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A General Guide to Rose Care

Roses are one of the world's most popular and most beautiful flowers. The rose is an ancient species of plant which, through centuries of hybridization, has become the marvelously diverse and interesting plant we enjoy today. We hope that the following information is helpful to you and whets your interest in rose growing.

Types of Roses Available

Roses fill virtually every niche of size, color, fragrance and landscaping a gardener could hope for. People will grow them to place in shows, cut for their homes and to display and enjoy in their gardens. From the eight-inch-tall miniature roses to the multi-blossomed floribundas: from the showy hybrid teas and grandifloras to the sweeping 12-foot canes of the climbers, there is a rose for everyone to enjoy!

Picking a Location

Roses need a sunny spot! Six to eight hours of full sun every day is ideal! Some roses can tolerate less sun. Morning sun is desirable. Good drainage is needed, as roses like to be well watered but do not tolerate their roots immersed in a continually wet area. They do best planted where they have some space of their own and, of course, in a spot where they can be seen and enjoyed.

Soil Preparation

Roses like really good, loamy soil. Some areas of the country require the addition of natural, organic material. This will aid nutrition, water drainage, and healthy root growth. The extra work to mix a good batch of leaf mold, peat moss, well rotted manure, and compost or perilite into the soil will be rewarded with years of healthy rose blooms.


Dig a hole to fill with the loam you just prepared. At least 18 inches across and 12 inches deep, or larger if needed to spread the roots, is good for all but miniature roses. The bud union or graft point (most commercial roses are a pretty flower grafted to a healthy root stalk) should be at or slightly above ground level. if your roses are bare rooted, cut back any broken roots and spread the roots out in the planting hole. Cover the roots with the loam and carefully tamp down. To ensure good soil-to-root contact, fill the hole with water ("Plant them in MUD" is a rule for some). Mound several inches above ground level around the plant. When the buds are clearly growing, replace the soil with mulch. Roses that come in a ready-to-plant box may need close watching the first year to guard against drying out.


Roses require at least 2 inches of water a week. If you live in a hot, dry area that does not get a lot of rainfall, or have sandy soil which can drain off access water roses need, you may need to water more than the average 2 inches. Always water in mid-morning. Never water in the hottest part of the day because you will cause the foliage to burn. Essentially you will boil the leaves if done at this time. Also, never water in early evening or night. This is prime time for fungus. Watering at night does not give ample time for the water that hit the plant to evaporate throughout the day, causing the plant to be moist which is prime for fungus to set in. What I did was set my sprinkler on a timer and set it to water for 20 minutes every other day at 9am. Depending on the size of your rose bed, you can adjust the time accordingly. My roses were sectioned into two 2' x 20' beds, totaling 20 rose bushes, single row spaced a foot apart.


Have a soil analysis by the Extension Service. Unless you have a soil deficiency, any general fertilizer will be fine for your roses. 5-10-5, 8-8-8, or 10-10-10 along with some compost or well rotted manure and an organic mulch will keep your roses happy. Under-fertilize newly planted roses. Don't fertilize very early or very late in the season to avoid forcing fresh, vigorous, tender growth which may be damaged by the cold. It is best not to apply heavy doses of fertilizer. Small snacks 10-15 days apart are better for your roses than 2-3 large banquets. Work the fertilizer into the soil near the plant and water. Other valuable fertilizers are the water soluble granules, such as Miracle Grow®.

Varmints and Critters

Rest assured, you are not the only one of God's creatures that loves roses. A whole host of varmints and critters will bite, chew on, bore into, suck from, infect and generally defile your plants. Most common is black spot, powdery mildew, aphids, spider mites, rose borers, etc. There are many good commercial products on the market to handle these problems. Ortho Funginex® is recommended for black spot; Rubigan® for mildew. Most work quite well, if you follow the directions and use them in a regular program of pest control. Spraying is not fun, but it is necessary, as many of the rose's natural immunities have been bred away in the effort to gain a pretty flower.

Some Hints for More Effective Spraying

Use a sprayer which gives a fine mist. Most fungicides and insecticides can be mixed in the same spraying. A few drops of mild liquid soap per gallon will act as a wetting agent (especially for powder mixes). Spray tops and bottoms of leaves. Take a different route or sequence when you spray to avoid missing the same spot over and over. Spray early in the day. Roses seem to like a few drops of liquid fertilizer in each gallon of spray. Avoid inhaling spray or spilling it on your skin over a long period. Recent studies indicate that systematic insecticides may damage the plants root system.

Cutting Flowers

Rose flowers need to be cut for the plant to send out vigorous new shoots and produce more blooms. That is the rose's natural habit of growth. Cut back at least to a five-leaflet outside leaf. This will keep new growth on a strong stem that has room and light to grow. There are many methods to prolong the life of the rose bloom once it is cut. Some fall into the realm of schemes, magic and family secrets. Two methods everyone agrees on are these: Bring a pail of lukewarm water when you go gathering your rosebuds and immediately put the cut stem into the water. This will keep the plant's natural capillary action from drawing air into the stem and shorten the blooms life. Cut blooms at their peak of beauty and place in the refrigerator--they will maintain their condition for several days. This way you can gather several over a period of days for that special person or occasion.


Prune with a purpose. Pruning forces the plant to put out new growth. The amount and timing of your pruning determines the quality of that new growth. Each type of rose has a growth character and should be pruned to match. For instance, floribundas should be pruned lightly to shape the bush and promote large numbers of blooms, a showpiece hybrid tea should be pruned more severely to force a few strong canes and large dramatic blooms. There should be two major prunings done each year. The first in the early winter for the purpose of cutting back long, unruly canes. This will help avoid plant damage due to the wind whipping the plant about. The other is generally done in late winter/early spring to prepare for the new growing season. The first step is common to all types of roses: cut out the dead or damaged canes. At this point, use caution: many old varieties of roses and some climbers bloom on old wood. If you cut them back, this year's blooms are gone. Miniatures, floribundas, hybrid teas and grandifloras bloom on new wood and need to be pruned back each year. Remember, the more severely the plant is pruned back, the fewer and larger blooms it will produce. Always use sharp and clean tools. The ends of freshly cut canes should be sealed to prevent disease and borers. Orange shellac and Elmer's Glue® are readily available.

Consulting Rosarians

Of necessity, this has been a quick treatment of a complex subject. For more information or advice on a specific question, contact your local nursery or contact me, and I will do my best to find out the answer for you. There are many areas mentioned here: hybridizing, show roses, older garden varieties, and much more.