How to Plant and Grow Roses

A friend told me recently I needed to “stop and smell the roses.” I knew he meant “slow down and enjoy life,” but it occurred to me that I would actually like to plant some roses in my garden TO smell.

Roses can be intimidating. Like me, you may have the impression that they are territory only for master gardeners. But au contraire. Roses are tough and hardy. Even amateur horticulturalists can grow these beautiful flowers and still have time to stop and smell them.

A Little Pre-Planting Homework

Be brave and don’t be afraid to plant roses. But before you go out and buy some, a little study will go a long way. Roses are a bit like people. Each kind is different and needs a different environment to thrive. So the two pieces of research to do in advance are about what and where.

What – First, if you are dreaming of growing the kinds of perfect roses you find in the store, you’ll need to lower your standards. There is a reason those cost a dollar a rose. Open your mind to all the possibilities of color, smell, full-grown size, type of bloom (single, double, ruffled, miniature, etc.), and disease resistance. There are 150 species and thousands of varieties of shrub, tree and climbing roses. The best way to narrow the field of what to plant is to consult your local extension office or nursery. They can give you a well-researched list of roses that grow well in your climate zone.

Then purchase good roses to increase your odds of success. Buying roses from a garden center, nursery or mail order assures a quality start. The American Rose Society is a great online resource and has a helpful rating system; they recommend buying top grade/number 1 roses with three canes and a fully developed root system.

Where – Choosing the best location also increases your odds of success. But as Grandma Weasel always taught me: don’t be afraid to move something if it’s not doing well where you planted it the first time.

Roses need 5 basic things: sunlight, soil, water, space and food. Assess your desired spot for these factors:

Sunlight is essential to those beautiful blooms. Make sure the spot you want to place your roses has a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight. Morning light is optimal. Number of petals is a consideration here: the higher the number of petals in the bloom the greater then need for sun.

Soil is also key. The ideal soil is loam (equal mixture of sand, silt and clay), so figure out what type of soil you have and provide the needed amendments. Your garden center can easily help with this. Basically, roses need lots of organic material and the right pH level (slightly acidic). The pH level affects how the plant absorbs nutrients. Soil should also be well drained because water is vital. They don’t do well with standing water around their roots. As you prepare the soil, the Garden Weasel is great for loosening it up. The Garden Claw is also great for breaking up dirt and allowing air to circulate.

Space allows room to grow. All roses need good air flow and wind should be minimized. A good rule of thumb is to allow as much space for the width of the fully grown plant as it will be tall.

 A Time to Plant

Once you have your spot and roses picked out, and your soil ready to go, planting is a breeze! Garden Glide is a helpful tool that eases the job of moving bags and plantings to their spot.

Ideally your hole for the amended soil should be about 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Place your amended loamy soil in the bottom, tossing in a handful of bone meal to help strengthen the root system. At about 12” from the top, form a cone with the soil. Place the roots over the cone.

You will observe the roots and canes look crooked and gnarled, a bit of a mirror image. Find a knob between them. This is the “bud union” and it is your guide to the planting depth. It should be about 2 inches below ground level. Alternate water and soil as you fill the hole.

Place a couple inches of mulch on top of the soil. This helps conserve water and minimize weeds.

Tending Means Noticing

I always pictured tending roses as a complicated matter, but really it just means noticing what they need. So again, like people or pets, they just need a little attention. I like this adage as a guide: feed a little, water a lot.

Water – Don’t let soil dry out. Deep soaking with 4-5 gallons of water two times a week is better than a light watering every day. Deep soaking can be done with a slow soaking hose or a deep soaking tool that delivers the water straight to the roots.

Feed – Fertilize with a slow-release product containing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the spring, midsummer and fall. If your roses aren’t blooming well, add some soluble nitrogen between feedings for a boost.

Prune – Roses don’t have to be pruned often. The purpose of pruning is to get rid of damage and to shape. Once a year before spring is plenty. Doing it right is easy – slice at a 45 degree angle, ¼-1/2” from the leaf node.

Also, deal with insects and disease promptly. Your extension office and nursery can help you figure out what spots, growths or colors mean and how to treat them.

Tools Used: Garden Weasel, Garden Claw, Garden Glide

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