Rose Gardens 101

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To grow flourishing roses, learn the basics of rose gardening.
To grow flourishing roses, learn the basics of rose gardening. (Image: JillLang/iStock/Getty Images)

Planting Roses

Roses (Rosa spp.) range in hardiness from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 11, and their proper planting time varies from January and February for USDA zones 8 through 11 to May for USDA zones lower than 5. Plant roses on a day when the ground is damp, but not soggy, and the soil crumbles easily. The methods and timing for planting bare-root roses and container-grown roses differ somewhat.

Planting a Bare-Root Rose

Bare-root roses should be planted while they still are dormant during winter or spring.

Things You'll Need

  • Bucket
  • Tarp
  • Spade
  • Tape measure
  • Compost or composted manure
  • Bone meal or superphosphate
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Blood meal
  • Watering device

Step 1

Soak the roots of a bare-root rose in a bucket of lukewarm water for at least 12 hours. You may leave rose roots in the bucket for up to three days if you change the water at least once per day.

Step 2

Spread a tarp on the ground beside where you intend to dig a planting hole for a rose. Dig the hole, and pile the soil you remove onto the tarp. If you live in a USDA zone lower than 7, make the hole wide enough to contain all the roots of the rose -- when those roots are spread outward -- and deep enough so that the bud union will be buried 1 to 3 inches beneath the ground. If you live in USDA zone 7 or a higher zone, then make the hole only deep enough so that the bud union will be 1 to 1 1/2 inches above the ground.

Tip

  • The bud union on a rose is the knob or joint just below where the plant branches out. It is the point at which that plant was grafted onto the roots of a more vigorous rose plant. Roses that weren't grafted but instead were grown from cuttings or seeds are called own-root roses, and they don’t have that knob. They should be planted with about 1 inch of soil over their root crowns, which is where the plants' branches and roots meet.

Step 3

Replace about one-half of the soil on the tarp with compost or composted manure, and add other organic supplements to that mixture if you desire. Jill Barnard of the American Rose Society recommends working 1/2 cup of bone meal or superphosphate into the bottom of the planting hole. Mix another 1/2 cup of bone meal or superphosphate into the soil on the tarp, along with 1 cup of cottonseed meal and 1/2 cup of blood meal.

Step 4

Shovel some of the amended soil into the bottom of the planting hole to form a cone shape, and place the rose bush atop the cone, with its roots extending downward on all sides of the cone and its bud union at the proper depth below the soil surface of the ground surrounding the hole or at the proper height above the ground surrounding the hole. Add soil around the roots, packing the soil well. Water the soil when the hole is partially filled and again when you are finished filling the hole.

Step 5

Shovel a little moist soil or mulch onto the soil surface around the planted rose bush, covering the lower one-half of its branches, which are called canes. That extra soil or mulch will prevent the canes from drying out and protect them from late frosts. When leaf buds at the tops the canes have shoots about 2 inches long, wash away the excess soil or mulch from the bush's base with a gentle stream of water.

Planting a Container-Grown Rose

Because a container-grown rose should be leafed out before it is planted, wait until after your location's average annual last frost date to plant it. You may just water its soil rather than soak its roots, and leave that soil around the roots when you remove the bush from its nursery pot. Make a planting hole deep enough so you can add amended soil around and under the roses' own soil, and ensure that the bud union is in the right position for your USDA zone.

Watering Roses

Roses need at least 1 inch of water per week from rain and/or irrigation. Water recently planted roses at least once every three days during periods of no rainfall. To make that watering easier, you can use excess soil left over from the planting to build shallow basins around your roses; the basins will funnel water into the roses' roots. When the roses are well-established and growing, reduce their irrigation to a deep watering once each week.

Fertilizing Roses

About two to three weeks after you plant your roses, and when they are producing leaves, give each one an additional 1 tablespoon of 10-10-10 granular chemical fertilizer for every 1 foot of its height. If you prefer to use a 5-5-5 granular organic fertilizer instead, double the amount you use. Scatter the fertilizer over damp ground about 6 inches from the base and canes of each rose bush. Scratch the fertilizer into the soil, and water the soil. Repeat the 10-10-10 or 5-5-5 fertilizer application once every two months during the growing season, and stop fertilizing the roses at least six weeks before your area's first average annual frost date.

When roses are pruned the following spring, Barnard suggests, fertilize them with a mixture that consists of these amendment amounts per rose bush:

  • 1 cup bone meal or superphosphate
  • 1 cup
    cottonseed meal
  • 1/2 cup blood meal
  • 1/2 cup fish meal 
  • 1/2 cup epsom
    salts, also known as magnesium sulphate

Two to three weeks later, resume giving the roses 10-10-10 or 5-5-5 fertilizer every other month, using the same amount you did in the previous summer.

Pruning Roses

Clean your pruning shears by swabbing their blades with rubbing alcohol before you begin pruning and before switching from one rose to another rose or different plant.

Healthy rose canes are green with white pith. When pruning, therefore, always cut below brown diseased or dead wood into green wood, snipping at a 45-degree angle 1/4 inch above the uppermost outward-facing leaf bud on the healthy section.

Most roses should be pruned in mid-spring, about six weeks before your area's last average annual frost date. Rose varieties that flower only once each year, in late spring or early summer, produce their blooms on canes formed the previous year. Therefore, remove only dead wood from them in spring to avoid eliminating their flowers. If they have become overgrown and require more extensive trimming, then wait until after they bloom to trim them.

Ever-blooming roses such as hybrid teas, which flower on and off throughout the growing season, are likely to have died back quite a bit in cold USDA zones and shouldn’t require additional pruning once you have removed all of their dead growth. In southern USDA zones, where rose plants don’t suffer as much from cold, cut them back by about one-third in spring, and remove all growth smaller in diameter than a pencil. After ever-blooming roses bloom, snip off their withered flowers by cutting each one just above the second leaf node beneath it to encourage the bushes to produce more flowers.

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