon shade is usually best.
Also consider growth habit and design. Shrub roses can grow quite wide and bushy, so give them adequate space for airflow. Climbers need vertical space and a trellis or obelisk. You can put roses next to a bench or patio set to perfume your gatherings, or welcome guests with roses by the front door. This is the fun part! If you don’t like the look, you can move your containers.
Some gardeners like to place their largest potted roses, like standards, on the ground in their garden. If you do this, consider cutting out the bottom of the pot so the roots can extend into the ground over time, resulting in a healthier, less constrained rose.
Pick the Right Soil
I prefer a rich, light potting soil that contains some perlite for drainage. Some experts use a soiless mix in pots, but I find that potting soil works great, and needs fewer amendments.
Start with a good, organic potting soil, and mix in some compost. This mix will provide good balance and plenty of nutrients to nurture your rose as it adjusts to the pot. For an extra boost, add in some mycorrhizal fungi.
Prepare Your Rose Before Planting
Preparing your rose looks a bit different depending on whether you purchased a bare-root or container rose.
Bare-root roses (trimmed bare canes and roots, with no soil) need to be soaked for a minimum of 2 hours before planting. You can leave them in a bucket of water up to the crown for up to 12 hours.
If you bought a potted nursery rose, simply water it thoroughly an hour or two before transplanting into its new home. Roses adapt better to new locations when they are well hydrated.
Plant The Right Way
When planting your rose, you want to place it deep enough to just cover the bud union (the knobby spot where the canes meet the roots, or where the rose was grafted onto hardier rootstock). This will protect the crown from dieback in extreme temperatures and make it less susceptible to destabilization from wind.
Mound up the soil enough to cover the crown and bud union, and water your rose in until the soil is thoroughly moist. At this point, the soil might settle a bit, revealing the roots. Add more soil until they are covered.
Most quality potting mixes will already contain sufficient slow-release fertilizer to get your rose started on the right foot. It’s not necessary to add anything else, and supplementing with too much fertilizer can actually burn the roots of the rose.
Instead, let the rose settle in for a bit, and apply a liquid seaweed or alfalfa fertilizer once the rose begins to develop new leaves, and after each flush of blooms (about 3 times a year). Stop fertilizing at least 6 weeks before your last frost date.
This avoids pushing new, tender growth that will die in the cold, and encourages your rose to go dormant for winter. Once the rose has spent a season in its container, apply slow-release rose fertilizer again the following spring.
If your rose doesn’t produce many blooms, fertilizer might be flushing out too quickly due to the more frequent watering required by container roses. Consider upping fertilization with organic foliar spray if necessary.
Stick to a Water Schedule
Watering roses in containers can be a bit of a delicate dance. Too much water and they get soggy, rotted roots, too little and they’ll wilt and weaken. Roses in the ground only need to be watered once or twice a week, but roses in containers will drain faster and heat up more quickly.
Unfortunately, the amount of water needed is affected by your temperature, humidity, soil, and type and size of container. So, there’s no hard and fast rule to follow. Instead, plan on checking the soil every other day for dryness.
To determine if a rose needs watered, do the knuckle test. Simply stick your finger into the soil knuckle deep. If the soil is damp at that level, your rose is fine.
Check again in a day or two. If it’s dry, give it a thorough watering. Soon you’ll get an idea of how frequently you need to water. In hotter conditions, it might be as much as every day!
When you water, aim for the base of the roots rather than foliage. This prevents wet leaves that become susceptible to fungal diseases and mildew. Water until water drains freely from the bottom of the container, and soil is moist, but not sopping wet.
Prune Only When Needed
Roses in containers are often slower growers and don’t usually need as much pruning as their counterparts grown in the ground. However, you still want to maintain a healthy rose bush by removing any discolored or diseased foliage promptly, before it spreads.
Encourage good airflow by pruning back any canes that grow toward the interior of the rose, or cross and rub other canes. When you prune roses, use clean bypass shears, and sanitize with rubbing alcohol between plants.
Cut back to an outward facing leaf node (small, raised nub where new growth appears), which will encourage new growth and attractive shape.
In general, pruning for anything other than disease is best done in early spring when the rose is just beginning to push new leaves. A bit of upkeep can be performed in early fall in mild climates.
Repot and Refresh Soil Regularly
Unless you began with a very large container (which I recommend), your rose will eventually outgrow its new home. Signs your rose is ready for a new pot might be that it dries out quickly, needs constant watering to retain moisture, becomes top-heavy, or is rootbound (roots are compacted and swirl around in the shape of the container, rather than spreading out for lack of room).
To check if your rose is rootbound, you can lift up containers that are light enough. If roots are sticking out of the drainage holes, it’s ready for a bigger space. For some situations, you may need to gently slide the rose from its container to see root formation.
Root-bound roses will suffer from girdling and eventually die if not moved, so check for this any time your rose seems stressed, or at least every 2 years, depending on pot size.
If you need to move to a larger pot, this is a great time to refresh your rose’s soil. Every few years (depending on size), your rose depletes the nutrients in the original soil, and benefits from fresh soil and compost. If you’re not moving pots, top off with fresh soil and compost regularly, mixing it gently through the first couple of layers.
Treat Pests and Diseases Immediately
Most roses are fairly hardy, and many varieties are bred to be disease resistant. With that being said, there are a few pests and diseases that certain roses can be susceptible to. You should always watch your roses, especially anytime where heat and humidity increase, which can be a breeding ground for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.
Rose Black Spot is also another disease you’ll need to look out for. This disease is difficult to treat and can cause damage if it goes untreated.
When it comes to pests, Aphids, and Spider Mites are likely to be your biggest offenders. Luckily, if your roses get infested with pests while planted in containers, you can move the container and isolate them from other garden plants while you treat them.
Grow Some Companion Plants
Even potted roses can benefit from companion planting. Underplanting your container rose with smaller-statured plants not only looks beautiful and disguises bare canes, but serves as a living mulch that retains moisture, stabilizes soil temperature, and can attract or repel pests.
For a crowd-pleasing option that looks beautiful with any variety, consider the spreading and diminutive, sweet alyssum. Densely flowering and honey-scented, sweet alyssum attracts beneficial predators like the aphid-eating hover fly.
If you like the look of draping plants, add some creeping rosemary, which will look lovely and repel mosquitos.
If you planted a groundcover rose, you can go bolder with a striking thriller like Pink Muhly Grass planted behind it. Divide the grass as necessary to keep from crowding out your rose.
As a beginner gardener, I lost some treasured patio roses when I failed to provide adequate winter protection. Surviving winter in a container can be tricky, because potted roses lack the insulation of roses grown in-ground, causing roots to freeze. Extreme winds are also a danger, and canes can grow brittle and dry out when exposed.
To provide optimal protection, choose large containers that offer more soil as an insulator for your rose’s roots. Leave room at the top for winter mulch, like shredded leaves or mounded wood chips to keep in moisture and protect the crown.
In extreme climates, it’s best to move roses to a shelter like an unheated garage or shed. However, as they are not exposed to rain and snow, you must continue watering every couple of weeks, or they’ll die from drying out.
Do not bring them inside the house. The heat will prevent them from going into dormancy. Winter is the time roses rest and build up the energy for next year’s blooms.
If you prefer to leave container roses outside, huddle the pots together to increase warmth, and wrap them all in burlap or black plastic bags for insulation. Place them somewhere that will shelter them from the wind.
Remove winter protection about 8 weeks before your predicted last frost date. If it looks like there will be major fluctuations in the freeze and thaw cycle, leave your potted roses protected until temperatures stabilize.
If you’ve hesitated to grow roses for lack of space or ideal growing conditions, I hope you’ll consider trying them out in pots or containers. Container planting is convenient and easy and offers lots of flexibility.
Potted roses brighten up your outdoor living space with fresh color, foliage, and scent, and will come back every year if well cared for. Follow these tips for beautiful, healthy blooms, and enjoy your roses!