How to Grow Roses
Rose is not only the most popular flower in the world, but it’s one of the oldest flowers in the history of cultivation. There are around 13,000 varieties of roses with an incredible range of colors and fragrances.
Roses, the symbols of beauty and love, grow in gardens as well as in the wild. Just like orchids, roses too crossbreed easily, a quality exploited first by nature and then by gardeners and horticulturists.
If a gardener wishes to grow roses in their garden, they are at liberty to choose one of the old-fashioned favorites or modern varieties that have resulted from the intensive breeding programs across the world. Thus, the rose is a plant that has a rich past, an enchanting present as well as a glorious future.
Updated: May 27, 2021.
Roses are erect, trailing or climbing shrubs. Their stems are often abundantly armed with thorns of various sizes and shapes. Their leaves are alternate and pinnately compound (feather-formed), normally with oval leaflets that are sharply serrated.
Wild roses usually have five petals, whereas cultivated roses have multiple sets of petals.
The size of the rose flower ranges from 0.5 inch (1.25cm) in diameter of the tiny miniatures to more than 7 inches (17.5cm) when measured across of the hybrid flowers.
Though not usually seen, rose plants have fruits too. These are actually floral cups and are fleshy, berry-like and sometimes edible. They are known as rose hips and their colors range from red to orange. These are rich in vitamin C.
Varieties of Roses
To grow roses successfully, it’s essential to choose varieties that can grow well in the grower’s region and carefully take measures to help roses thrive in every season.
However, finding a way through the hugely extended family of roses can be confusing. Musks, damasks, centifolias, gallicas, bourbons, hybrid teas, perpetuals, climbers and ramblers – the countless varieties of roses can confuse even the most eminent rosarians regarding which rose is which.
Here are a few popular varieties:
Yellow roses like “Harrison Yellow” bloom early, sweetly and brightly, and are cold hardy to Zone 4.
Pink roses like “Carefree Wonder” are seasoned shrub roses, cold hardy to Zone 5. Their height is 3 feet and they need only a little shaping in early spring.
These can be bright pink, lavender or white and extremely showy. They are excellent for hedges and wherever a barrier is needed for exposed and tough site. They are disease-resistant as well as cold hardy to Zone 3. Several are fragrant and have colorful hips too. “Jens Munk” blooms throughout most of the summer.
Flower Carpet Roses
These are fantastic for ground cover. Once established, they can produce even up to 2,000 flowers from spring until fall. They are absolutely drought-tolerant, low-maintenance and have outstanding disease resistance.
Hybrid Musk Roses
These grow 5-6 feet tall, has attractive foliage and clusters of several small to medium-sized flowers. “Buff Beauty” produces clusters of apricot-yellow fragrant blooms.
Another way to categorize roses is through their date of introduction.
Old Roses: These are also known as “old-fashioned roses” or “heirloom roses”. These are the varieties introduced before 1867. They are rich, invariably sweet-smelling roses seen often in the paintings of the old masters. There are hundreds of varieties of old roses with varying hardiness, thus they provide choices for warm as well as mild climates.
Modern Hybrid Roses: These were introduced after 1867, and are long-blooming, sturdy, extremely disease-resistant and hardy. They are cultivated for their colors, fragrances, shapes and sizes. One of the most popular among these is the hybrid tea rose which produces one large flower on a long stem.
Species or Wild Roses: These are the varieties that are growing wild for thousands of years. They are adapted to modern gardens and normally bloom from spring to early summer. Most of them have a single blossom.
While tracing the history of a specific rose can be an interesting adventure, it’s rarely an accurate science. The old roses have undergone crossbreeding so often and so many varieties have been lost to time that it’s usually impossible to find the exact parentage.
Planting the Roses
Getting Rose Gardening Supplies
Beside the potted or bare root plant itself, the grower will need some other supplies to start their rose garden.
These can be found in one’s local nursery or at online retailers. Some of them are:
Shovel and Spade: These are essential for digging holes while planting the roses.
Pruning Shears: Pruning roses is necessary to keep them healthy, promote blooming and maintain them in a pretty shape. Therefore, shears are important equipment for growing roses. One should get small curved-edge shears and bigger lopping shears.
Gardening Gloves: To protect oneself from thorns, one should wear thick gloves.
Fertilizer: Roses need to be fertilized a few times a season. Fertilizers particularly formulated for roses are available, but they are not strictly necessary.
Rose Planting Mix or Compost: Mixing this with the soil while planting the roses helps them grow.
Mulch: To help keep pests away and distribute more nutrients evenly to the roses, mulching rose beds is necessary. These can be peat nuggets, pine needles, wood chips, or another kind of mulch suited to the grower’s area.
Choosing Rose Varieties
Firstly the grower has to choose varieties. Among the thousands of rose varieties, the grower has to find ones that would grow better in their region. For this, they have to research their region, and then the roses that have qualities to appeal them, such as color, size, shape and fragrance.
Here are a few general categories of roses:
- Floribunda roses are the most colorful variety of roses. Plus each bush produces several blossoms, instead of only one on a stem
- Hybrid tea roses are colorful, beautifully shaped roses that are generally available in flower shops and bouquets
- Grandiflora roses are a cross between floribunda and hybrid tea roses and grow quite tall with multiple rose clusters on a stem
- Tree roses are a variety that has been grafted to a long stem, due to which they look like trees. They need a little more care than some other types of roses
- Shrub and landscape roses are pretty hardy, and resistant to diseases and pests. They are available in a plethora of colors, sizes and shapes
- Miniature roses are tiny and intricate, ideal to plant in a container
- Climber roses can be trained and stretched vine-like along walls and fences
Disease Resistant Roses
While thinking about roses, most aspiring growers visualize hybrid teas. However, being vulnerable to diseases, hybrid teas are perhaps the fussiest rose variety. If disease-resistant varieties are to be chosen, seasoned growers would choose old-fashioned and “landscape” roses.
Old-Fashioned Roses (Heirlooms)
Sometimes known as “old garden roses” or “heirloom”, old-fashioned roses are the precursors of today’s roses. Some of them date back even to the era of Roman Empire. They are characteristically fragrant and are a hardy and diverse group, well-matched for colder weathers. Heirlooms include bourbons, gallicas, albas, noisettes, rugosas, damasks and more.
Best Old-Fashioned Rose Varieties
Old garden roses are grown still today for a reason. They are absolutely healthy and hardy, and usually very fragrant. Some of them are:
- Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ (noisette, pearl pink, highly fragrant)
- Rosa ‘The Fairy’ (polyantha, pink)
- Rosa ‘Duchesse de Montebello’ (gallica, soft pink, fragrant)
- Rosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ (rugosa, white, highly fragrant)
- Rosa ‘Ballerina’ (hybrid musk, blush)
- Rosa ‘Apothecary’s Rose’ (gallica, light red, fragrant)
“Landscape” roses got their name due to their shrub form, due to which they are perfect for mass plantings that add a plethora of colors to the landscape. They have roots that grow along the ground and a strong horizontal growth habit.
They are also good for hedges and on steep slopes to prevent erosion.
Best Landscape Rose Varieties
Landscape roses are often neglected in comparison to hybrid teas; but actually they can make a perfect addition to a garden since they tend to bloom all through the growing season.
- Rosa ‘White Out’ (white, dark green foliage, bushy habit)
- Rosa ‘Fire Meidiland’ (red, glossy foliage, low-growing)
- Rosa x ‘Noamel’ (pastel pink, glossy green foliage, groundcover)
- Rosa ‘Carefree Spirit’ (red, glossy foliage, bushy habit)
- Rosa ‘Carefree Celebration’ (pink-orange, bushy habit)
Once the grower decides which type of roses they would want to plant, they should decide in what form they want to buy them. They can buy potted or bare root roses. Bare roots are the roses’ roots that are directly planted in the ground. Or they can even buy young roses that are already planted in a pot and then transplant them to the ground or another pot.
Either of these can be bought from a nursery. If the grower wants to grow rare rose varieties, they should buy them online.
Bare-root roses don’t have soil around their roots and are packed to avoid the drying out of roots. These are generally good quality, with a wider root spread than potted plants. They must be planted as immediately as possible after they are received. But if the ground is not ready for planting, they should be unpacked and placed in a pot of slightly damp compost and then planted as soon as soil is ready.
Bare-root roses should be planted in late autumn at leaf fall and between late winter and early spring, before growth resumes. Planting in the middle of the winter should be avoided when the ground is frozen. If planted in early spring, they get enough time to develop roots before sprouting many weeks later when the weather warms up.
Bare-root roses should be soaked in a bucket of warm water overnight and then should be planted as described below.
Potted roses are plants that have been grown in pots for an entire growing season or longer. They may be expensive but available all through the year, so can be planted anytime in the year, provided the ground is neither very dry nor frozen. For growers who are south of the line, potted roses are the best choice, since their ground and air temperatures are warmer.
They can be brought in during the winter and then kept outside in the spring. They should be planted as described below.
Finding the Planting Spot
The spot where grower will plant roses should get good sunlight at least for 6 hours per day. The spot should not be crowded with the branches or roots of other plants and trees. The soil should be loose and with good drainage. If there is a lot of clay, it should be loosened and added gypsum pellets before planting.
Roses grow best when the soil pH is between 6.3 and 6.8.
To find if a spot has a good drainage, the grower can walk around it after a significant amount of soaking rain. If the soil is moist, but not waterlogged, it must be fine. If there are large mud spots or puddles, the grower has to find another site or work on this one to make it more favorable for growing roses.
Preparing Roses for Planting by Watering Them
If the grower is planting bare roots, the plants should be soaked in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting. If the grower has bought a potted plant, it should be thoroughly watered before preparing the planting bed.
Making a Large Hole
Each rose bush will need one hole. With a garden spade or shovel, the grower should dig a hole 18 inches (45.7cm) wide and 18 inches (45.7cm) deep. This doesn’t need to be exact, but this measurement is suitable to most roses.
The soil removed while digging the hole should be mixed with compost and some of it should be used to create a small mound at the base of the hole. Some rose fertilizer or bone meal should be added.
It’s a good idea to mix cinnamon to the growing media because cinnamon is a great natural fungicide. If several rose plants are to be planted, ample space of several feet should be left in between two plants, so that roots get the required room to grow and stretch.
Planting the Roses
Now the bare root or potted rose should be placed on top of the mound. The hole should be filled with soil using a shovel. The bud union of the plant should be located around 2 inches (5.1 cm) below the surface of the ground. If the grower lives in colder regions, roses should be planted still deeper so as to protect them from the cold.
While planting a potted rose, the soil around its roots should be loosened to expose them before planting in the hole.
After planting, the soil should be made firm around the roots by pressing it down with hands and any air pockets should be removed.
Generously watering the area where rose has been planted helps compact the soil against the roots, which stabilizes the plant. It should be ensured that it’s getting a good soaking immediately after planting is finished.
More watering is needed for roses growing in sandy soils than if the soils are heavier clay. Dry, hot and windy conditions too burn roses soon. How the grower waters is as important as how often they water. Making use of a soaker hose is a good idea because it delivers water straight to the roots and avoids wetting leaves.
To ensure a healthy rose plant, it should be given an equivalent of 1 inch of rainfall per week during the growing season. Watering should be done at the soil level to save foliage from getting wet since wet foliage promotes disease like powdery mildew and black spot.
Mulch should be placed over the area where rose has been planted. If a potted bush is planted, the mulch should be placed around the stem. This helps to keep temperature consistent and protects roses during early growth stages.
Growing Roses Indoors
Roses can also be grown in a greenhouse. For this, containers are required and they should be at least 9 inches (22.9cm) wide. 1-2 (2.5-5.1cm) inches of small pebbles should be spread at the bottom of each pot to ensure good drainage. Then half the pot should be filled with well-drained soil. Now the rose should be planted just beyond the graft point and should be watered well.
The containers should be placed in a sunny spot in the greenhouse and should be arranged in such a way that roses won’t shade each other out. They should get at least 6 hours of direct sun every day.
The plants should be pruned severely after planting. Each branch should be trimmed around 3 inches (8cm) back from the main stem.
The plant should be watered in such a way that the soil would stay somewhat moist. However, water should not touch the stem or leaves. The containers should be mulched with a 2-inch layer to retain the soil’s moisture and plants should be fertilized every two weeks once new growth starts with water-soluble rose food.
The greenhouse temperature should be kept at about 60°F during the day and 40°F at night for optimal growth.
Caring for Roses
What the Variety Needs
The needs of every rose variety may be different. So, the grower should be aware of what their particular variety needs. How the grower cares for their roses decides the plant’s growth.
For example, some varieties like Lady Hillingdon and William Baffin climbing roses are more drought resistant, while others need high amount of water. Some varieties can tolerate less sunlight than others. The pruning method also differs between varieties and area’s climate.
Grower should read about the needs of their particular variety in terms of care. For example, a hybrid tea rose needs to be pruned back much more severely than a floribunda whereas old garden roses need only moderate grooming.
Watering in Summer
Roses should be watered often in the summer. In general, roses need ample water to grow healthy. A little lemonade can be mixed with the water on sunny days. The soil should never be let dry out. When it seems dusty, it should be given deep watering. When the plant is established, depending upon one’s region, this should be done around once a week.
After roses are established, they should be fertilized a few times per growing season. Organic or inorganic granule or liquid fertilizer should be used when first few leaves sprout. However, artificial liquid fertilizers tend to induce soft and tender plant growth which attracts aphids and other pests. Hence, natural fertilizers or compost is recommended.
It should be used again after the first bloom and again if there is another bloom. Rose gardeners recommend Kelp liquid fertilizer and bone-meal. Whichever fertilizer is used, the grower should make sure it contains sufficient quantity of Potassium, Phosphorus and Nitrogen. But at the end of the summer, fertilizing should be stopped, i.e. just before the Labor Day.
- Slow-release fertilizers need not be applied as often.
- Over-fertilizing roses can cause diseases.
- Goat, cow or manure made from kitchen waste helps roses grow better.
From April to July, a balanced granular fertilizer (5-10-5 or 5-10-10) can be applied once a month. ¾ to 1 cup should be used for each bush and it should be sprinkled around the drip line and not against the stem.
In May and Jun, an additional tablespoon of Epsom salt can be added along with the fertilizer. The magnesium sulfate works well to trigger new growth from plant’s bottom.
Banana peels are also an excellent source of sulfur, calcium, phosphates and magnesium, in short, everything roses like. It should be kept in mind that roses will take longer to reap the benefits from banana peels than they would with soil amendments. Banana peels can be added to the plant in three ways:
1. Laying a strip of the peel at the base of the bush
2. Chopping up the peels and letting them to sit in a sealed jar of water for two weeks and pouring the mixture under the bush
3. Burying black, mushy bananas near each bush
How to Prune the Rose?
Roses should be essentially pruned to make them look beautiful and keep healthy. The goal should be to clear away packed areas to open up the bush, which will help prevent diseases and rotting.
Pruning should not be done in autumn. Too hard pruning in autumn can damage the plant beyond recovery. Neither should they be pruned or moved in summer since they may die in the heat. So, grower should wait till spring when the plant starts to leaf out for new season.
Note: Roses are usually not the first in the garden to respond to the warming temperatures of spring, so, one has to be patient.
Pruning method should be different depending upon the season, but the cut made is always the same: pruning should be done just above bud eyes, the spots from where branches arise.
Bud eyes look like small round swells and are normally located above a set of mature leaves. A down-slanted cut should be made on an outward-facing bud eye.
It’s very difficult to over-prune a rose, because new growth is always pointed towards the next nearest bud eye. A grower should remember this while choosing bud eyes to prune, as the shape of the rose bush is affected by this.
It should be kept in mind that it’s important to prune considering the opening of the growth of bush up to facilitate air circulation.
Dead canes should be trimmed away in late winter or early spring. Rootstock, which is also known as suckers, should be cut away. These are smaller offshoots of the main plant sucking the nutrients away from the main plant. About 8 canes should be left, which should be trimmed back to 1/3rd of their height. A healthy growth will be promoted by this with warming up of the weather.
Deadheads, which are dead blooms, should be removed with the start of the summer. This will stimulate new blooms to grow. If the grower’s rose bushes are “self-cleaning”, i.e. if they don’t develop rose hips, deadheading is not required because the blooms will automatically drop off and plants will go on producing more flowers. Any debris around the bush should be removed because it can harbor insects and diseases.
Deadheading should be stopped 3-4 weeks before the first harsh frost. This is required to avoid new growths at a time when they may be damaged by the cold.
Actually, pruning is not the same for all roses. But it doesn’t need to be complicated. Still, it’s important to apply correct technique for the specific type of roses the grower has.
Pruning Hybrid and Floribunda Roses
These roses bloom more than once in every season and usually bloom on new wood.
They need to be given a good cutting back and clearing out in late winter or early spring before they could begin branching and greening up. During the blooming time of the plants, all dead wood, lanky growth and crossing canes should be removed.
Then everything else should be shaped and pruned back, depending upon the nature and size of the variety and style of the garden.
Old wood should be cut back around 30%-40% before the growth starts. Grower should always cut to a live bud turned away from the shrub’s center to promote outward growth. After the first flush of flower, deadheading should be started and continued all through the summer to trigger more blooms.
Pruning Old Roses, Species Roses and Once-Blooming Shrub Roses
These more primitive types of roses are typically hardier than other roses and first bloom on old wood in the mid-summer; re-bloomers repeat on the present season’s growth.
All diseased, dead or broken branches should be removed in early spring. After flowering, the grower should prune lightly and selectively to control growth and shape the bushes.
Pruning Rambling and Climbing Roses
These types tend to bloom on old wood. It’s a good idea to remove branches killed in winter or damaged wood due to some other reasons, early in the year; but annual pruning should be deferred till summer, after the peak bloom. Undesirable canes should be removed by pruning and growth should be shaped and trained. Typically side branches flower more vigorously than central leaders.
General Tips for Pruning Roses
- Thick gloves and long-sleeve shirts should be worn while pruning roses to save oneself from the deadly thorns.
- Also, safety goggles should be worn because branches can unexpectedly whip back.
- Smaller growths should be pruned with pruning shears while for growth more than half an inch thick, long-handle shears should be used.
- Hand pruners can do the job of deadheading and trimming thin canes; but for bigger canes, a small hand-saw or loppers may be required.
- Pruning tools should be sharp and clean. If they were earlier used to prune a diseased plant, a quick wipe down with rubbing alcohol should be given to sterilize.
- Stems should always be cut at a 45-degree angle just above (minimum ¼ inch) an outward-facing bud.
Winterization of Roses
Roses should not be pruned in the fall. Any diseased or dead canes should only be cut off.
Rose beds should be cleaned up to prevent overwintering of diseases. One final spray of a dormant spray for fungus is a good idea.
Fertilizing should be stopped 6 weeks before the first fall frost but watering should be continued during the dry fall climate to maintain the health of plants during a dry winter.
After a few frosts but before the ground freezes, compost or mulch should be added. Where temperatures remain below freezing in winters, the plant should be enclosed with a strong mesh cylinder, and the enclosure should be filled with mulch, pine needles, compost, chopped leaves or dry wood chips. Maple leaves should not be used as mulch since they can encourage mold growth.
If left tall, roses may be damaged by frosts and heavy winds during the winter. So, canes must be trimmed down to 2 feet (0.6m). They should be tied together with twine to protect them from severe weather. A mound of compost should be heaped around the base of the bush, which should then be topped with a layer of straw. The compost mound should be removed as the weather warms up to more than 51°F.
Common Rose Pests
Good gardening practices like removing dead canes and leaves, help reduce pests. Still, if problems start, insecticidal soap and horticultural oil can help control mildews and insects.
Spider mites and aphids should be sprayed off with water. These two are pretty common among most rose varieties. The most effective way to shoo them away is to use water. Whenever they are seen, they should be sprayed away using a hose. Providing adequate water to roses also helps reduce the incidences of pest infestation.
Insecticides should be used sparingly because they can harm roses and other plants in the garden, and along with killing harmful insects, they can kill useful insects too.
Leaves that look dried-up or discolored should be removed.
If mites don’t go away, a solution of soap and water should be sprayed on rose leaves once a week.
Natural rosemary oil pesticide can be sprayed on leaves. It is useful to deter mites without harming beneficial insects.
Common Rose Diseases
Roses should be protected from powdery mildew and black spot. The best way is to choose varieties such as knockout roses that are resistant to these common diseases.
Powdery mildew usually occurs during the summer, particularly when the days are dry and hot and nights are wet and cool. Signs of this disease include curling and twisting leaves with a white powder developing on them. To avoid this, watering should be done at ground level in the morning, because wet leaves, especially left wet overnight, offer a perfect thriving environment for the fungus. Pruning is also good to prevent powdery mildew because it allows air to circulate through the leaves and prevents the powdery growth.
This is a gray fungus that causes the flower buds to stay closed, droop or turn brown. All infected blossoms should be pruned and any dead material should be removed. Application of fungicides may be necessary.
Black spot is also a waterborne fungal disease on roses which occurs in the form of circular brown or black spots on the upper surface of leaves, beginning at the bottom of the plant and progressing upwards, consequently leading to defoliation.
This disease too can be prevented by improving air circulation through the plant and watering at ground level. A combination of horticultural oil and baking soda can help prevent black spot from spreading.
Roses can also be protected by using a fungicide at the start of the season. One’s local nursery is the best place to inquire about how to protect roses from these diseases in one’s region.
Other Common Problems
No Production of Roses
If one’s rose plant is growing tall but isn’t producing any roses, rose plant food mixed with a tablespoon of salt and milk should be used.
Yellowing of leaves shows a deficiency of iron. To overcome this, a liquid iron fertilizer for roses should be applied periodically.
Unusual Tips for Growing Roses
- 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts scratched in the soil around a rose intensify the flower color.
- Used tea leaves and coffee grounds should be dumped around rose bushes. Both are useful to acidify the soil slightly which is good for roses.
- Lavender should be planted at the base of the rose plants if there is a problem of deer in the grower’s area. Deer are attracted towards rose fragrance, but the fragrance is covered by lavender.
- Rabbit food can be used as a fertilizer for roses. It is made from alfalfa meal which provides nitrogen, a growth stimulant, and trace elements to roses. ½ cup of pellets should be added around each plant and the plant should be watered well.
Showing Roses Off
If roses are harvested, some tricks can keep the freshly harvested roses fresh for a longer time. Here are some:
- Roses last the longest when cut immediately after the bud stage, just when petals are beginning to open
- Garden scissors or hand pruners with sharp blades should be used to cut stems without harming their water uptake channels
- Roses should be cut when they are dewy fresh and hydrated, i.e. either early in the morning or in the evening. This will protect the plant from being stressed from sun exposure and hot weather.
- Rose stems should be recut before placing them in a vase to remove any air bubbles that will stop them from soaking water. Also, the stems should be cut at a 45-degreen angle to prevent them from resting flat on the bottom of the vase.
- Any lower leaves that will fall below the water level should be stripped off to avoid rot and bacterial growth. As much foliage as possible should be left above the water level because it will draw up water.
- Water in the vase should be changed often, if possible, daily, to eliminate any bacterial growth. Also flower stems should be recut every few days to enhance water absorption.
Medicinal Uses of Roses
- Rose water can be splashed on face for refreshing the skin. A few rose petals can be added to boiling water and steam can be taken – warm and not hot. After ten minutes, face should be rinsed with cool water and then blot dried.
- Roses are edible. Tea can be made by brewing rose petals. Rose petals can even be used in gargles and tonics to treat sore throats, congestion and stomach upsets.
- Jellies, jams, pies, teas, syrups and wine can be made with the reddish-orange tart hips of rugosa roses.
- Rose petals can be candied to decorate cakes, distilled to make rose water or tossed in salads for color. However, it should be made sure that the petals used for edible purposes are pesticide-free.
A gardener can certainly feel proud by having roses in the garden with the amazing variety of colors and fragrances created by roses.
Having a tidy and neat lawn is great, but without the roses, it is 'just' a green carpet - ask any rose gardener :)