15 Essential Rose-Growing Tips
Rose-growing can seem like an information minefield, made even more intimidating by their reputation. Gardening expert Madison Moulton discusses 15 rose-growing tips that will turn even rose beginners into aficionados.
Roses have always had an intimidating allure among gardeners. I’m unsure whether it’s the avid appreciation societies, the thousands of varieties to choose from, or the general fanfare that makes growing roses seem reserved for only the most experienced gardeners. This reputation initially dissuaded me and probably many gardeners. But luckily, I’m here to tell you that with the right tips, growing roses isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems.
Roses are just as easy to grow as other flowering plants, with a few quirks to consider when choosing and planting. These beginner rose-growing tips will demystify the process, allowing you to grow stunning plants without worry.
Understand Different Rose Types
Roses are an incredibly diverse group, which is one of the reasons why we love them. But this range can also be confusing to beginners who may not understand what the various types mean.
Variety in blooms – shape, color, or number – is the first thing gardeners look out for. For example, hybrid tea roses are the classic shape many think of when they picture roses, while floribunda roses typically produce more blooms bunched closer together.
But growth habit is also important to consider. If you want to plant in containers, miniature roses are ideal for their compact size. Covering a structure requires the help of a climbing rose. Shrub roses are wonderful staples and backdrops for shorter plants in established large perennial beds.
Although choosing a rose based on its blooms is the most exciting part of rose gardening, don’t forget to consider your needs and where you plan to plant to choose the perfect type for your garden.
Choose The Right Rose For Your Climate
Along with different types, there are differences in preferred conditions between rose varieties. Most roses grow best in warmer climates with moderate summer temperatures to promote vigorous flowering. But among the thousands of rose cultivars, there are options to suit almost any garden.
Those in cooler zones may struggle to protect their warm-season roses over winter, or your season may be cut far shorter than you like. Choose rose varieties that can handle intense cold to ensure they come back each year.
‘William Baffin’ is part of the Canadian Explorer Series, bred specifically to handle harsh Canadian winters. You can also try the award-winning ‘Thérèse Bugnet’ down to Zone 3 or the aptly named ‘Arctic Rose’ in Zone 2 and up.
Excessive heat is also a concern on the rise in recent years. High temperatures (above 85F) will limit flowering in many roses, stressing the plant. Warmer zones require heat-tolerant roses that will still flower as temperatures increase.
‘Dark Lady’ is one example, able to grow and flower prolifically in USDA zones 5-11. ‘Peter Pan’ is another option suitable for containers or small gardens thanks to its compact height. A personal favorite is ‘Koko Loko’ for its unique cream-pink color.
Check the USDA zone of any rose before you purchase and plant it to ensure it will thrive in your garden.
Buying new roses is both exciting and exhausting. With so many stunning varieties, it’s so easy to get carried away and purchase more than you bargained for.
I’ve fallen victim to the allure of rose shopping many times. Heading into the nursery with a plan of which varieties I wanted after plenty of research, I walked out with a few more than expected. They were so pretty; I had to have them.
Unfortunately, if you’re new to growing roses, this makes life a little more complicated. You need to understand each type’s preferred conditions and growth habits and ensure you can keep them all happy.
Many gardeners will understand the urge to pack the garden with new and exciting plants, but this can become overwhelming and usually leads to inadequate care or worse – a few dead plants. The same goes for roses.
Rather than planting an expansive rose garden all at once, try growing a couple of varieties first as a beginner. Once you understand their quirks, you can quickly expand your collection without loss.
Plant At The Right Time
For a strong first season, your roses must be planted at the right time. Luckily for beginners, the planting window is quite large, giving you plenty of time to get your new plants in the ground.
The right time to plant will depend on whether you’ve purchased potted or bare-root roses.
Potted roses are available throughout the year and, by extension, can be planted throughout the year. But there are still windows of time that provide better results in the first season than others.
Planting potted roses in fall or early spring is generally recommended to give the roots time to establish before flowering. You can plant in late spring or even in the early summer, but the plant will have to focus on rooting at this time, limiting the amount of flowers you’ll see in the first season.
If you live in an area with mild winters where the ground does not freeze, you can also plant in winter, but the roots will take slightly longer to establish than they would when planting in fall.
Bare-root roses are available in cooler seasons and are best planted in winter or early spring. You need to plant bare-root roses soon after purchasing, so wait until after your last frost when the ground is easy to work before purchasing.
Choose A Spot In Full Sun
Before planting, you must choose the perfect location for your new rose plants. To boost growth, flowering, and overall plant health, this perfect location starts with full sun.
Many roses can grow successfully in partial shade. ‘Iceberg,’ ‘Golden Unicorn,’ and ‘Marc Chagall’ are just a few examples. However, these roses are considered the exceptions. On average, most varieties need full sun to grow and flower successfully.
Practically, this means planting in a spot that receives a minimum of six hours of direct sun per day. Closer to eight hours will deliver the most vigorous growth. But if you live in a warm climate with intense afternoon sun in summer, closer to six hours with a bit of afternoon shade is preferred.
If the only available areas for planting receive less than full sun, choose shade-tolerant varieties and be prepared for fewer blooms each season.
Prepare Your Roses Correctly
The rose type you purchase will also impact the preparation required. The process for planting potted roses is the same as any other potted plant. However, if you’ve purchased bare-root roses, there are a few steps to complete before you get them in the ground.
Your bare-root roses will come in a wrap that needs to be removed. Trim any areas of black or brittle growth with a sharp and disinfected pair of shears and remove roots that look damaged or diseased.
Finally, immerse the roots in water for at least two hours before planting, up to 12 hours at the uppermost limit. This rehydration is necessary to encourage the plant to kickstart root growth again, ready to be planted in the ground.
You won’t need to do much to potted roses besides perhaps teasing any roots wrapped around each other to release them.
Be careful when transplanting roses purchased in mid to late spring – the roots will be fragile and may easily rip off with sections of loose soil. Keep the entire root ball intact, or wait a while for the roots to strengthen before transplanting.
Plant In The Right Soil
Despite their reputation, roses are not too fussy about their soil. However, they require certain conditions to grow successfully and continue flowering season after season.
Firstly, the soil needs to be well-draining. Although roses appreciate moisture, most varieties prefer soil to remain on the dry side rather than wet and soggy. Clay soils must be amended with compost to improve drainage for strong root health.
Secondly, the soil should be nutrient-rich. Again, compost will be a huge help here. Roses may not be considered ‘heavy feeders,’ but they will struggle if your soil is deficient in nutrients. You can also add a specialized rose fertilizer to the soil before planting if your soil is nutrient-deficient. Otherwise, compost is all you need before planting.
Regarding pH, roses aren’t too fussed as long as there are no extremes. Slightly acidic soil is preferred, but you don’t need to worry about amending unless it is extremely acidic or alkaline.
Space Plants Correctly
Rose spacing may seem like a somewhat insignificant concern. However, spacing has a massive impact on the health of your plants from early on.
Roses generally don’t like competition. The roots need space to expand without fighting with nearby plants for room, moisture, and nutrients. Root stress will limit leaf and stem growth and can also negatively impact flowering.
Lack of space can also cause problems above the soil. When planted too close together, dense leaf growth limits airflow. Lack of airflow and overlapping leaves encourage issues with diseases like powdery mildew.
Canes brushing together can also cause physical damage that impacts health, inviting pests and diseases to settle in.
Most roses need a minimum of two feet of space between each plant. Aim for around three feet, adjusting based on the mature size of your variety. Compact and miniature varieties can be planted slightly closer together.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Soon after planting, add a layer of organic mulch around your rose bushes. Straw, wood chips, or even compost are great mulch options with many benefits.
Maintaining moisture levels is one of the primary benefits, especially soon after planting. Roses need consistently moist soil (but not soggy) to develop strong roots after planting. Mulch helps limit evaporation and keeps moisture around for much longer, limiting your need for water.
Mulch also regulates soil temperatures and helps keep weeds down. This isn’t only helpful after planting but throughout the year, which is why it’s essential to replenish your mulch layer regularly. The few minutes it takes is far shorter than the hours you would spend weeding without it.
When mulching in spring and summer, be careful that the mulch layer does not touch the base of the plant. Soggy mulch in this area can potentially lead to rot, killing off the rest of the plant. Aim for a mulch layer around three or four inches thick for the best results.
Roses require regular watering to look their best. This usually means watering around once or twice per week, depending on your region’s season and climate. Newly planted roses will also need water more often to establish roots, with watering slowing down after a few months.
How you water has just as much impact on the plant’s health as how often you water. Roses require deep watering to reach the roots lower down in the soil and to encourage them to grow deeper. Deeper roots translate to a more drought-tolerant plant able to handle longer periods without moisture.
Regular but shallow watering will not satisfy the roots and can make the plant unstable once it is mature. Rather, water deeply and slowly but less often, saving time and improving root growth simultaneously.
It’s also essential to focus the stream of water on the soil and not the leaves. Wet foliage provides the ideal environment for fungal growth and diseases like black spot, increasing your chances of disease.
Deadheading roses regularly is a great way to extend your flowering season while keeping the plant tidy. This involves snipping off flowers as they fade (or slightly sooner if you want to bring them indoors as cut flowers).
Removing fading flowers isn’t only done to improve aesthetics. Deadheading encourages the plant to produce more flowers rather than using its energy to produce hips. The production of hips also signals the end of the flowering season, so you can slightly extend blooming time by trimming early.
Fading rose blooms also become a target for pests or diseases, especially after rain, when petals can become soggy. Regular trimming keeps your rose productive and looking its best.
Whenever you deadhead, ensure your pruning shears are sharp and clean to avoid spreading disease. Cut just above leaf growth to allow a few flower stems to grow.
You can stop deadheading around six weeks before the predicted first frost in the fall. This will slow flowering and lead to the development of hips, signaling the plant that it’s time to slow down in preparation for winter.
Look Out For Pests
Roses are quite tough when it comes to pests. But if you want to avoid long-lasting damage, there are a few concerning bugs to look out for. Removing these as soon as possible will limit stress, helping your roses bounce back quickly.
Aphids are incredibly common, often found congregating around buds. You can spray these pests off with a strong jet of water or, if there are only a few, pick them off and squish them by hand. Planting trap crops can also lure these bugs away from your roses.
Spider mites are another concern identified by the webs they leave behind. These pests are usually found on the underside of leaves, so inspect your plants carefully when checking for bugs. You can spray them off with water or use specialized rose products to target mites.
Larger pests like sawfly larvae are much easier to spot, leaving large holes in your rose foliage. They can be picked off by hand, or you can encourage birds into your garden to solve the problem for you.
Fungal diseases are quite common in roses, so don’t panic when you spot a problem. Although there are more serious diseases to watch out for, the two most common problems are black spot and powdery mildew.
Black spot is a fungal disease that’s easy to spot based on the name. Roses develop black spots on leaves that may also start to yellow and die back. Rose growers are incredibly familiar with black spot, controlled by pruning and preventatively spraying your plants.
Powdery mildew causes a white powdery film to develop on rose leaves and stems. This issue is often caused by overhead watering or high humidity levels. While it’s not instantly fatal, the lack of photosynthesis can impact overall rose growth, and the issue may spread to other plants in your garden.
Pruning and avoiding overhead watering are essential in preventing disease. Also, plant disease-resistant rose varieties to avoid more harmful problems.
Don’t Be Scared Of Pruning
Early in my gardening career, rose growers warned me many times about pruning. The hype surrounding this task is huge, often making beginner rose growers far more nervous than they need to be.
Pruning is an important maintenance task, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as the fanfare makes it seem. A simple trim to boost plant growth is all you really need without worrying too much about exact pruning angles and complicated steps.
Grab a pair of sharp and clean shears to trim your roses back in early spring. Trim any damaged canes or sections crossing over one another to improve airflow and limit damage. They should face outward rather than inward toward the center of the plant.
Throughout the season, trim damaged or diseased growth to limit spread, keeping cuts minimal. Finish off the season with a light prune in the fall to remove any potential diseases that may overwinter.
Don’t overthink the pruning process – roses are incredibly resilient.
Prep For Winter
Once you’ve enjoyed a summer flush of flowers on your brand-new roses, the last task for the season is to help them rest. Once temperatures start to drop, there are a few steps to complete to prepare your roses for winter.
Many steps involve slowing down on care tasks like watering, feeding, and deadheading. Fall is a time for growth to slow before frost hits. If you encourage new growth at this time, it is likely to die off when freezing temperatures arrive.
A late fall trim and a protective layer of mulch will help your roses manage winter weather. Also, clean up any falling leaves around the base to limit pest problems and stop diseases from overwintering.
Those in colder climates may need to further protect their roses from frost, depending on which variety you’re growing. By following these steps, you can be sure your roses will return even stronger the following spring.
Despite their reputation, roses are not difficult plants to grow. Following these easy care tips, you’ll become a rose-growing expert quickly!