How to Plant, Grow and Care For Roses
Roses are iconic garden beauties. Their wide range of color, form, and size means there’s a type of rose out there for every garden. Often called the “Queen of all flowers”, roses bring history, elegance, blooming power and unrivaled fragrance to your garden. In this article, hobby gardener and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood refutes the fussy reputation of roses. Keep reading to learn how to care for them this season and beyond!
You can’t beat a rose. It’s the American national flower. It has a storied history of cultivation going back at least 5,000 years, and has graced the gardens of Kings, Queens and cottage gardeners alike. Graceful and resplendent in color and form, roses provide 150 species and 30,000 varieties to choose from.
Roses have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but don’t be intimidated. Roses are just flowering plants, and they are just as easy to grow and care for as the rest of your garden if you know some basic planting rules. Most modern varieties of these popular flowering perennials are resistant to pests and disease, needing no special regimens or attention from you.
However, like any plant, it’s good to be familiar with some foundational care basics to get your roses healthy and keep them blooming . Keep reading for more information about growing roses, how to provide their ideal environment, and care.
Rose Plant Overview
Plant Type Perennial
Native Area Asia, Europe, North America, Africa
Hardiness Zone 2-11
Exposure Full sun to part shade
Plant Spacing 3-4 feet
Planting Depth 16-24 inches
Height 1-60 feet
Watering Requirements Deep, infrequent
Pests Aphids, Beetles, Mites, Thirps
Diseases Black Spot, Powdery Mildew, Rust
Soil Type Well-drained, loamy
Soil pH (6.5) Acidic, neutral
Plant With Nepeta, Lavender, Coneflower
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Birds
To facilitate the sale and breeding of so many different cultivars, The 3 main rose groups are further categorized into 16 popular types based on their heritage and characteristics.
Old Garden Roses
Roses in this category existed before 1867. Most bloom once in the spring, and have intense fragrance. They are generally very hardy and will tolerate a variety of garden conditions. Old roses come in many different colors and sizes, including ramblers and climbers. Here are some types you’ll likely run into at local garden centers:
Damasks are a type of rose that blooms in a variety of pink shades. They range from single to double flowered, and have an upright habit. These shrub roses can reach up to 7 feet tall. They bloom once, and have the quintessential deep rose fragrance.
The China rose blooms all season in warm shades of pink, red, and yellow. ‘Mutabilis’, with its multicolor effect, is a popular variety. This shrub reaches 6-10 feet tall.
The Gallicas come in glowing, rich pinks and reds. They tend to spread into thickets or natural hedges and grow 3-4 feet high. Their bloom lasts 3-4 weeks in late spring.
Bourbons are vigorous flowering shrubs with large blooms in eye-catching shades of pure white to deep red. Some varieties, like ‘Variegata di Bologna’, have stripes of both! Bourbons have a heavy, delicious fragrance and are very large. Many climbers are found in this group.
A great choice for cold climates, Albas are disease-resistant, tough shrubs. Most can be trained into climbers. They have full, double blooms in shades of pink and creamy white, set off by beautiful blue-tinged foliage. They bloom for a long period once a year.
Also called “cabbage roses” for their full, rounded bloom shape, centifolias are characterized by their large petal count. They are usually pink or white, with blooms so heavy they nod on their stems. ‘Centifolia’ means “one-hundred petaled rose”. They bloom once per season and have a lovely, sweet scent.
Modern Roses are the most popular varieties for gardeners today. They range from the showpiece Hybrid Teas to the hardy shrub or landscape roses. These roses bloom in many colors, from red roses to purple, pink, and many in between. Here are some categories you might encounter:
The classic florist rose, with a shapely bloom on a long sturdy stem. Hybrid Teas come in a wide range of colors and vary in fragrance from light to strong and fruity. They grow from 3 to 8 feet tall on an upright shrub and bloom in cycles throughout the season.
Compact and bushy, Floribundas grow to about three feet tall. They bloom with abundant clusters of flowers. They are usually hardy to zone 5, and bloom all season. Floribundas come in a wide variety of different colors.
Combining the bloom power of Floribundas with the classic shape of Hybrid Teas gives you the Grandiflora. Flowers can appear in clusters or on single stems. They repeat flower all summer and come in many colors. They grow up to 6 feet tall.
Polyanthas are compact, hardy shrubs smothered in clusters or sprays of fluffy little blooms from spring through frost. They grow 2-4 ft. tall. ‘The Fairy’ is a popular variety.
Landscape roses (or Shrub Roses) are easy care, vigorous bloomers that thrive with little attention. They repeat flower and come in a variety of styles, forms, and sizes. A few popular examples are the Knockout ® and Easy Elegance ® Series.
Groundcover roses are simply a type of very low-growing landscape rose. They grow 1-3 feet tall and have a sprawling habit. Groundcover varieties come in a variety of bloom forms and colors. They are usually cold-hardy and repeat-flowering. Some popular varieties are the Drift ® and Flower Carpet ® Series.
A more compact type of rose that stays under 2 feet, miniature roses are versatile. You can find them in nearly every color and bloom shape. Though tiny, they are hardy and can be planted in the ground with your other roses.
Hybrid musks feature delicate-looking blooms of cream, pink, and apricot on tall (up to 6 ft) arching canes. They have glossy, dark green foliage. These roses boast excellent disease resistance and are often shade tolerant.
Popularized by David Austin, english roses feature deeply fragrant, cupped blooms packed with petals. They come in an array of colors and sizes, including climbers. They are coveted for their enormous flowers, old-fashioned charm and modern ease of maintenance.
Also known as species roses, wild roses are a category of over 100 naturally-occurring plants native to Europe, Asia, and North America. Most are pink and all have 5 petaled, single open blooms.
They can be found growing with no intervention in a variety of wild habitats, but are also used in landscaping. They are gaining popularity in gardens for their ease of care and value to wildlife. Some Wild roses you might find are:
‘Woodsii’: This is a hardy western US rose with red stems growing up to 5 ft. tall, with pretty pink blooms.
‘Carolina’: This is an eastern American native growing 1-3 ft high, with delicate bright pink blooms opening to yellow centers.
‘Canina’: Often called the “Dog Rose”, this European native can grow up to 15 ft. tall and has gorgeous pale pink to white blooms. It produces an abundance of decorative bright red hips in fall.
While roses can be grown from the seed harvested from hips, success is variable and takes lots of time and patience. Most roses sold on the market today are hybridized or grafted, thus their seedlings won’t produce the same bloom as the parent plant.
Most gardeners want to know the rose they’re going to get, so we’ll focus on planting container-planted or bare root roses from nurseries.
Roses are woody perennial plants, meaning they will flower, enter dormancy, and continue growth the following year. When planting, know these 6 key plant parts:
Understanding Six Key Rose Parts
|This is the mass of roots directly below the rose’s stem that collects and stores nutrients from the soil.|
|The spot below where the canes flare out from the base of the stem. Grafted roses: at the base where grafting occurred.|
|These are the branches growing from the base that will develop the leaflets and buds of the rose.|
|Roses have compound leaves that grow from their canes. Most come in sets of 3 or 5. They are crucial for photosynthesis.|
|This small fleshy nub on the canes where new growth emerges. Bud eyes appear where leaflets attach to the stems.|
The best time to plant roses varies according to your zone. To find yours, consult the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. The ideal temperature for planting ranges from 40-60℉.
Roses are best planted in early spring or fall. In spring, plant when all danger of frost has passed. In fall, allow 6-8 weeks before your first frost so they can get established before they enter winter dormancy.
The first step in successful planting is picking the best planting site. You want a spot that will get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
For varieties that are specifically listed as shade tolerant, 4 hours is okay. Pick a location that is free from root competition from trees and at least 3-4 feet away from other large plants.
If you live in a warmer zone or have very hot summers, morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal to prevent scorched leaves and blooms.
When purchasing, you have 2 main options: bare root or container-grown. Both have their advantages. Container-grown plants are easier for beginners as they need no extra preparation before planting.
Bare root roses are easier to ship and are often more mature (if ordered online rather than from a local nursery). They will arrive completely dormant, and look like a bundle of bare canes and roots. Don’t worry, they’ll leaf out in no time.
If you order a bare-root rose, give it a good soak by placing the roots in a bucket of water for 24 hours before planting.
Prepare your hole
Dig a hole 6-8 inches deeper and as wide as the container your plant came in (For bare roots, 6-8 inches beyond the root depth). A key motto to remember is to dig an ugly hole. But Why?
You want an irregularly shaped hole with lots of fissures and tunnels for your rose’s roots to expand into, rather than a nice, clean circle where the roots have to work harder to move outward to reach nutrients.
Bury the bud union
Turn your container upside-down, and gently slide the rose out. Massage the outer roots a bit to loosen them up a bit from the soil. Place the plant into your prepared hole, with roots facing down, and canes upright.
It’s important to bury the bud-union in the soil, so make sure your rose is set deep enough to cover the knuckle-like growth at the base. This will prevent wind-rock which can destabilize the plant. It will also prevent sucker canes from rootstock of grafted roses, and die-back from freezing temps.
Next, prepare your soil. If you have poor soil, add a product containing mycorrhizae (fungus) to aid root growth and absorption of nutrients. Do not add any products or fertilizers to bare-root roses, as they can burn the roots.
Next, backfill the hole with a 50-50 mix of organic compost and soil, thoroughly covering the roots past the bud union. Gently tamp down the soil, then start watering to give it a good start.
How to Grow
Roses are not difficult to grow. In the past, they were mainly bred by florist and exhibition breeders who needed perfection, earning them a difficult reputation. Garden roses are the same as the rest of the perennial plants in your yard, and need no more care than they do! Let’s look at the key components you’ll need to plan for.
As mentioned, roses need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day for optimal health and bloom production. Some varieties can tolerate shadier conditions.
If so, this will be marked on their nursery tag or the information provided on the website when ordering. Even shade-tolerant varieties need at least 4 hours of direct sunlight.
As a rule, it is best to water deeply, once or twice per week. Aim for 2-3 gallons per watering session, making sure to water at the base of the plant. Overhead watering can lead to wet foliage, inviting disease like black spot and powdery mildew.
Many growers with large gardens prefer to set up a drip irrigation system. It is just as effective to give them a good soak by leaving your hose to trickle at the base for 15-20 minutes twice a week.
Newly planted roses need more water than established plants, so plan on increasing their watering to 3-4 times a week.
Check your soil from time to time to make sure that it isn’t overly wet and adjust accordingly. Roses like to dry out between watering sessions.
Healthy soil leads to healthy plants, roses included. Ideal soil conditions are well-drained and loamy, but they can adapt well to most soil types, including sand and heavy clay.
To provide the best growing environment, soil will be slightly acidic and have a pH between 6 and 7. If you’re not sure about your soil, don’t worry. You can order simple tests online or buy them at your local garden center. The results will tell you the best course of action to increase or tone down acidity.
If that sounds like too much hassle, just work in a rich compost around the soil at the base of the plant. Organic mushroom composts or aged cow manure are always a good bet.
To promote healthy new growth and lots of blooms, fertilize your roses three times a year: when they leaf-out in early spring, after their first flush of blooms, and in midsummer.
Do not fertilize newly planted roses as this can burn their delicate, baby roots. Begin after they’ve completed their first season. Stop fertilizing 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date to avoid stimulating new growth that will die in the cold.
For spring fertilization, choose an organic, slow-release granular fertilizer that will provide nutrients throughout the season.
Granular fertilizer application is simple. Following the measurement instructions on the packaging, sprinkle it onto the top of the soil around your rose, working it in a bit. Water it in, and you’re done!
After the first bloom, you can use the same spring fertilizer, or opt for a Seaweed or Alfalfa-based fertilizer to keep your roses going strong. These come in liquid or granular form. Foliar (sprayed directly on the leaves) application of seaweed fertilizer promotes new growth and may make roses more resistant to disease.
In midsummer, apply another dose of either fertilizer to give your roses energy for their final fall flush.
The majority of rose pruning is best done in early spring when they are just beginning to wake up and the bud eyes (nubs where new growth begins) begin to swell. Many gardeners use the first bloom of the bright yellow forsythia bush to tell them the ideal time to prune. If you don’t have forsythia around, wait until your last hard frost has passed.
Look closely at the plant, and remember the three Ds. Remove anything dead, dying, or diseased. Using sharp, bypass pruners, cut out black, dead canes that didn’t make it through the winter. If canes are partially dead, cut them back to where you see healthy, green growth.
Next, assess the overall shape of the plant. You want to encourage a vase-formation, with an open center surrounded by healthy outer canes. This encourages airflow and reduces foliar diseases. To open up the center, cut back any thin (smaller than a pencil) canes, or canes that cross and rub others.
When cutting back, always try to cut just above an outward facing bud-eye (a swelling on the cane that faces the outside of your plant). This will help train your new canes to grow outward rather than into the center.
If your rose experienced a lot of winter damage or you want to control its size, consider a hard prune. This means cutting back the entire plant by ⅓ (or even down to 5-6 inches from the ground if necessary). It will soon flush out and look healthy again.
Last, clean up! Remove all debris from the area after pruning to prevent any diseases from hanging out in your soil.
In the fall, give them another light prune to get them in good shape and prevent overwintering of any diseases before they go dormant for the winter.
Rose propagation is mainly done via cuttings. It’s a fun adventure with variable success, and is best undertaken by gardeners looking for a challenge!
You can take a cutting from your rose at any time. Some gardeners prefer to use tender growth after the first spring bloom, and others semi-hardwood from their plants in late summer to autumn. You can achieve success both ways, but I will explain the semi-hardwood method here.
First, pick a healthy, strong green cane that has recently bloomed. Travel down from the top of the cane to where it begins to firm and become less flexible. This is the section you want. With sharp bypass pruners, cut a 6-8 inch section of cane right below a leaf node (where leaves attach to the cane).
Prepare your soil mix and pot. Pick a small, 3-4” pot and fill it with potting soil. Saturate the soil thoroughly with water.
Next, you want to create wounds in the cutting for new roots to sprout. Remove the lower leaves (leave a few at the top for photosynthesis and nutrient absorption). Snap off a few inches of thorns. Use your fingers, and the thorns come off easily and cleanly.
Dip the lower portion of the cutting (where you’ve snipped off the thorns to create wounds) into rooting hormone powder. Place your coated cutting into the prepared soil mix, burying it nearly halfway down, leaving the top leaves exposed.
Last, create a mini-greenhouse for your cutting. Cut off the bottom of a large, plastic soda bottle. Leave the cap off for ventilation. With the cut side down, place the bottle over the top of your cutting’s container. This will trap humidity and warmth, helping your cutting to grow its roots.
Keep the cutting out of direct sunlight and between 55-75℉. After 6-8 weeks, check for roots! You can move it to a slightly larger pot if you see lots of roots and new growth.
Roses aren’t just for beautifying our gardens. Bring them inside to decorate and perfume your home!
To cut the freshest roses for indoor enjoyment, follow these tips:
Bring a bucket or jar of water outside with you to keep your newly cut stems fresh. For the longest vase-life, harvest on a cool morning and choose buds that are just beginning to open.
Find a five-leaflet set near your desired length, and cut just above it with sharp bypass pruning shears. Place it directly into your bucket of water.
Once inside, fill your desired vase with cold water. Remove any foliage that will sit below water level (causing potential bacterial growth), and place your roses inside the vase. Change the water every couple of days or whenever it becomes cloudy.
Display them away from heat and out of bright sunlight, and enjoy! They will usually last around 10 days depending on conditions, but you can extend their vase-life by snipping off their ends every time you change their water and using a floral preservative.
To increase overall bloom production, deadhead (remove spent blooms) throughout the growing season.
There are thousands of cultivars available to choose from. If you’re not sure where to start, check out these tried and true award-winning favorites for a great start:
Rosa ‘Lady of Shalott’
This sunset-colored beauty can be trained as a shrub or a climber to fit your garden. It is a David Austin rose, famous for old-fashioned blooms with high petal count and modern ease of maintenance. ‘Lady of Shalott’ has a gorgeous, light spice fragrance and is a continuous bloomer.
‘Bolero’ is a creamy white, intensely fragrant Floribunda (cluster flowering) rose. It grows 3-4 ft. tall and is very disease-resistant. Bring this inside and enjoy its scent of tropical fruits.
Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’
This ancient Gallica rose is the height of romance. It comes in a range of lilac, violets, and reds, with enormous ruffled flowers. ‘Charles de Mills’ blooms from 3-6 weeks in spring or early summer and will fill your garden with a deep, classic rose scent.
This vigorous shrub is covered in sprays of lightly-scented blooms in classic pink. It flowers from spring through frost. ‘Bonica’ is low maintenance and perfect for hedges.
Pests & Diseases
Roses are resilient and easy to grow, but they can be susceptible to a few pests and diseases. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common problems that you might encounter when growing the queen of flowers and how to respond to them.
Aphids are usually the first pest you see appear in spring. These small, green soft-bodied insects love to suck the juices of the tender new growth of roses.
Don’t panic if you see them. Usually, infestations will be taken care of by beneficial predators (lacewings, birds, ladybugs) in a week or two if you resist chemical intervention. You can also spray them off with the hose. Gardeners who don’t mind a little yuck factor often advise just squishing them with your fingers.
Spider mites are tiny and difficult to spot. You might have spider mites if the leaves have turned dull and brown, and have sticky, white webs on their undersides. Similar to aphids, knock spider mites off with a strong spray from your hose.
These colorful copper and green scarab beetles are from Japan, but are now invasive in the US. They grow as grubs in the soil, and feast on rose blooms (and other plants).
Chemical sprays have been found ineffective in controlling them, so the best course of action is physical removal. This is less daunting if you start at the first sign of them in spring. Get a jar of soapy water and some tweezers.
Go out first thing in the morning early in the season and pluck those suckers off your roses, plunging them into the soapy water. Dispose of the carnage. Repeat as necessary until the population subsides.
If you experience browning or deformed buds that never open, you might have thrips. These tiny winged insects also cause brown, distorted leaves.
The best way to approach thrips is to prune back any visible infestations, and wait for their predators to arrive. The thrip population will decline on its own. You can also spray your roses with organic Neem oil in the evening, but be aware that it also harms beneficial bugs.
Sawfly larvae, also called “Rose Slugs”, like to dine on their leaves, leaving behind yellow leaves and holes. They look like little green caterpillars and are fairly easy to spot. You’ll notice their damage by the tannish blotches and holes on the leaves, which soon look like skeletons of their original selves.
Again, less is more when treating for sawflies. You can pick them off like the Japanese Beetle (don’t forget the undersides of the leaves!), or spray them with the hose. Or you can take a step back and wait for their natural predators to snack on them for you.
Black Spot is a common fungal disease that affects the leaves and canes of the plant. Symptoms include irregular shaped, brown and black spotted leaves, often surrounded by yellow halos. Canes often have rusty purplish-brown splotches. Black spot can weaken your rose, but it isn’t serious.
To treat, remove all diseased plant material and dispose of it. This fungus is spread by spores that thrive in wet environments, so make sure your roses have adequate airflow and dry out thoroughly between waterings. Clean up carefully so that spores don’t overwinter in the soil and reinfect your plants.
This fungal disease looks like a white, powdery coating on your plant. The leaves sometimes curl up. It loves hot days and cool nights, worsening in humid conditions.
Prevention is the key here. Water at the base rather than overhead to avoid wetting the foliage. Water in the mornings so roses can dry out thoroughly during the day. Make sure your roses get adequate sun.
If you’ve already been struck by Powdery Mildew, remove all badly infected parts of the plant. Then try this homemade solution: mix one tablespoon of baking soda in one gallon water.
Spray roses thoroughly, and repeat once a week as needed. Milk spray can also be helpful. Use 1 part milk to 9 parts water. Spray and repeat as needed (also a preventative).
Rose Rosette Disease
Also called Witches’ Broom, Rose Rosette Disease is a virus spread by a tiny mite. It looks like strangely vigorous, bushy red new growth with excess thorns. Rose Rosette will kill your rose and has no effective treatments at this time.
If you confirm the presence of Rose Rosette, remove the entire plant and some of the soil surrounding it, bag it, and dispose of it. Do not plant another rose at the same site.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are roses toxic to pets?
No, roses are not toxic to people or pets. In fact, the petals are edible as long as they’re not sprayed with pesticides. Watch out for the thorns, though!
Which roses are most fragrant?
Some of the most fragrant varieties are David Austin and Old Garden roses. However, you can find highly-scented blooms in nearly all categories. Search for high fragrance ratings on nursery tags or website information when buying.
Which roses produce hips?
Nearly all non self-cleaning roses (not requiring deadheading) produce hips, but the most ornamental are produced on wild roses, shrub roses, Old Garden roses, and ramblers.
When do roses bloom?
Most modern roses bloom in flushes from spring through frost. Some varieties only bloom once in late spring to late summer, in a spectacular show lasting 3-6 weeks.
No other plant can supply your garden with elegance, history, perfume and beauty quite like the rose. Whether you choose a cheerful miniature for your patio or a showstopping climber to awe your neighbors, you won’t regret adding roses to your repertoire.
Their allure is unparalleled, but they are plants like any other. Use your common sense and these gardening tips, and you’ll soon have the roses of your dreams.