What Every Aspiring Rose Grower Should Know
Howard E. Jones, Consulting Rosarian
Tidewater Rose Society
Growing roses successfully does not
have to be difficult. However, some would-be growers of our National Flower are
scared off by the prevailing myth that “roses are hard to grow and not for the casual gardener”. Having said this, I must warn you that there are certain fundamental requirements and conditions that you
must know to be successful, in spite of the fact that roses are very forgiving and tolerant of our occasional neglect and
In the following article I would like
to briefly cover all of the essentials to good rose culture. It is impossible
in a short article to cover any of these topics in depth, as each could be the subject of a separate article.
I would suggest that the essentials
to successful rose growing are: Location, Planting, Feeding and Fertilizing,
Watering and Mulching, Disease and Insect Control, and Winter Protection. Keep
in mind that this article is intended to just head you in the right direction and to make you aware of the conditions and
practices that are basic to successful rose growing. Here goes…
Location for Beds
Roses need a minimum of 5 to 6 hours
of direct sun and more would be better. Morning sun is preferable, if you have
a choice, in order that the foliage will dry quickly from nighttime moisture (both heavy dews and rain).
Also, rose bushes require good drainage. They need lots of water but do not like their feet (roots) constantly standing in
Finally, it is helpful if your bushes
have some protection from the cold winter north winds but still have good air circulation.
Your house, a fence, or a hedge may supply that protection. You may not
have a “perfect” location since you have to work within the confines of your own yard. Just pick the best location possible.
Proper planting is extremely important
in getting your rose bushes off to a good start. Don’t just stick them
in a hastily dug hole in the ground.
First, you need to test the pH of the
soil where you are going to plant your roses. If it is not in the 6.0 to 6.8
range, adjust it by using agricultural limestone to raise the level and agricultural sulfur to lower the level.
Improve the water and air holding capacity
of your soil by adding organic matter (peat moss, compost, well-rotted horse manure, etc.) and Perlite, which is a permanent
soil condition and will not break down. I also like to add crushed pine bark
to this mixture.
It is best to prepare the bed in the
fall for spring planting, as this allows the bed to mellow out and settle. Even
when planting in a prepared bed, I dig individual holes that are approximately 22 inches wide and 20 inches deep for each
You should allow 30 to 36 inches between
bushes when planting Hybrid Tea roses in a bed. The bottom 10 or 12 inches of
the hole (probably mostly clay) should be discarded and amendments (organic matter and Perlite) thoroughly mixed with the
retained soil. You may need to bring in some topsoil if your soil is very poor. Also, raised beds can help where drainage is a problem.
Modern rose bushes need to be severely
pruned on an annual basis. This should be done when the bushes first start to
break dormancy in the late winter or early spring and new growth starts. This
will vary from year to year and for different weather zones and locations within the zone.
In Virginia Beach, our time for pruning is normally around the first of March.
Any dead canes and small twiggy growth
should be removed and the center of the bush opened up. If there are lots of
viable canes, they should be reduced to 5 or 6 of the strongest and newest canes, and these canes shortened to 15 to 24 inches
in length. The larger the diameter of the cane, the longer in height that you
can leave it.
Make sure the pith (interior) of the
cane is white or a greenish white; and if on your first cut the inside of the cane is tan or dark, continue to cut back until
you get good healthy wood. If you only have 3 or 4 healthy canes, that is sufficient
to get a bush off to a new start for the new season.
Don’t let your bush intimidate
you, and don’t be afraid that you will harm it if you cut back aggressively. Rose
bushes thrive on being pruned and this process stimulates new growth.
Feeding and Fertilizing
Roses are heavy feeders, particularly
modern roses that repeat bloom throughout the long growing season. They will
reward you with extra blooms and better quality if you have a feeding program.
They should be fertilized at least
once a month during the growing season. It does not have to be complicated. Using one of the water-soluble fertilizers (Peters, Magic-Gro, Rapid-Gro, etc.) according
to the directions, will work quite well; or, using a cup of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer per large bush will do the job.
Be sure to water before and after fertilizing
and don’t fertilize newly planted bushes until they start to bloom in order to avoid damage to new feeder roots.
It is not as important what you fertilize
with, as it is that you fertilize. Also, roses really like organic fertilizer,
so treat them with some fish emulsion, alfalfa meal or other organics.
Watering and Mulching
The most important single factor in
growing roses, as in growing other plants, is water. If you have good drainage,
either natural or man-made, it is unlikely that you will give them too much water.
Depending upon your soil, rose bushes
need at least one inch per week, and two inches would probably be better. I have
watered two inches one day and had a cloudburst the next day, which dropped an additional four inches of rain, and the bushes
seemed to thrive on it.
Water, water, water, but water heavy
one or twice a week rather than lightly more often. You need to get the water
deep in the root zone in order to encourage deep rather than shallow roots.
A mulch 2 to 3 inches deep around your
rose bushes will conserve water, keep the soil from crusting over, prevent run-off and keep the root zone cooler in hot weather
and warmer in cold weather. In addition, it will enhance the appearance of your
beds and roses.
I prefer pine bark mulch, but many
other materials are suitable. It is a personal and economic choice, and pine
straw, cedar bark, hardwood chips and peanut hulls also work well as a mulch.
Disease and Insect Control
Unfortunately, in most parts of the
country it is necessary to spray your rose bushes on a regular basis (every 7-10 days) to prevent and keep under control Blackspot
and Powdery Mildew.
Blackspot is the most damaging of the
common fungus diseases, in that it will defoliate a rose bush if not controlled. Funginex
and Daconil are two of the fungicides that give you good control of Blackspot.
If Powdery Mildew is a problem, Rubigan
and Systhane (Nova) are to effective fungicides.
You may also need to control certain
insects from time to time and Orthene is a good general insecticide.
Spider Mite control provides the biggest
challenge for me, and Spider Mites can only be controlled by a Miticide or using water under high pressure to wash the Spider
Mites off of the underside of the foliage. Avid is a very effective Miticide
and a combination of a water want to wash them off and spraying with Avid should give you good control of this menace that
can defoliate your bushes very quickly.
Be sure and wear protection clothing
and goggles when spraying.
Fortunately in our Hampton Roads area,
roses need little or no winter protection. After the first hard freeze, I cover
the bud union (the knot or bulge where the graft to the under stock took place) or lower part of the bush with 3 to 4 full
shovels of pine bark mulch.
Other types of mulching material or
soil can be used. In cooler areas you may have to use more elaborate methods
of protection. There are a number of techniques, but I will not attempt to discuss
them in this article. Just remember, the colder the weather, the more protection
your roses will need.
The most important factor in your bushes
surviving the winter is going into the winter strong and healthy.
All of the above information is just
to make you aware of the different components in good rose culture. As you become
a more experienced grower, you will add to your store of knowledge about the basics in rose growing. I won’t tell you that roses thrive on neglect, but they are very forgiving of the mistakes we make
and are amazingly tough. They are basically survivors. If you just follow through on the good cultural practices that are outlined in this article and make roses
a priority in your life, they will respond with blooms and foliage that you can take pride in.
Happy rose growing.