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July 13, 2018

Gardening: How to grow roses without fear or fuss

Roses prefer a more acidic soil that holds moisture but is also well-drained.
By Lynne Weber
Fauquier County Master Gardener

Most people have heard the old adage, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” But how many people actually take the time to stop and look and smell the many varieties and cultivars available?

Roses come in so many varieties, colors, shapes, sizes and fragrances. This can be overwhelming for some gardeners. Most don’t — or are afraid to — tackle maintaining a rose garden. But, there is hope.

I have found that roses are really not that hard to grow. I have roses planted years ago that seem to thrive, with little to no maintenance from me. I have a beautiful rose bush with fragrant yellow flowers that bloom year after year, even into the fall. Unfortunately, I planted it so many years ago I can’t remember the name. I have also planted tea roses that thrive and continue to bloom. And to think I got those at the grocery store!

Roses don’t need to be as intimidating as they seem. Here are a few basic tips to make growing them a little less daunting:

When you begin shopping for roses, you will find most of your garden shops or big box stores will have either container roses or bare-root types to choose from. Container roses give you the advantage of planting them at any time, except if it is very dry or the ground is frozen. But, with any store-bought container, planting as soon as possible is best, and certainly no longer than three weeks from purchase.

When looking for roses in containers, pay attention to the roots. If you see them growing out of the bottom of the container, lift the plant out and see how the roots are growing. If they look like they are circling around the root ball, that means the plant has been in the container too long and is not in a desirable growing condition.

When purchasing bare-root plants, make sure they are not dried out. They should be kept a little moist. Check the package and make sure the roots don’t appear to be dried out. If the roots or stems seem brittle, they probably are not in good shape for planting. Also, bare-root roses should be planted as soon as possible once you get them home.

When planting, make sure you provide plenty of space for each plant. The place you select for your roses is important. Roses enjoy plenty of sunshine and an area shielded from strong winds. They don’t like shade or to be planted under trees. They also don’t like their roots crowded by other plants.

Roses prefer a more acidic soil that holds moisture but is also well-drained. Make sure the planting site is free of weeds or other matter that would compete with the roses for light and nutrients.

Before planting, make sure to soak the roots in some water. For containers, make sure the top surface of the container is moist. For bare-root roses soak them in water for an hour or two. Make sure to remove any dead growth or leaves before planting. When digging the hole, make sure it is wide enough to accommodate the roots and deep enough so that the bud union (where the bud or stem meets the root) is about an inch above ground level. Make sure to center the rose and spread out the roots. Add any extra compost or nutrients to the hole before putting in the rose. And water well and wait for the water to drain. Then add the top soil. Don’t pack the soil around the rose; keep it loose. You don’t want it to be compacted.

As with most plants, fertilizing helps keep the rose fed with nutrients. Roses enjoy fertilizing with such essential nutrients as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as trace elements. Most of these fertilizers are available at your local nursery and big box stores. Once you prune your roses in the spring, work a mix into the soil using a rake or hoe. After the first bloom, repeat. This will encourage new growth and stronger blooms. Be careful not to fertilize too late in the year, as you don’t want to promote new growth going into the fall and winter months.

Keeping your roses watered is key, especially when first planted. But don’t overwater. Water enough to moisten the soil; try not to wet the leaves, as it can create an environment for disease. Remember to weed often so the roots do not have to compete with other growth. Mulching also helps hold in moisture and keep weeds from growing, but don’t pile on too much mulch. A 3-inch layer is sufficient. Be careful not to press the mulch against the stem.

Once your rose blooms and the flowers begin to fade, deadhead or cut the flowers from the stem. This helps encourage new growth and flowering. If seedpods form, make sure to remove them promptly as this causes the rose to divert energy and inhibits new flower growth. Protect against pests and diseases by inspecting regularly and remove and discard any affected foliage or stems. There are also many over-the-counter remedies available for such problems as black spot, Japanese beetles, etc.

Cut back your roses in the fall if they have become long and lanky. This will help to keep winds from damaging plants. In the winter, protect the roots by mounding soil or loosely pack leaves around the bud union for added protection. Pruning generally should be done in either early fall or early spring when they are dormant or semi-dormant. Make sure you have clean sharp clippers or loppers. Make cuts, usually angled above a bud preferably in the direction that a new bud would develop. Cut back to within 8 to 10 inches of the ground and remove all dead wood. If you have to cut shorter don’t fret.

So, take the fear out of rose gardening by following these basic steps and you should have a beautiful flowering rose garden to enjoy throughout the growing season. Happy gardening!

For more information or if you have concerns, call the Fauquier County Master Gardeners Help Desk at 341-7950, Ext. 1.
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