11 Rose Growing Myths Debunked
Are you intimidated by the contradictory rose-growing advice on the internet? Myths abound, leading to confusion and frustration. In this article, gardening expert and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood examines 11 common rose-growing myths and debunks them with research and common sense.
Roses are tenacious perennials. They’ve been in cultivation for thousands of years. If growing them were as complicated as commonly asserted, it’s unlikely they’d still be thriving in modern gardens.
When it comes to growing roses, gardeners love to give advice. Whether good or bad, this information gets passed from person to person over generations. While some is gold, more is misleading. Add in the internet, and it gets pretty overwhelming. When dealing with roses, it’s best to stick to the basics.
If your head is spinning from all the contradictory rose-growing advice, I’m here to help. Let’s get back to research-based information that works. In this article, we’ll examine the validity of 11 common rose-growing myths so you can get back to enjoying your roses!
Myth 1: Roses are Hard to Grow
Myth: Only expert gardeners can grow roses. They’re extremely fussy and difficult.
Fact: Roses require no more care than other garden shrubs.
Roses have been found blooming, completely neglected, in old cemeteries and the gardens of abandoned homesteads.
Have you ever heard of the Texas Rose Rustlers? They gathered deserted Old Garden roses, most of which had been growing for decades with no maintenance, and preserved them via cuttings for modern gardeners. If roses are so fussy, how could they flourish without constant attention?
Roses are much tougher than we give them credit for. If you hear lots of advice about complicated care regimens, required tools, and expensive fertilizers, ask yourself who benefits from this idea. It definitely isn’t you and your garden.
Instead, think of roses as what they are: long-lived flowering shrubs. All woody shrubs benefit from regular watering, compost, sunshine, and an occasional haircut. The same goes for roses. Start with roses that grow well in your climate, and you’re on your way to beautiful blooms.
Myth 2: Roses Need Tons of Water
Myth: Roses need large amounts of water to grow well.
Fact: Roses like infrequent, deep watering. Many are drought-tolerant once established.
When I first started gardening, I watered my roses a little bit every day. I thought they needed daily irrigation to grow. I later learned that roses like to dry out a bit between waterings and hate soggy soil!
In fact, established roses need an average of 1 inch of water per week at the base of the plant. This encourages deeper root growth and prevents root rot from sitting in overly-wet soil.
Only water your roses when the top few inches of soil are dry. This may happen more frequently during heat waves. New baby roses need a bit more moisture to get growing, but this is true for any perennial.
Once mature, roses can be a great choice for a waterwise garden. In fact, The Texas A&M University Earth-Kind® Landscape Management Program has been testing roses under drought conditions since the 1990s, finding many that perform beautifully with limited or no irrigation.
Myth 3: Use Fancy Fertilizer to Get Big Blooms
Myth: Roses need special fertilizer to produce their signature large blooms. You’ll need to invest in expensive products to grow them.
Fact: Roses only need what isn’t already present in the soil. Unless a soil test reveals a deficiency, they will thrive on compost, water, and sunshine.
Roses, like all plants, can respond well to fertilizer. But did you know that too much can actually limit bloom production and burn fragile roots? Fertilizers with too much nitrogen will produce a lot of green leafy growth instead of flowers (not to mention the growth will attract aphids, and the excess nitrogen runs off, polluting our waterways).
Don’t fill the planting hole with special soil and fertilizer. This only encourages the roots to coil around themselves and become rootbound in an attempt to stay in the enriched growth medium. You want them to expand into the native soil, so start them out with it.
Fertilizing roses isn’t required unless you have particularly poor soil. Nothing fancy is needed if you want to give them a boost. You can even use the same fertilizer you use on tomatoes! I usually start the season with a top dressing of compost and some mulch to retain moisture. Other than that, I might fertilize every couple of years when I think of it.
If you want showstopping roses and like to feed them, fertilize max 3 times a year: use a slow-release fertilizer in early spring and liquid kelp or alfalfa formula in mid and late summer. That’s it. Any more is overkill.
Myth 4: Dig a Big, Round Planting Hole
Myth: You need to dig a large, round hole twice as deep as your rose’s root ball and just as wide to accommodate root growth.
Fact: Dig a hole big enough for the roots to fit (and to bury the bud union/graft in cold climates). Any old shape is good!
You don’t have to dig giant holes for your roses. Unless, of course, your rose has a giant root ball! You just need enough width for the roots to fit and enough depth for the bud union (the knuckle-like nob at between the canes and roots, often a grafting site) to sit a couple of inches below the soil level. If you live in a year-round warm climate, even burying the bud union is optional.
The hole doesn’t need to be round. In fact, an irregular hole with lots of little tunnels and corners for the roots to expand into will facilitate easier growth. This is especially true if you have clay soils, as having lovely, jagged edges will encourage the root system to start penetrating the native soil rather than circling around your perfectly round hole!
Myth 5: Cut Canes at a 45-degree Angle
Myth: Cutting Canes at a 45-degree angle helps water run off and reduces the likelihood of fungal infection.
Fact: The angle of your cuts has little effect on cane health. What matters is that you use clean, sharp bypass pruners.
The 45-degree angle myth is so persistent. The reason varies, with some saying that water will rest on a flat-cut cane. Others state that sap will run out, killing off the cane. Both of these have been disproven.
Cut your roses at any angle (I just do mine straight across), but always sanitize your shears to prevent the spread of disease from plant to plant.
Myth 6: If You Mess Up Pruning, You’ll Kill Your Rose
Myth: Correct pruning requires careful attention and can only be done at certain times, or you mess up your roses.
Fact: There is a method to pruning: cut out anything dead, dying, or diseased. Although it’s recommended to prune in early spring and early fall, you can prune whenever you want.
Pruning seems to be the number one most intimidating topic when I talk to aspiring rose growers. There are some varieties, like spring-flowering ramblers, that should be pruned only after their flush (otherwise, you cut off the blooms).
However, most roses don’t need a special pruning schedule or method, and you can get away with not pruning for at least 3 years if your roses look healthy.
In fact, I’ve seen roses recover beautifully after being cut indiscriminately with power tools. These are just flowering shrubs, everyone.
You can simply cut out dead, diseased, or dying canes and foliage at any time. If you want to do a large prune to control the overall size, your rose will recover best if it’s done during the cooler temps of early spring or fall, but your rose won’t die if you do it at the wrong time.
I encourage pruning out crossing canes or anything growing toward the interior of the plant to maintain good airflow. Use sharp shears and sanitize them. See? Just like your other shrubs.
Myth 7: Modern Roses are More Hardy and Disease-Resistant than Older Varieties
Myth: The newest roses on the market have superior disease resistance and hardiness. Old Garden roses are prone to disease and don’t thrive in modern gardens.
Fact: Old Garden Roses haven’t been around for centuries because they’re fragile divas. These old ladies are persistent and tough!
While there are exceptions to every rule, Old Garden and wild roses are some of the most reliable performers, even today. They were unaffected by the hybrid tea craze of the 1950s and 60s, where breeders began to produce roses for perfect exhibition-style blooms rather than robust growth and garden hardiness.
We had a particularly difficult winter in my area, with sub-zero winds that killed back much of our city’s roses. At our local rose-specialist nursery this spring, most roses were cut back a few inches from the ground due to black, dead canes. What rose was still standing tall and green? ‘Madame Plantier,’ a lovely alba-noisette hybrid introduced in 1835.
If you want beautiful roses that will stand the test of time without a lot of fuss, don’t overlook heirloom roses. While some modern landscape roses are great easy-care choices, many Old Garden Roses are sadly underused garden-worthy plants that will do the job just as well.
Myth 8: You Can’t Grow Roses Without Pesticides
Myth: Roses will not do well without a regimen of chemical sprays for pests and diseases.
Fact: A garden with a balanced ecosystem reduces diseases and manages pests by attracting natural predators and nurturing healthy soil.
This one gets me the most. Constant spraying of pesticides causes much more harm than good. In fact, frequent spraying disrupts the natural balance of your garden, causing secondary pest infestations, an absence of natural predators, and weaker roses.
Lots of what we consider pests are an important part of the garden’s lifecycle. Aphids are food for predatory wasps, birds, ladybugs, and hoverflies. Caterpillars turn into pollinating moths and butterflies and are the number one source of food for nesting birds. Poison them, and it works its way up the food chain.
If you restore balance in your garden via manual pest removal (only when your rose’s life is threatened, and not whenever you see a hole in a leaf) and allow natural predators to thrive, you’ll find that you don’t have to rely on insecticides to keep your roses healthy.
Keep your whole garden in good shape by planting a diversity of companion plant species, accepting a bit of imperfection (are you raising your roses for competition? If not, relax a bit), and using organic methods. Your roses and all the creatures who call your garden home will be grateful.
Myth 9: Avoid Once-Flowering Varieties
Myth: The only garden-worthy roses are those that repeatedly bloom all summer.
Fact: Once-blooming roses often produce more flowers than others throughout the season. Their bloom period lasts 4-6 weeks, longer than many other treasured perennials like peonies.
Have you ever seen a ‘Lady Banks’ in bloom? This once-flowering spring bloomer is breathtaking, smothered with fluffy butter-yellow or snowy white blooms for up to 5 weeks.
The long-lasting show that once-blooming roses put on each year rivals that of most perennials. Many of these special roses are thornless, vigorously growing, and highly fragrant.
Don’t discount once-flowering roses. Tulips aren’t thrown out because they flower for 1-2 weeks. Why is the standard so much higher for roses? Find room for these spring-flowering treasures in your garden; you might be surprised by their beauty and value.
Myth 10: Roses Love Coffee Grounds, Eggshells, and Epsom Salts
Myth: Use easily accessible amendments like coffee grounds, eggshells, and Epsom salts to increase rose health and bloom production.
Fact: These home remedies will not greatly impact your roses; worse, some can be harmful.
Eggshells are thought to amend the soil with calcium. However, it is rare for your garden soil to lack calcium, and roses cannot directly absorb the calcium supplied by eggshells. They must be finely broken down and composted before they can provide accessible nutrients to your rose.
Epsom salts can cause a nutrient imbalance in the soil and are only helpful when a verified magnesium deficiency is confirmed via a soil test. No scientific evidence shows that it repels pests or works as an effective fertilizer. Epsom salts have also been found to interfere with plants’ calcium intake.
Coffee grounds have a neutral pH of 6.5-6.8 and won’t increase the acidity of your soil. Studies have shown that their caffeine content can stunt plant growth.
When layered in the garden with mulch, they can create a hydrophobic barrier that makes it difficult for roses to get the needed water. There is even evidence that they can cause mortality in worms. You can use grounds after they’ve decomposed, along with another organic matter in compost.
Roses, like all plants, rely on the essential macronutrients to grow. There are no magical shortcuts. They need nitrogen for strong foliage, phosphorus for flower production, and potassium for strong roots. The other necessary nutrients, like magnesium, sulfur, and calcium, are likely already present in your soil.
While I wish these easy home remedies were true, you want to provide a balance of these nutrients via fertilizer and compost. When purchasing, always look for a balanced ratio, like an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) of 10-10-10.
Myth 11: Knock Outs are the Only Easy Care Roses
Myth: Knock Out roses are the best choice for low-maintenance beautiful roses.
Fact: Knock Out roses are susceptible to some diseases and pests and need regular care to look their best, just like other roses. Many other underutilized choices are just as easy to maintain.
Don’t come after me. I hate Knock Outs, and I’m not ashamed. They’re a popular parking lot and landscaper fix, and their popularity is making rose gardens take on an alarming uniformity.
Why? Good marketing and availability. While I love the premise of more disease-resistant, drought-friendly, easy-care roses, Knock Outs are no miracle. While they do perform better when neglected than, say, a hybrid tea, many other shrub roses outshine them in beauty, fragrance, and ease of maintenance.
Knock Outs are susceptible to Rose Rosette Disease, lack rich scent, and make poor cut flower varieties. They’re not the only roses that do well in hot, humid climates prone to black spot. They often grow much larger than advertised, requiring consistent pruning to keep them in check.
Before you landscape with Knock Outs, take a look at other high-performing, easy-care roses. Let’s not all plant the same thing just because it’s what we see at the big box store.
The truth is, rose care is greatly dependent on your region’s climate and conditions. If you select roses that thrive in your area, you will be surprised at how little extra attention they need to thrive.
Examine the reality when you hear a claim about a no-fail homemade fertilizer or an appeal to buy expensive products. Roses are just especially beautiful woody shrubs. There are no mystical treatments or master’s degrees in pruning needed to enjoy their blooms.
When examining gardening myths, remember that the key to a healthy garden is pretty basic. Tolerate a bit of pest presence and imperfection. Avoid excess fertilizers and sprays to achieve a natural balance. Provide sunshine, compost, and water. Use your common sense, and enjoy your roses!
We all know and love hydrangeas for their beautiful blossoms, but they truly are low maintenance, and this adds to the plant’s allure. Try not to overthink your hydrangea care and focus on the basics.