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Roses - A Beginners' Guide to Roses

Dolores has landscaped for private clients, maintained one client's small orchid collection, and keeps 30 houseplants.

Vintage roses (thanks to Carla at

Vintage roses (thanks to Carla at

Introducing Roses - the Focal Point of the Garden

For the new gardener, roses can be intimidating - the wide range of types, the endless list of names, the rules, the spraying, fertilizing, and pruning. But do not be deterred by their celebrity. Wild roses have been around for millions of years. With all the varieties to choose from, you are bound to meet a match.

Roses are beautiful and romantic. They are the focal point of the garden, both the fairest maiden and the grande dame of the ball. Roses grow in the most formal of gardens and grace quaint cottage gardens. They have a mystique, an air of nobility, and grandeur.

The ancient Egyptians cultivated roses. In 1888, a dried rose garland was found in an Egyptian tomb that still held its lovely pink color. Roses were cultivated by the ancient Chinese, the Phoenicians, Persians, ancient Greeks, and Romans.

The oldest rose still in cultivation is Rosa gallica grown since before the time of Christ by the Persians. It blooms once a year in red, pink, and purple on hardy, compact plants.



Modern Roses

Modern roses can be traced back to Rosa Bourbon, a natural hybrid imported to France in 1817 from the Ile de Bourbon near Madagascar. It's original bright pink color has been lost but its red hybrid gave rose breeders their primary source for the color red.

19th century gardeners were wild about roses hybrids and the Empress Josephine (Napoleon's wife) popularized their cultivation.

In 1812, a South Carolina farmer named John Champneys gave a cutting of a musk rose hybrid to a neighbor, Philippe Noisette. Philippe's brother, Lewis developed the tall, bushy, fragrant, ever-blooming Blush Noisette.

Rosa rugosa, imported in the mid 1800's from Japan does not hybrid well but became extremely popular due to its hardiness, salt tolerance, and copious production of rose hips which are have a high Vitamin C content.

All classes of roses developed before 1867 are deemed old roses.

(photo by Dolores Monet)

(photo by Dolores Monet)

Rose Selections

Today, we find an overwhelming selection of color, size, shape, and fragrance of roses. When choosing a rose, consider the climate of your area as well as your particular landscape needs.

Do you want roses to cut, or for garden viewing? Are you interested in fragrance? Many modern roses, especially the kind you get from florists, are not fragrant as they've been bred for other considerations. Think about the size of the plant that you want as well as the blooming pattern. do yo have a desire for certain colors or color combinations?

Following is a list of types of roses to help narrow your choices:

  • Hybrid Tea Rose makes an excellent cut flower with its large, single bloom. Hybrid teas grow up to 5' tall.
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  • Floribunda provides large clusters of medium sized flowers all season long, are hardy and easy to care for, growing to about 3' in height.
  • Grandiflora produces clusters of large, hybrid Tea type blossoms on strong straight stems up to 8' tall.
  • Rambler roses can reach a 30' width, are winter hardy and bloom once in the spring.
  • Standard Tree roses are a hybrid of Tea and floribunda roses, formal little trees that grow up to 6' tall and are susceptible to winter damage.
  • Patio tree roses are grown in containers, a combination of floribunda and miniature roses that grow up to 4' tall but may sustain winter damage without adequate protection.
  • Modern Shrub roses grow 6' - 7' tall, combining the old rose form wit modern colors and recurrent blooming.
  • Ground-cover roses are vigorous, disease resistant, low growing and spread up to 8' wide and are quite hardy.
  • Climbers are long stemmed shrubs with canes that reach from 6' - 20' high and are lovely when trained on walls, trellises , and fences.
  • Miniature roses are dense, low growing plants with tiny blooms, attractive in pots, as edging, in small spaces and rock gardens and usually reach less than 2 feet tall.

Consider your local climate when choosing a rose. Heat and bright sunlight can cause yellow roses to fade, can cause petals to have dark edges. Yellow roses are susceptible to diseases in damp climates. No roses are really drought resistant and need adequate water in dry seasons. Some roses are more susceptible to fungal diseases than others so check your label and select disease resistant varieties.

You can have success growing roses in hot climates if you choose the right roses for your area. Keep the soil moist and mulch to retain moisture. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil. Shelter from the wind and shield from hot afternoon sun. Some roses that will adapt better to hot areas are: old roses, China roses, Tea roses, and Queen Elizabeth, a lovely pink grandiflora.

Remember that roses need at least 6 hours of full sun a day.

A David Austin Rose

A David Austin Rose

Rose - A David Austin Rose - Evelyn

(photo by Dolores Monet)

(photo by Dolores Monet)

Buying a Rose

Most roses come either bare root or in containers.

Bare root roses are plants purchased in their dormant state usually through mail order. The soil has been removed to reduce shipping weight. A greater selection may be had by mail order than if you look at local garden centers. Rare and older roses will be more readily available if purchased in this manner.

Stick to a reputalbe company. Avoid low priced specials, remember, you get what you pay for.

A bare root will have 3 or more strong canes with 2 canes being 18" long and 1/2" thick.

Potted roses, available at most garden centers allow you to see the plant and judge whether it looks healthy or not. Purchase a container rose in a 2 gallon pot that is at least 7" across.

Vintage roses (thanks to Carla at

Vintage roses (thanks to Carla at

How to Plant a Rose

Roses can be planted among other plants and look quite attractive intermingled with herbs. Keeping all your roses together can encourage the spread of pests and diseases. Plant spring bulbs in front of and in between roses for spring interest.

Plant the rose in good, compost enriched, well drained soil. Roses need at least 6 hours of full sun a day.

Bare root roses should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring. In the south and areas with mild winters, plant bare root roses in later winter. Soak the bare root in a bucket of water for 6 24 hours before planting to restore moisture. Place the bucket in filtered sunlight.

Dig a hole 18" - 24" wide and deep, leaving a mound of good soil at the bottom of the hole. The bud union should rest just above the surface of the soil. In frost-free warmer climates, leave the bud union 2" above ground level. In areas with cold winters (temperatures below 20 degrees F) build a protective mound of soil around to cover the plant up to the bottom 1/3 of the canes. When you see new growth in early spring, gently remove soil mound. When the weather warms up, gently moved soil away from bud union and expose to sun.

  • When planting your bare root rose, spread the roots out.
  • Holding the plant straight with one hand, fill the hole 3/4 of the way up with your free hand.Tap soil gently to fill air pockets.
  • Fill hole with water.
  • After water drains away, fill hole with soil and water again.

Container plants can be planted from spring until fall, though not in late fall as the plant needs time to establish a strong root system. Planting a rose in hot weather demands vigilant watering and some sun protection, especially in afternoon. The best time to plant is in spring.

  • Dig the hole 6" deeper and wider than the container. If yo buy a rose in a biodegradable pot, disgard the container anyway as it may take too long to disintegrate and may constrain root growth.
  • Remove plant from the pot. Some experts suggest cutting away the container with a knife so as not to disturb the roots.
  • Add enriched soil to the bottom of the hole.
  • Set plant in hole so that soil level of the contained plant is at ground level.
  • Gently fill the hole with soil.
  • Water until water pools, ten allow to drain.
  • Add soil.
  • Water again.

Newly planted roses need frequent watering until the plant becomes established and you see new growth. You may notice some wilt for 5 days or so after planting. If wilt continues after a week, prune back 1/2 of the canes. Offer some afternoon shade for a week by placing something nearby.

Water daily for one week, then every few days until the plant is established.

Bare Root Rose

(sketch by Dolores Monet)

(sketch by Dolores Monet)

Rose Care

Water The amount of water your rose needs after it is established depends on your climate and soil conditions. Sandy soils drains fast. Water every 5 days. Check for drainage to see if you need to water more often. Hot, dry, or windy locations need more water than average. Heavy, clay soil takes longer to drain so you will need less water than average recommendations.

  • Water deeply to encourage deep root growth. Five days to one week after watering, check soil for moisture retention. Dig down beside the plant (don't disturb the roots) to a depth of about 16". If the soil is very dry, you should water more often. Remember that new plants should be watered daily.
  • Water early in the day to avoid leaving wet leaves at night which encourages disease. You can use a soaker hose which will avoid wetting leaves.
  • Add leaf mold (last years chopped up, decomposed leaves) or compost to the soil. Mulch holds in moisture and deters weeds.

Fertilizer. The main ingredient of fertilizers are

  • Nitrogen which encourages leaf and stem growth, and promotes a rich, green color
  • Phosphorus promotes root growth, flower productions, and photosynthesis.
  • Potassium regulates the plants metabolism, keeps your rose hardy and vigorous, promotes good color, and increases disease resistance.

You will notice fertilizers labelled with 3 numbers. The first number indicates the percentage of nitrogen, the second phosphorus, and the third potassium. Most rose fertilizers will be labelled 5-10-5, 5-10-10, or 8-12-4.

Organic fertilizers are made of natural ingredients such as bonemeal, cottonseed meal, and fish emulsion.

Inorganic fertilizers are made of mineral salts.

Fertilizers come in granules, powders, crystals, and liquids. flow release fertilizers are convenient granules that need infrequent application, sometimes only once a year. Read the product label so that you don not over fertilize.

Liquid fertilizers are often applied 10 days or so before a rose show for a boost. But chemical liquid fertilizers need to be used every 2 weeks, leach away, and add unwanted mineral salts to the ground water.

Stop fertilizing before winter sets in.

Sprays, Pests, and Diseases the susceptibility of roses to diseases and pests makes it a good idea to practice preventive measures and encourage strong plants. Maintain good garden hygiene by removing damaged leaves from the plant and the ground below. Water early in the morning to prevent mildew and fungus.

  • Insecticides should be used at the first sign of infestation. spray with organic or chemical insecticidal sprays. You can import helpful insects like ladybugs, assassin bugs, green lacewings, and praying mantis which can be found at some garden centers, in catalogues or online.
  • Fungal diseases ike black spot and powdery mildew should be sprayed according to package directions. You can purchase a self contained spray or a concentrated form to mix with water in your own sprayer.
  • Viruses are incurable. Destroy the plant.
  • Japanese beetles eat holes in the leaves. The beetle infestation is generally short-lived, about two weeks in mid-summer. You may have success with a beetle attractor that lures the pests away from your roses. But beetle attractors also lure neighborhood beetles to your yard. If the infestation is not too severe, merely pull the beetles off the leaves and destroy them.
  • If your roses appear affected by disease or a pest, check online guides in order to identify the particular problem and find the appropriate solution.
Chrysler Imperial

Chrysler Imperial

Rose - Oregold

(photo by Dolores Monet)

(photo by Dolores Monet)

How to Prune a Rose

(Sketch by Dolores Monet)

(Sketch by Dolores Monet)

How to Prune Roses

Pruning can intimidate new rose growers. It just seems wrong to cut new, healthy growth. But pruning is necessary for growth and flowering. You need to remove growth to control plant size, to make your rose more productive, to keep it healthy and in shape. Left unpruned, most roses will become lanky with poor flowers. Pruning stimulates new growth.

Cut 1/4 inch above a bud or 5 leaflet leaf at a 45 degree angle. Slope the cut away from the bud. The bud eye is a slight swelling where a new stem will grow.

Prune roses in early spring or when the forsythia blooms. In warm areas, prune in late winter.Remove all dead or damaged canes, crossed canes, and generally open up the inside area of the plant for good air circulation.

Buy a good pair of pruning shears. Avoid anvil shears that crush a stem when it is cut. Keep pruning shears sharp to ensure a clean cut. Sharpen with a file or honing stone. Some ratchet shears can be sharpened with sandpaper. Keep your tools clean with alcohol or a mild bleach solution to avid spreading disease. Wipe and dry after each used, particularly in humid regions.

Pruning guide:

Hybrid Tea, floribunda, grandifloras produce blooms on new canes. Once you've pruned dead, damaged, diseased, and crossed canes, prune the remaining canes 12" - 18" above the bud union in early spring. Leave up to 6 strong canes on the plant.

Climbers. In early spring, prune dead or damaged canes. Prune the rest after the first bloom as flowers appear on last year's canes.

Shrub and old roses do not need severe pruning annually except to remove dead or damaged canes. Leave the plant natural in appearance. If you do prune to shape, do it in early spring or after flowering depending on the type of plant.

Tree roses. Prune canes 12" beyond the bud union and remove dead or damaged canes. Keep the plant neat and symmetrical.

Deadheading. Remove faded flowers to encourage new growth and prevent disease. Cut the stem just above the first 5 leaflet leaf below the flower. Do not prune off more than 1/4 of the foliage.

Suckers. Cut suckers or canes that pop up from below the bud union as these will weaken the plant.

Disbuding Remove all flower buds below the top flower to produce a single, large flower or create an open spray by removing some smaller buds around the largest one.

How to prune roses

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