How to grow Roses

Latin Name Pronunciation: roe'zuh  

Choosing a site. Roses grow best where they receive ample sunlight (at least 4-5 hours per day) and where the soil is well drained. They tolerate a range of soil types (from sand to clay), as long as care is taken to prepare the soil at planting time.

Planting. Before planting a bareroot Rose, remove and discard the packing material and soak the roots for a few hours. Then dig a planting hole that allows sufficient room for the depth and spread of the roots. Cart away about one third of the soil dug from the hole and replace it with at least as much organic matter—such as compost, aged manure, or leafmold—and mix it into the remaining soil. To promote root growth, work a handful of superphosphate (0-20-0) into the bottom of the planting hole. Next, set the plant in the hole so that the bud union (the bulge where the top was grafted onto the rootstock) or the point where the first branch leaves the main stem (on Roses that were not grafted) is fully 3in below the level of the surrounding soil. Fan the roots like spokes on a wheel. Then push the mix of soil and organic matter back into the hole, tamping firmly as you go. Finally, water thoroughly. A ring of soil 1ft in diameter mounded around the main stem will catch and hold water and channel it down to the roots.

Moisture needs. Newly planted Roses need the equivalent of 1in of water per week throughout their first growing season. If water doesn't fall from the sky, you must supply it. A generous layer of organic mulch (compost or composted manure is most beneficial) helps keep the soil evenly moist.

Fertilizing. Roses grow more vigorously, bloom more prolifically, and show greater resistance to diseases if fertilized several times during the growing season—in early spring (except the first spring after planting), immediately after the first wave of bloom, and again in early August. We prefer natural fertilizers such as fish emulsion or seaweed extract, applied in solution, because they release their nutrients more slowly and evenly than "chemical" fertilizers.

About pests and diseases. The Roses we offer were selected for their vigor and their resistance to pests and diseases. If planted and grown as we suggest, they will be healthy, and healthy plants are much less troubled than plants under stress. Even if a healthy plant does suffer at the hands of a pest or disease, it will likely endure the attack and recover without need of intervention on the part of the gardener.

Pruning. Prune Roses to remove dead wood and to control ungainly growth. Dead wood can be removed at any time; the timing of other pruning depends on the variety. Once-blooming Roses, such as Species, Climbing, and many Antique Roses, should be pruned just after they flower. Rebloomers should be pruned in early spring. (For tips on pruning Rose standards, see Growing Standards, below) With the exception of the Rugosas, remove the spent flowers of reblooming Roses to promote more bloom, cutting the stems back to the first large bud at the base of a set of 5 leaflets.

Overwintering. Much has been written about techniques for overwintering Roses. In our experience, the best way to get Roses through winter is to choose plants adapted to your climate zone. That said, if you garden on an exposed site or in an area where rapid temperature fluctuations are common, you should mound two shovelfuls of composted manure (sold in bags at garden centers) or garden soil over the base of the plant in late fall—ideally after the ground freezes. Pull the manure or soil away from the stem as new growth emerges in spring. Do not, as is often recommended, prune Roses back in fall; wait until spring to prune branches injured over winter. (For information on overwintering Rose standards, see Growing Standards, below.)

A STANDARD is a woody plant trained to a long, single stem. The stem is crowned with a round head of foliage and flowers. This arrangement is beautiful but also unnatural, requiring a bit of effort on the part of the gardener to prevent gravity and the repressed inclinations of the plant from undoing the horticulturist's handiwork.

Staking a standard. To keep your standard standing, put it out of reach of strong winds and support it with a stake that has a diameter at least as large as the stem and long enough that when plunged into the pot or the ground it just reaches inside the head. Fasten the standard to the stake at several points with garden twine or green plastic tie tape looped in a figure eight around stem and stake. Check the ties periodically during the growing season. Loosen them if they constrict the outward growth of the stem.

Pruning and fertilizing. Maintain the shape of the head with selective pinching of the new shoots (overzealous pinching will prevent the formation of flower buds). Pinch each shoot between thumb and forefinger or cut with pruning shears; do not shear the plant as though it were a hedge. Fertilize standards grown in pots as you would other container-grown plants.

Overwintering a standard. Most standards require special care to overwinter. The Abutilon, Fuchsia, Tibouchina, and Heliotropium standards are tender, and so must be brought indoors before frost.

Our Rosa 'The Fairy' standard, although quite cold-hardy in its natural form, needs winter protection where temperatures dip below 10°F. After frost induces it to go dormant, a standard in a container may be kept in an unheated basement or garage where temperatures range between 25° and 40°F. Check the soil mix occasionally for moisture, and water as needed.

A Rosa 'The Fairy' standard grown in the ground may be potted in fall and overwintered as above, or it may be laid on its side and buried in a shallow trench. Although the second technique sounds incredible, devoted standard growers in cold climates swear by it. Begin by pruning the stems in the head back to just 6-8in. Then dig a trench at the foot of the standard that is as long as the standard is tall and as deep as the diameter of the shorn head. With a spade, slice a circle 2ft in diameter around the base of the main stem to loosen the plant's hold on the soil. Tip the standard into the trench, fill the trench with soil (burying the plant), and mound additional soil above. In spring, unearth the plant and stand it back up for another season of beauty.

Email Sign Up

Subscribe to enjoy gardening advice, email offers & more