13 Factors To Consider When Buying Roses From a Nursery
Don’t get the wrong rose for your garden. It’s tempting to impulse buy the prettiest plant you see, but beginning with some research can help you avoid future disappointment. In this article, gardening expert Danielle Sherwood walks through 11 factors to keep in mind when buying roses at a nursery or garden center.
I rarely leave the nursery without what I call “bonus plants.” These are impulse buys that I plant quickly. While roses are my favorites, I’ve stopped buying them on a whim. Why? Quality roses are an investment. They can last for decades and impact the look of your whole garden. Plus, growing roses isn’t always easy. There are many rose-buying factors to consider before impulsively adopting a rose.
I used to scoop up “rescue roses” in the hopes of babying them to perform, only to battle the diseases and pests they introduced to my garden. I once got sucked in by grafted varieties that didn’t have what it takes to make it through our harsh winters.
In essence, I picked up whatever pretty rose was available without doing my research, wasting money and time. I’ve finally learned my lesson. Now I don’t let myself scope out the roses without a plan.
Here, I’ll share 13 factors to consider before and during your nursery visit to help you choose a rose that fits right into your garden, bringing you years of blooms without headaches. Ready to get started?
First, Find Knowledgeable Staff
The first and most important rose-buying factor actually has nothing to do with the rose itself; it’s the source you buy it from. Step away from the big box store.
I’m not saying there aren’t any treasures to be found at your local superstore or home improvement center, nor that there aren’t any informed plant people working there. But these are not usually the best places to buy roses.
The best-case scenario is a nursery that specializes in roses. If you don’t have one near you, find a locally-owned nursery staffed by gardeners familiar with your region’s growing conditions.
Why does knowledgeable staff matter?
- The varieties on offer are more likely to be chosen specifically for their ability to thrive in your region’s climate, soil, and environmental challenges.
- Trained staff will recognize the symptoms of diseases like Gall, Rose Rosette, and Rose Mosaic, increasing your chance of getting a healthy plant.
- The plants will be properly maintained and protected from heat stress and dehydration.
- Staff will have the expertise to advise you on the best rose match for your garden plans.
I’m guilty of buying sad-looking plants at the big box store. Most have passed on (RIP ‘Pink Double Knock Out’). You want to introduce the best and healthiest plants into your garden, not only because your investment will last longer but also to avoid bringing home viruses or pests that could spread. If you don’t have a good local nursery, try a reputable online vendor.
Key Factors to Look for When Buying a Rose
Now that you’re at a knowledgeable nursery, what should you look for when selecting a new rose to bring home? Examine the plant carefully for the following:
Robust, Damage-Free Leaves
While a few holes shouldn’t rule out a rose altogether (they could be left by a caterpillar or insect that’s since moved on), you don’t want to bring home a plant infested with pests or marred by disease.
Leaves should be green (tender new shoots can have hints of red, too) and free of discoloration and damage. Inspect the undersides: Do you see any aphids, beetles, sticky webs (a sign of spider mites), or insect eggs? If so, you may want a different plant.
Some bugs are just good guys passing through, so ask the nursery to help you ID or remove them if you prefer.
Thick Healthy Canes
Pick a rose with sturdy green canes (the larger the basal canes, the better!) Avoid any that have rusty-red spots or lesions and cankers. These are wounds that give diseases a place to enter.
Check for broken or spindly stems. Roses with thick, strong, unbroken canes can best adapt to your garden once transplanted.
If the rose is wilting and droopy, it might be dealing with stress from heat and dehydration, which can stunt its growth, making it harder to keep healthy as it transitions to your garden.
Check the soil in the pot. Is it moist? Does the rose look perky and upright? If so, it has likely been well-maintained and can handle the stress of transplanting to your location.
You’ve inspected the roses, and they look healthy. Now consider the size of the container.
Baby roses are often offered in small 4 x 6 containers. These are grown from cuttings and are called “band roses.” The advantage is that they’re grown on their own roots (as opposed to grafted to a different rootstock-more on this to come), making them hardier and longer-lived.
When buying young plants in small containers, there may be several seasons before you have a robust shrub covered in blooms. This isn’t always a drawback (as baby roses are less expensive and usually grow into vigorous plants), but you’ll need patience as you wait for them to mature.
If you want garden color now, check out older roses with more developed root systems, usually offered in 2-gallon or larger containers.
Garden Factors to Consider For Roses
Once you’ve found a nursery with quality plants, consider these essential maintenance factors before choosing your rose.
Space and Style
Before leaving the house, pick where you’d like to put your new roses. How much space is available? What surrounds it, and when do the other plants bloom? What’s the overall aesthetic?
This helps you avoid the gorgeous tiny rose at the nursery that matures into a 25-foot climbing beast. It also ensures you don’t bring home a color that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Check the tag or consult the nursery staff for the following information:
The expected mature size of the rose
Make sure it fits your planned space!
Does the spot call for some vertical color? Choose a climber and plan what you’ll attach it to (a trellis? Arbor? Obelisk?) Want a slim, upright variety for the back of the border? The overall shape of the plant will impact how the rose looks in the garden.
If you’d like roses for cutting, you might prefer hybrid teas or fragrant English roses. If you’re after colorful impact, a vigorous landscape shrub with lots of small blooms could be best. Want to support pollinators? Get a single-petaled rose with open, easily accessible stamens.
Most modern roses produce repeat flushes of flowers throughout the summer months, but some varieties (the majority of old garden roses and ramblers) only bloom once in spring. Do you want one magnificent annual display? Several smaller flushes? Continual blooms?
Consider the colors already present in your garden. Some attention to cohesiveness can make the difference between messy and intentional. A neon rose isn’t right for a pastel garden, and delicate shades can be overwhelmed when planted with fiery colors. Try sticking with soft shades, or keep to a bright and festive theme. Make sure your new rose fits in with your other perennials.
How much sun does your rose’s planned spot get? Most roses do best with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight, but some varieties can handle a bit of shade.
Is the sun exposure likely to change over time? Think about how tree canopies/large shrubs could fill out, and purchase a rose that won’t struggle with less light.
Your Hardiness Zone
While a good nursery should only sell roses that grow in your USDA hardiness zone, this isn’t always the case. Know your zone (based on your area’s coldest winter temperatures) and buy a rose that will survive to return every spring.
I hate the hassle of protecting my roses over the winter, so I purchase roses adapted to one zone colder than mine. This way, I don’t worry about them dying off in winter freezes. Sticking to your zone or below is especially important if you’re planting in pots, where the roots are often more sensitive to freezing temperatures.
Do you have an irrigation system in place? Is your location prone to drought? Established roses generally prefer infrequent, deep watering sessions (2-3 gallons once a week), but not all varieties are the same.
In hot, arid climates, choose roses that have lower water needs. Some cultivars will tolerate drought once established (though all baby roses need supplemental irrigation in their first season). If you want water-wise plants, check out varieties known for their low water needs and Earth-KindⓇ roses, trialed and tested to perform well in dry climates.
Some roses are particularly susceptible to diseases and fungal issues. Good goes a long way, like avoiding overhead irrigation, maintaining good airflow, and pruning out unhealthy foliage and canes. But your best bet for a healthy garden is to choose disease-resistant plants from the start.
Ease of Maintenance
Your specific climate impacts the ease of maintenance (do you need a cold-hardy rose, a drought-tolerant rose, or both?), but some varieties are just plain easy to grow for a wide range of gardeners.
Some roses need a lot of tending to look good. Choose a highly-rated rose known for good performance without pampering (unless you’re into that). It’s also a good idea to check with your neighbors, county extension office, and local rose society to ask about roses that thrive in your area.
Is scent important to you? While coloring, ease of care, and bloom style factor in, I prioritize a lavish fragrance that I can bring indoors in bouquets or enjoy as it wafts through the garden.
If scent matters to you, ensure the rose you buy is rated well for fragrance. If blooms are already on the bush to test out, even better!
Own-Root vs. Grafted
Your nursery should know whether the roses you’re interested in are grown on their own roots or grafted.
Own-root roses are the same plant from roots to bloom, while grafted plants are a combo of 2 different varieties: the canes and blooms are from one rose, which is grafted onto another’s hardy rootstock.
Why does this matter? Young own-root roses may take several seasons to come into their own, but they live longer and tolerate colder winters.
Grafted roses benefit from vigorous rootstock and may grow more quickly. However, the graft point makes them vulnerable, decreasing longevity. Grafted roses frequently die back to the roots in freezing temperatures, leaving you with a different rose than the one you purchased.
The nursery should be able to advise you if this is important in your area and situation.
Don’t buy a rose at the garden center without considering these crucial factors. Pick your plant’s future location, have your ideal characteristics in mind, and be ready to look up health, heat/cold tolerance, and performance ratings.
While the occasional impulse buy is no big deal, it’s worth putting in the time to find the rose that’s a good long-term fit for you and your garden. Happy shopping!