A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Roses in Your Garden
Think you need to be a grandma with a green thumb to grow beautiful roses? Armed with a few tips, anyone can grow these gorgeous perennials. In this guide, we’ll share essential advice so that even beginner gardeners can grow epic roses!
If you’ve always thought roses were too complicated for you, we’re here to help! With some foundational knowledge, roses are just as easy to care for as the other perennials in your garden. In fact, you might already be growing some members of the rose family. Blackberries, apples, and apricots (and about 4,000 others) are all classified as Rosaceae.
Roses are unbeatable for beauty, large blooms, fragrance, and repeat flowering. They have a history of cultivation going back to China over 5,000 years ago, though fossil records indicate roses have been around for millions of years. Over the centuries they’ve been used for medicines, perfumes, and even currency!
Love roses but have been too intimidated to plant them? Keep reading for tips on varieties, planting, and care to get you growing the queen of flowers.
First, Pick the Right Rose
There are over 30,000 varieties of roses to choose from. Which will grow best for you?
Make sure that the rose you select fits your space and conditions. Start by checking your USDA hardiness zone to ensure a rose can handle your area’s coldest temps before you plant. Some roses are rated highly for drought, while others will tolerate high heat and humidity.
Let’s take a look at some popular rose types.
If you’ve received a rose bouquet from the florist, it likely contained hybrid tea blooms. Hybrid teas are what many think of when they picture a rose. Hybrid tea roses:
- Have large, swirled blooms on long graceful stems, perfect for cutting
- Range from 3-8 feet tall
- Can be lightly fragrant to strong and fruity
- Bloom in cycles throughout the season
- Are fussier and more susceptible to disease and winter damage than other types
Try ‘Black Pearl,’ a hybrid tea with dark, velvety red blooms and delicious fragrance.
Compact and bushy, floribundas are crosses between hybrid teas and tough polyantha roses. Floribundas:
- Grow to about three feet tall.
- Are prolific bloomers
- Flower in clusters
- Are more disease-resistant and winter-hardy than hybrid teas
Try ‘Julia Child, ’ a gorgeous buttery-yellow floribunda.
- Repeat flower all summer
- Are generally 4-7 ft. tall
- Have large blooms and shorter stems
- Range in fragrance and color, including bright colors
Try ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ a stately grandiflora with soft pink waved petals.
Shrub roses are not a specific class but rather a name often used to refer to varieties that work as low-maintenance shrubs. They’re frequently used as landscape design elements. Shrub roses range from low-growing polyanthas to large Knock Out hedges. Shrub Roses to try:
- ‘The Fairy,’ a bullet-proof pink polyantha rose that stays under 4 feet.
- ‘Easy on the Eyes,’ a multicolored single-petaled rose hardy down to zone 4.
- ‘Carefree Beauty,’ a vigorous disease-resistant double rose great for hedging.
Miniature roses are versatile and great for growing in pots and compact spaces. Minis:
- Usually stay under 2 feet tall
- Come in nearly every color and bloom form
- Are just as hardy as larger roses
Try ‘Life’s Little Pleasures’ with perfectly-formed lavender blooms.
Climbing roses come in many different varieties and are a great way to maximize your space by growing vertically. They send out long canes that can be trained to grow beautifully over a trellis or arbor. Roses don’t produce attaching tendrils like other climbing plants and need your help to secure their canes to a vertical support. Climbers to try:
- ‘Cécile Brunner,’ a 10-foot climber with lots of small, fluffy pink blooms.
- ‘Polka,’ with heavily-scented large apricot blooms
- ‘Lady Banks,’ a spring-blooming giant climber (15-20 ft. tall) with yellow or white pompon flowers and thornless canes.
While these varieties are the most popular, don’t overlook Old Garden roses, species (wild) roses, noisettes, ramblers, and rugosas. The world of roses is vast, and you might find an unusual variety perfect for your yard!
Own-root or Grafted?
Grafted roses are the most commonly available. These are made by grafting a desirable rose to a different, more vigorous rootstock.
While they generally do well, they can sometimes send out canes (called suckers) from the rootstock, which will look different from the rose you bought. Grafted varieties are more susceptible to winter dieback.
If you live in a cold climate, seeking out own-root roses is worthwhile. Own-root roses are genetically the same, from roots to flowers. Though they can be slower to establish, they’re more likely to survive a harsh winter and will guarantee that the rose only produces the flowers you purchased.
Both types of roses can be purchased from a local nursery.
The ideal time to plant a rose is in spring or fall when temperatures are between 40-60℉. You can plant roses in the heat of summer, but water them more often and provide some temporary shade so they don’t go into shock as they transition to a new site.
- Pick a spot that gets 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Space each rose 2-3 feet apart, and dig a hole large enough to accommodate the plant’s rootball (at least as deep as the container it came in).
- Place the rose in the hole and backfill with a mixture of compost and your native soil, covering the roots up to the bud union (knuckle-like graft point or knob between roots and canes).
- Water deeply.
- Top off with a couple of inches of mulch to stabilize soil temperature, cut down on weeds, and retain moisture.
Now your rose is planted! Here are some tips for optimal watering, fertilization, and pruning to keep it looking great.
Check newly planted roses and those growing in hot weather (above 85℉) daily to determine when to water. They may need it 3-4 times per week or even daily until they mature. For all roses, avoid overwatering with the knuckle test. Stick your finger knuckle deep in the soil; water again if it’s dry at that level.
For newly planted baby roses, compost is all you need. You can provide some bone meal or mycorrhizal fungi at planting time or mixed into the soil afterward. Avoid synthetic fertilizers for new roses. They contain high amounts of nitrogen that can burn young roots.
After the first season, promote new growth and lots of blooms by fertilizing 3 times a year: when roses leaf out in early spring, after the first flush of blooms, and in midsummer. Some growers like to up the ante by applying an organic fertilizer every 2-4 weeks.
Stop fertilizing 6-8 weeks before the last frost to encourage roses to go dormant for winter.
Pruning is usually the most feared task for new rose growers, so keep it simple. There’s no need to prune your rose in the first 3 years (especially if it’s a climber). The main task is to remove anything dead, dying, or diseased to revitalize your rose and encourage it to focus on new growth.
- Prune in early spring (after your last hard frost) when roses are just beginning to wake up, and new leaf nodes are swelling.
- Use sharp, clean bypass pruners and sanitize them between plants to avoid the spread of disease.
- Cut back any dead or sickly canes to where you see healthy, green growth.
- Clear out any canes that face toward the interior of the plant, clearing crossing canes in the center that disrupt airflow.
- Aim to prune just above an outward-facing bud eye (growth node). This encourages canes to grow outward and keeps the center free of congestion.
- Give roses another look in fall cut out anything sickly so diseases don’t overwinter.
- Clean up well! Pests and diseases can hang out in the soil or in fallen debris, so remove and dispose of your trimmings.
Roses are pretty resilient, but they are beloved by some pests. Here are some common ones you might encounter.
Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that show up to suck the juices from fresh spring growth. You’ll usually see them in large colonies.
Fortunately, they are dumb, slow, and easy to manage. Interplant your roses with companions like yarrow, marigolds, and ornamental alliums. These will attract their natural predators, like parasitic wasps and lacewings, and confuse the aphids by masking the smell of your roses.
If the beneficial bugs don’t take care of your infestation in a week or two, give the aphids a strong, direct spray from the hose. They can’t get back up easily. If you don’t mind the yuck factor, squish them with your fingers.
Spider mites are tiny little bugs most often found on the undersides of foliage. Though difficult to spot, it’s easy to identify their sticky white webs.
They cause stippled, brown leaves. Knock spider mites off with a strong spray from your hose and companion plant, just like you would for aphids.
Thrips are minuscule winged black or brown insects usually found inside rose blooms. They are the likely cause if you find brown or deformed buds that never open.
Snip off any visible infestations of thrips and let the predators do the rest. Thrips populations usually decline on their own in a few weeks. If not, you can spray your roses with organic neem oil in the evening, but do so only as a last resort, as it also harms beneficial bugs.
The larvae of the Sawfly (a type of wasp) are the main problem here. They look like little green caterpillars and like to munch on foliage, leaving behind irregular holes and tannish blotches. They sometimes skeletonize leaves completely.
For sawflies, manual removal is your best bet. Pick them off using gloves or tweezers, or spray them with the hose (remember the leaf undersides!). Birds and ladybugs will eat these guys if you avoid pesticides.
Fungal disease is the most common issue you’ll see pop up on your roses. While some cultivars can deal with rose rosette disease, the diseases you see below are the most common. The best preventative is to keep them healthy via good watering, pruning, and spacing.
Black spot is a common fungal disease that causes irregularly shaped black spots on leaves, often surrounded by a larger yellow circle. When canes are affected, they may develop rusty purple-brown splotches. It spreads via spores and loves moisture, so avoid overhead watering and prune for good airflow to prevent it.
Black spot can weaken but won’t kill your rose. There’s no need for alarm when you see it. Remove any affected leaves and clean up thoroughly so the spores don’t reinfect your plants. Remember that your rose doesn’t have to look perfect to be healthy.
Powdery mildew is another fungus that covers your plant in a white, powdery coating. It likes hot days, cool nights, and excess moisture.
Prevention is key: keep your roses in 6-8 hours of sun and water at the base of the plant in the morning, so roses can dry out during the day.
If you see powdery mildew, remove all severely infected parts of the plant and try this homemade solution: add one tablespoon of baking soda to one gallon of water and mix thoroughly. Spray roses, making sure to get every part of the plant, and repeat once a week as needed.
Roses are just garden plants like any other, so don’t stress over their care! Remember that 6-8 hours of sun, deep infrequent watering, basic pruning, and companion planting for pest management will keep them healthy.
Whether you go for a cute miniature rose in patio containers, a showstopping hedge, or a dramatic climber that wows the neighbors, you won’t regret adding roses to your garden. Keep these care basics in mind, and enjoy your roses!