15 Rose Growing Mistakes to Avoid This Season
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a total newbie, chances are you’ve made a few mistakes. Roses are forgiving, but knowledge of common rose garden missteps will go a long way toward a season of beautiful blooms. In this article, expert gardener and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood explains 15 common rose growing mistakes you should avoid making this season, and what to do instead!
I’ve made my share of rose gardening mistakes, and paid the price with struggling rose bushes (and a lot of wasted time and money). I’ve even killed a rose or two. To save you the same fate, I’m here to fess up about my errors so you can have a gorgeous rose season.
Roses are durable, long-lived plants that are much tougher than their fussy reputation implies. In fact, sometimes we can give them a bit too much pampering, unwittingly doing more harm than good.
Rose gardening doesn’t have to be complicated and difficult. With some good growing tips under your belt, they might just become the most reliable perennial performers in your garden. Let’s take a look at the most common rose-growing mistakes so you can look forward to a stunning summer of blooms ahead!
Mistake 1: Wrong Rose, Wrong Zone
Plant the wrong rose in the wrong zone and set yourself up for years (if it lives that long) of trying to save a faltering rose. Selecting the right roses for your climate is the foundation of your future rose gardening success.
It’s so easy to fall under the spell of pretty pictures on the internet. That beautiful picture of ‘Lady Banks’ covering a pergola with loads of puffy yellow blooms? In my zone 5b garden the picture would be of a dead stick.
Roses, like any other perennial plants, prefer specific climates and conditions. Some are better adapted to heat and humidity and the diseases that come with those conditions. Others are tolerant of harsh cold winters. Don’t sentence a rose to struggle in a climate it’s not made to handle.
Not sure what zone you’re in? Find it here. When researching roses to buy (even if “research” simply means looking at the tags of the prettiest ones you spy at the garden center) make sure they’re adapted to survive in your conditions.
If you pick the right rose for your soil and weather, it can live for decades! How can you make sure your rose is likely to thrive? Ask your local nursery what roses do well in your area. Online, thoroughly read the description of what zone and conditions the rose prefers.
Mistake 2: Wrong Spot in the Garden
You’ve got the perfect rose, proven to grow well in your climate. Now you just plant it in the garden, right? Almost.
Before you plant your rose in the wrong spot, keep these considerations in mind:
- Roses like 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Morning sun is preferable to hot afternoon rays that can scorch petals and leaves. If you only have dappled shade to work with, check out rose varieties that still perform with less light.
- Roses like a little room. Rose bushes planted too close together are more vulnerable to disease due to lack of airflow. They can also struggle with root competition. Plant at least 2-3 feet apart to give them some space to breathe.
- Plan for mature size. If you bought a rose that grows to 15 feet tall and nearly as wide, make sure you place it where it will have enough room and any needed vertical support, even if it looks like a tiny sprout right now.
You can relocate a rose that isn’t thriving in its current location, but you’ll save yourself lots of time and trouble if you pick a good site from the get-go.
Mistake 3: Digging a Perfect Circle
When digging a hole for a new rose, most gardeners think they should dig a nice clean circle. After all, the root ball in the pot is in a circle. Instead, you want to dig an irregularly-shaped straight up ugly hole. Why?
A perfectly shaped circle makes it harder for your rose’s roots to expand and reach nutrients. An irregular hole with little tunnels and fissures already in place will prevent roots from struggling to expand outward.
Prepare an ugly hole and resist the urge to be neat and tidy. This is one instance where being messy pays off.
Mistake 4: Planting with Fancy Soil
My garden’s soil is a major challenge. 12 inches down, I have lithic bed rock. If I unearth enough giant rocks, I reach sand. While I love the beach, my roses need a bit more nutrients from the soil.
Thinking I would give my roses the best start with rich, nutrient-rich soil, I bought bags of fancy soil from my nursery, and filled my planting hole with it. Surrounding the hole was my yard’s natural rock and sand. What’s the problem?
My roses loved the fancy soil! Unfortunately, once the roots expanded enough to reach the boundary of the hole, they didn’t like my native conditions at all. Instead of growing outward, the roots coiled back around themselves in a circle to stay in their cozy spot, stunting their growth.
No matter how bad it is, you need to backfill the planting hole with your native soil. Otherwise, your rose might not be able to handle it as roots grow outward. Don’t worry, you can still treat the rose to compost, fertilizer, and mulch. More about that to come.
Mistake 5: A Garden Bed Just for Roses
If you love roses, you might be tempted to set aside a special place in the garden just for them. A formal rose garden, if you will. You imagine neat lines of spectacular specimen plants, ready to be admired.
Plant only roses together, and you’re inviting future problems. In a bed exclusively for roses, diseases and pests need only mosey on over to the next plant for easy pickings. Soon, your whole rose garden is struggling with aphids, black spot, or worse, Rose Rosette Disease.
For healthy roses, companion planting is your best tool. Thoughtfully chosen companion plants don’t just enhance the beauty of your garden. They attract beneficial predators (lazy gardener pest control!), repel pests, retain soil moisture, make it harder for diseases to spread, and provide shelter from harsh weather.
Mistake 6: No Mulch
You’ve planted your climate-adapted rose in an irregular hole. You’ve backfilled with native soil. You’ve planted with pretty companions. So far so good. There’s one last step you must never skip.
Don’t let that rose sit in bare soil! Bare soil leads to problems with erosion, nutrient loss, water runoff and evaporation, and weeds.
Your roses, like most plants, will do best with some mulch. This valuable layer will slow weed growth, protect soil and nutrients from harsh weather, stabilize temperature, and conserve moisture. Best of all, organic mulch breaks down over time to enrich the soil for you.
You can choose a variety of mulches, but organic layers of chopped leaves, wood chips, pine needles, or straw are good choices that will provide additional food for your roses as they gradually break down. You can also use low-growing companion plants as a living mulch.
A few inches of mulch is just right. Pull it slightly away from the base of your rose to avoid rot.
Mistake 7: Overhead Watering
This one always leads to lots of questions. The rain waters roses from above and they love it! Many hose attachments specifically come with a rain setting, to gently mimic the overhead watering provided by nature.
How can overhead watering lead to problems? The fungal and bacterial diseases that strike roses love wet conditions. If foliage stays moist for several hours, issues like black spot, powdery mildew, and anthracnose can show up. Gardeners that live in particularly rainy regions probably see at least one of these diseases every season.
So yes, you can hose of your rose from the top. However, the leaves need to dry out afterward, and pretty quickly, to avoid fungal issues. If you want to overhead water, do it in the morning of a nice, sunny day.
Most of the time, you should water at the base of your rose toward the roots, where the hydration is most needed.
Mistake 8: Frequent, Shallow Watering
While we’re on the topic of watering, let’s tackle another common mistake. When I planted my first roses, I figured the sprinkler system that watered the turf grass would do just as well for my rose bushes.
While the sprinklers work great for some of the plants in my garden, roses hate the shallow daily watering they provide. Instead, plan to water roses deeply via a good soak with the hose or drip irrigation at root level, where it’s actually needed. This prevents wasted water and wet leaves, too.
Established roses only need about 2-3 gallons of water, once or twice per week, depending on how hot and dry the weather. If using the hose, allow it trickle at the base for about 20 minutes each watering. Newly planted roses, especially in hot weather, will need more water. Up their intake to 3-4 times a week.
Don’t overwater! Soggy soil may lead to root rot. Instead of following a set schedule, guarantee you’re giving roses what they need by checking the soil every time you plan to water. If it’s bone dry at knuckle-deep, it’s time to water. Still moist? Wait a day or two and check again.
Mistake 9: Fertilizing Right Away
We want to give our roses the best start. Fertilizers provide nutrition and help plants grow, so lots of it, right at planting time, sounds like a good idea.
You only want to provide your roses the nutrients they actually need. Excess nitrogen can burn baby roots and cause plants to focus on development of lots of green, leafy growth rather than bloom production. Too much nitrogen can also run off and harm our waterways.
I once watered in a synthetic fertilizer at the base of my brand new bare-root rose. It soon turned black and died. Don’t be like me. Let mature bare root roses leaf out before supplementing with nutrients.
Until young, newly-planted roses have had a bit of time to get established, water and sunlight will provide all they need. If you have poor quality soil, you can give them a boost with organic compost or a gentle liquid kelp formula. Stay away from stronger synthetic fertilizers until they’ve been in the garden for a season.
Mistake 10: Killing All the Bugs
You’ve come out to admire your roses. Yesterday, they looked full of fresh buds, waiting to open. Today, you take a look and there are little bugs crawling all over the tender new growth. The aphids have arrived.
Before you google pesticides, take a deep breath. Those aphids are a tasty buffet for birds, predatory wasps, lacewings, hoverflies, and lady bugs. If you spray them with insecticide, you potentially kill the beneficial predators that provide natural pest control.
The aphids will disappear for a while. But soon, they’ll be back. The predators, however? They’re out of here. Soon, you’re constantly spraying harmful chemicals in your garden, fighting an ongoing battle you’re destined to lose.
When noticing pests in your garden, a bit of tolerance and a balanced approach will help you create an ecosystem where natural predators will do the majority of pest killing for you. Give aphids a couple weeks (or just hose them off), and you’ll be surprised at how well the problem resolves on its own.
The caterpillar munching on leaves can be relocated, and will soon be a pollinating butterfly. Don’t forget that whatever you spray on the little guys has an impact on the other creatures that eat them, are nearby, or land on the plant.
Not all bugs need the same approach, and some do need your intervention to go away. Read more about pest control and roses for a healthy balanced garden.
Mistake 11: Forgetting to Deadhead
Your roses had an impressive spring flush, and you’re waiting impatiently for the next display. Waiting, waiting, and now the frost is here? This isn’t the continual blooming the label promised.
Unless you purchased a self-cleaning variety, blooms left to wither on the bush signal to your rose that it’s time to produce hips full of seeds and enter dormancy. If you want lots of repeat blooming throughout the season, you need to deadhead!
Deadheading is simple and easy. Once the blooms are spent, simply snap them off, or even better, trim them down with pruners just above an outward facing leaf node. This will trigger new growth and more blooms.
Always stop deadheading 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. This will let the rose enter dormancy and prevent new growth from dying off in the cold.
Mistake 12: Dirty Pruning Shears
I’m a lazy gardener. I’m tempted to move from plant to plant, using the same shears. I’m also tempted to set them on the counter, covered in dirt and debris, and pick them up and use them again next time. What’s the harm?
Dirty pruners can spread diseases and tiny pests between plants. If you just trimmed off foliage plagued by fungus, you don’t want to infect the next plant you visit. While wind, splashing water, and contaminated soil can move diseases around, so can your dirty shears.
So, I’ve now disciplined myself to keep my pruning shears nice and clean. I carry around a jar of rubbing alcohol as I prune, and dip them into it between rose bushes. It’s become an easy habit. You can also use a spray bottle and spritz them before tackling the next plant.
Mistake 13: Not Pruning
Pruning is probably the most intimidating topic for new rose growers. Worried they might do something wrong and harm the plant, some avoid pruning altogether. Soon you have an unmanageable rose bush that has grown too large, an underperformer that hardly blooms, or a rose suffering from poor airflow and diseases.
Roses need pruning to perform their best. A good prune can:
- Revive an underperforming bush
- Provide essential air circulation
- Manage spread of disease
- Control shape and size
- Trigger healthy new growth and more blooms
Before pruning, make sure your rose is at least 3 years old. It will do best to grow naturally until then, unless you see diseased or dead canes.
Mistake 14: Failing to Clean Up
We’ve established that I’m lazy. I like to walk along my roses, snapping off dead blooms. I’m guilty of pruning off unhealthy looking leaves, letting them fall to the ground and decay on their own. Sort of like free compost.
I’ve disciplined myself into doing better, and here’s why. Not only can diseases and pests travel to new plants via wind and water, many also overwinter in the soil and debris to strike again.
It’s important to clean up after you prune or deadhead your roses. If you like, you can let debris fall to the ground and rake it up afterward. Diseased plant matter should always be bagged up and thrown away or burned. Take away: keep your roses in good shape by tidying up.
Mistake 15: Lack of Winter Protection
If you’ve done a great job of selecting roses that can handle your climate’s coldest temperatures, winter protection will be less of an issue. However, all roses can suffer from cold, drying winds and unseasonal frosts. Hardy roses will make it through, but they may experience some dieback that will need to be pruned off.
If your roses are important to you, providing winter protection can help ensure they make it through to next season in the best shape possible. This can be as simple as providing a bit of shelter via a porch or fence or protecting the crown with a bit of mulch.
Roses grown in containers need extra protection. Their roots are more exposed to the cold and lack the insulation provided by the ground. Group them together to increase warmth, provide shelter, and consider wrapping the containers in black plastic to insulate.
If you’ve made some of these common mistakes, know that you’re in good company. While some missteps are an inevitable part of the gardening journey, learning from them will make you a better gardener.
Roses are tenacious perennials that can withstand a few mishaps, and if you do experience loss, it’s not too late to do better next time. Here’s wishing you a beautiful season. Enjoy your roses!