From the infamous White House Rose Garden to your neighbor’s flowerbed, rose bushes are found everywhere. They are rich in symbolism, signifying love, passion, and adoration with a history as old as civilization. Blooms give off an intoxicating fragrance and come in various colors, making it easy to see why they are so popular as both cut flowers and landscape plants.
Roses (Rosa spp.) are among the most common perennial plants grown in yards and gardens worldwide. They are found across all of the USDA growing zones, surviving a range of climates and hardy enough to withstand freezing temperatures. There are over one hundred different varieties to choose from in almost every color imaginable.
Three Main Categories
Garden roses are divided into three main categories to help classify the 150 varieties and thousands of cultivars. They are categorized as old types, modern/hybrid types, and wild types based on their history, breeding, and growth. Each category is unique in its way and is loved by growers for different reasons.
Old: This type is also known as antique or heritage. They are the oldest, having been around for almost 150 years without any changes. These plants are known for their strong fragrance and only flowers once per season.
Modern/Hybrid: Modern/hybrid varieties are selectively bred, combining the best characteristics of old types to create new combinations with bright, bold colors, specific bloom sizes, and unique fragrances. This kind is what most people think of when the vision of a rose comes to mind.
Wild: Wild varieties have been growing, uninhibited and unaltered, for thousands of years with little help from humankind. They have brightly colored hips and typically bloom in shades of red, pink, and white. This type is easy to maintain, the plants are very hardy, and they bloom once per year.
The three categories are then separated into the four different growing forms they take. These growing habits are climbing, miniature, shrub, and tree roses. Each of the four forms functions differently in a garden landscape and has different spatial requirements. It is critical to consider how a plant grows when buying one for your yard or garden.
Climbing: Climbing varieties grow long canes or vines that you can train along an arbor or trellis. They are great for constructing barriers within a landscape or creating beautiful flower walls for privacy screens.
Miniature: Miniature plants grow to be about 1-3’ tall and have smaller blooms than the other forms. They are ideal for container gardens, or yards with limited space, providing exquisite beauty in a smaller size.
Shrub: Shrub roses grow upright or along the ground but do not need supports to keep them erect. They are great for landscaping and typically grow to be 4-6’ in height. They usually bloom repeatedly, bringing a steady stream of colorful beauty to a garden.
Tree: Tree roses are formed by grafting a shrub type onto a tall cane. They require special care, needing protection in the winter and careful pruning to maintain their unique shape.
Roses are propagated by layered hardwood cuttings, so they are only sold as bare root or container plants. Bare root plants do best when planted in early spring or late fall, giving them time to grow before the weather gets hot. Container plants fare best if planted in late spring, well after the threat of frost has passed.
Plants thrive in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Dig a planting hole at least twice the container’s width or bare root mass and about one and a half times as deep. Work some organic matter and slow-release fertilizer into the soil at the bottom of the hole and then backfill, slightly mounding the soil around the base.
In mild climates, keep the crown at soil level when planting. In areas with cold winters, bury the crown 2 to 3 inches below the soil surface to protect it during the winter.
Many people are hesitant to plant roses, thinking they are hard to grow or require a lot of care. The truth is, though, the plants are pretty easy to grow overall as long as their basic needs are met. They need to have plenty of sunlight and water and regular fertilizer to keep them happy and healthy.
Regardless of the type or variety you purchased, it craves sunlight. Choose a spot in the flowerbed or garden where it can receive a minimum of 6 hours of sun every day, especially the less intense rays during the early part of the day. A location shaded from the hottest part of the afternoon is even better.
Roses need a moderate amount of water through the growing season. The entire root zone should be watered thoroughly 2-3 times a week during the heat of the summer months. Regular, thorough watering encourages deep root growth. Ensure the soil isn’t waterlogged, though, as the plants do not like their roots soggy. Wet soil also encourages fungal growth.
Roses are heavy feeders, requiring frequent feeding. Apply a well-balanced fertilizer when there is 4-6” of new growth on the plants and then every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. Nitrogen promotes lush, green, vegetative growth; phosphorus strengthens the root systems and encourages beautiful blooms; potassium supports vigorous growth and helps plants protect themselves from pest damage, drought, and cold.
Pull any weeds that pop up close to the base of the plant by hand, avoiding chemical herbicides close to your plants. Use a hoe carefully to remove weeds, to avoid damaging the shallow plant roots. You can also apply 2-inches of mulch around the base of your plants to prevent weeds from growing.
Prune most roses after the first seasonal frost in the spring but before the plant breaks dormancy. The primary goal is to keep the center of the plant open to encourage good air circulation and prevent disease. Prune the plant down to 6 to 8 healthy canes to create a good shape and removed dead, diseased, and damaged branches.
For the best pruning practices, consult online guides, or ask a local nursery for recommendations. Where to cut and how much of the plant to remove will vary depending on the variety and the growing form.
- Look for disease-resistant varieties when purchasing plants to minimize disease problems.
- In areas with cold winter climates, protect plants by wrapping them in burlap or burying them in mulch.
- Use a drip irrigation system or lay down a soaker hose to avoid getting water on the foliage of your plants.
- Cut blooms early in the morning when they are full of water, just after buds begin opening to fill vases.
- Soak bare-root plants for at least 8 hours before planting.
- Plant sage, garlic, lavender, rosemary, marigolds, or other pest-repelling species as companion plants.
- Deadhead bushes regularly – unless they are self-cleaning – to encourage new blooms.
One of the downfalls to growing roses is they are susceptible to both insect infestations and disease problems, both fungal and bacterial. Watch plants closely during the growing season and treat problems quickly when they arise to keep issues from getting too severe and causing irreparable damage. Preventative measures are also beneficial, as it’s easier to prevent than treat them.
A key to keeping your plants looking their best is regularly scouting for pest problems and quick treatment if insects are present. They are prone to infestations of spider mites, aphids, thrips, rosebud borers, rose chafers, leafcutter bees, and Japanese beetles. Insecticidal soap is a practical, natural treatment for many of the pests mentioned above.
Along with insect problems, plants are susceptible to a handful of diseases as well. The most common are powdery mildew, canker, black spot, botrytis, and rusts. When infections are found, quickly remove any infected plant tissue and dispose of it off-site. Treat rose bushes with an appropriate fungicide or bactericide. To help prevent disease problems, maintain good airflow through the plants.