Growing Roses - For Beginners
By John Parks (Revised 5-5-08)


There is nothing mysterious, magical or even difficult about growing roses. Like any other plant in your garden, roses only need water, food, ample sunshine and a little tender loving care. With these simple, basic ingredients you can grow good roses to make your yard a colorful showplace, brighten up your house or office and give your neighbors and the homebound a real treat.


Roses are classified by types such as hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, polyanthas, miniatures, climbers and ramblers, shrubs and old garden roses. Each type has its own characteristics and uses. Before choosing a specific rose, it is wise to think about these characteristics and how you plan to use or enjoy your roses.

Hybrid Teas are the large specimen blooms; long stemmed beauties, which most people are familiar with because most roses sold by florists are hybrid teas. They are excellent for cutting and arrangements.

Grandifloras are quite similar to hybrid teas with the same large blooms and long stems but have a tendency to have more than one bloom on a stem, commonly called sprays or candelabras.

Floribundas (and Polyanthas) produce the most bloom of any rose type of their size because each stem may have five, ten or twenty blooms, depending on the variety. Although each bloom is much smaller than a hybrid tea bloom, there are so many that the mass color is overwhelming.

Miniatures are the "Tiny Tims" of the rose world. A miniature is a separate type of rose and not just a mutant or dwarf of some other type. These little bushes range from a teacup size to two or three feet but most will average a foot to eighteen inches in height and width.
Climbers and Ramblers are perhaps the most spectacular type of rose because of their height and size. As a result, they are great for climbing on an arbor or fence or to hide an unsightly view.

Shrubs and Old Garden Roses are actually two separate types of roses, they are quite similar in appearance and uses. Most of the modern day shrubs such as the Austin shrubs are everblooming. The primary difference between shrubs and the old garden roses (OGR's) is that most of the OGR's bloom only once a year in the spring. However, their fragrance and mass color display are worth waiting for.


All roses prefer full sun but many can thrive on only six to four hours daily, depending on the variety. Do not plant too close to trees--roses do not appreciate the shade and cannot compete with the tree roots for food and water. All roses need plenty of water, but no rose enjoys wet feet. Try this test. Fill your planting hole full of water. If it does not drain out in thirty minutes, find another planting spot. You can drown a rose! I like to give the hybrid teas, grandifloras and floribundas plenty of space to grow--at least two feet apart. Miniatures can get by eighteen inches apart. The climbers, shrubs and old garden roses need four to six feet apart, depending on the variety.


The word "variety" is synonymous with the word "name." The roses "Mister Lincoln" and "Peace" are two varieties of the hybrid tea type of rose. What variety should you choose? Whatever gives you pleasure! There is a multitude of choices.


Your best bet is to buy from the local nurseries. Your local nurseryman can give you fresh, number one, two-year-old roses, and they will usually guarantee the rose is the true variety. They will usually make it good if anything does goes wrong and the peace of mind is well worth it. If you can't find the variety you want locally, there are a number of reliable mail order nurseries. If you have trouble getting their names or addresses for their catalog, contact me or your local Consulting Rosarian for supplier names and addresses. I may even be able to help you find that rare rose you have been searching for. The early bird does get the worm and the rose. Popular varieties sell out fast, so you should get your order in early, say September through January for mid-March delivery and planting.


At last spring is here and your bare root rose order has arrived. The first thing you should do and do immediately, is unwrap the rose, wash off any packing debris and submerge the entire bush in a large bucket or barrel of cool water. It has been out of water since fall in cold storage, and may have dried out further in shipping so it is thirsty! Let it soak overnight or at least for eight hours. Cut back any broken or torn roots and cut the tips off all the other roots to stimulate the growth of the hair-like feeder roots. Cut back the canes to about 12" to 18" long. Planting can be as simple as "dig the hole, put the rose in the hole (green side up), and cover it up." However, your rose will do better and last longer if you give the hole a lot of attention. You should not put a $15 rose in a 15¢ hole. Remember that the hole will be the rose's home for as long as it lives, so the importance of the hole cannot be overemphasized!

Ideally, the hole should be two feet across and eighteen inches deep. Next, fill the hole with water and let it soak in. Mix the dirt you removed from the hole with equal parts of sphagnum peat moss and agricultural perlite. Holding the rose by the bud union, where the canes come out of the main stem, place the rose in the hole and fill the hole about half full of the dirt mixture. Add water and gently pump the rose up and down to settle the wet dirt (mud) thoroughly around the roots. Pull upward on the rose so that the bud union is about at ground level. Add a little more water and let it soak in. Fill the hole with dirt to within about an inch of the top, add water to the top and adjust the rose again so the bud union is at ground level when all water has soaked in.
Now for the most important step in planting the rose. MOUND THE REMAINING DIRT MIXTURE AROUND THE CANES AND OVER THE TOP OF THE CANES!! THE PURPOSE OF THIS STEP IS TO PROTECT THE CANES FROM DRYING OUT IN THE SUN AND THE WIND UNTIL THE FEEDER ROOTS HAVE GROWN ENOUGH TO START SUPPLYING THE BUSH WITH WATER. This also protects the canes from late freezes. LEAVE THE DIRT IN PLACE FOR TWO TO THREE WEEKS UNTIL THE CANES SHOW BUDS TURNING INTO LEAVES. You can then start to remove the mound from the top, about a third each day for several days. Washing the mound down with a water hose works well and does not damage the new growth. When the mound is gone you will observe that the weight of the mound and the water soaking in has left the bud union--which was at ground level--now about two to three inches below ground level. GOOD! That is where we wanted it to end up and where it should be in this Zone 5 climate. Never put any nitrogen in the planting hole (it burns), but several handfuls of super phosphate (0-20-0) which does not burn can be mixed with the planting mixture so it will be down with the roots when they need it. Do not granular feed the new rose for several months, but some liquid food can be applied weekly after growth starts.
Planting a potted rose is even simpler. The hole should be prepared as described above and the bud union should be placed 2 inches below ground level. Measure this while the rose is still in the pot. Then while holding your hand over the top of the pot, invert the pot and pull off the pot with the other hand. Then using your other hand over the bottom of the root ball, turn the rose right side up and very carefully place it in the hole. Note: Be sure the soil in the potted plant is only slightly moist. If it is soggy wet, it will fall apart when you take it out of the pot. Fill in the hole with the remaining dirt and water in well. Keep the rose well watered for several weeks until it becomes established. It is not necessary to mound up the dirt as you would do for a bare root rose because the potted rose should have a well-established root system at the time of sale. Guess what--you have now finished planting the rose. If you followed the directions, I guarantee you will have bloom and be the envy of your neighbors in May or June.


Water - Wish I could tell you that after you plant the rose you can just sit back and wait for the bloom to appear. Sorry. Even though roses are easy to grow, they do require some maintenance--such as watering. They love water and will reward you with great and glorious bloom if you give them an inch of water a week, even if it has rained. In the summer, increase to two inches, twice a week to be sure the surface roots do not dry out and put a lot of stress on the bush.

Feeding - Feed mature roses monthly with a general-purpose granular fertilizer like 10-10-10, two to three handfuls around each bush. recommend a first feeding in the spring of 10-10-10 mixed with an equal amount of Urea 46-0-0, putting two to three handfuls around each bush. For the first feeding in the spring, after removing the winter protection, roses are really hungry for nitrogen because it leaches out fast--hence the Urea or any fertilizer high in nitrogen. Roses really respond to a liquid feeding every week or two with Miracle Gro 15-30-15 with trace minerals (or its equivalent). Always follow the instructions for your fertilizer. Miniatures require much less food and actually do better on a liquid diet only.

Spraying - Check with your local nursery or those currently successfully growing a large number of roses.

Mulching - There are many types of organic materials such as bark chips, cocoa hulls or cottonseed hulls. Even grass clippings can be used as a mulch. Mulching is not required but is recommended because it cools the ground, conserves water, holds down the weeds and enriches the soil as the mulch turns to compost. For best results, the mulch layer should be 2" to 3" thick.

Pruning - The most important "maintenance" job is pruning the roses throughout the season. Pruning should begin in the spring when the winter protection is removed and continue throughout the season. Old dead canes should be cut back to live green wood where the pith or center of the cane is white or near white. The cut should be made one-fourth inch above an outward facing bud so the bush will grow outward giving the bush a vase-like appearance. Cutting off the old faded bloom encourages new growth and bloom.

Winter Protection - In Zone 5, winter protection is a must. You may get by without protection for several mild winters with very little loss, but in some severe winters the loss can be as high as 50%. A mound of dirt, leaves, hay, or straw should cover the bud union and the canes 6" to 12" above the ground. The mulch should be applied in mid-October and be removed in mid-April.

Other Problems or Questions? - New rose growers will undoubtedly have some problems or questions. Don't we all! Never fear--help is near. Call George Schureman, 785-272-3871, for the name of the Consulting Rosarian nearest to you. We love to talk roses! Visitors are always welcome at meetings of the Topeka Rose Society, 7:00 P.M. on the second Tuesday of every month, at Historic Ward Meade Park, Preston Hale Room, 124 North Fillmore, in Topeka. Ask a member for a meeting schedule and consider yourself invited!

John Parks
ARS Accredited Rose Judge Emeritus and retired Consulting Rosarian

For more information, please contact George Schureman at 785-272-3871 or at geobarbsch@sbcglobal.net

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