How To Grow Roses Successfully

Planting And Maintenance Care

To be successful in growing roses in Midwest gardens, the gardener needs to be aware of these basic considerations: Attention to plant selection, a basic knowledge of the wide array of classes available,Names of flowers, basic culture information, and information about potential disease and insect problems. Knowing this basic information will go a long way in making these beautiful, aromatic types of flowers an enjoyable addition to your garden.

This short guide to rose gardening will hopefully help sort through some of the confusion about them, and entice you to include one or more of these plants in your garden.

A location that provides full sunlight with good air circulation, and soil that is well drained and high in organic matter is best for growing roses. Roses should receive at least six hours of sun a day. If you don't have a location that could provide full sunlight, it's better to choose a location where your roses would at least get the morning sun as opposed to a location where they would get the afternoon sun.

The morning sun helps to dry the leaves quicker, reducing the potential for disease. Afternoon shade is beneficial because it helps to extend the life and beauty of your flowers.

Beds that do not have proper drainage are a death sentence for your garden. It is so important to select a location that provides adequate drainage. If you aren't sure if drainage will be adequate, you can try improvements such as raising the bed or making amendments to the soil. To check the adequacy of drainage, try filling a hole about 18-inches deep with water; drainage is considered satisfactory if it has drained after approximately six hours.

Roses are tolerant of most soil types. However, they do better in a relatively fertile soil high in organic matter. Applying 2-4 inches of organic matter over the bed before tilling will help to improve the tilth of the soil. For each bushel of organic matter, add about 1/2-lb. of super phosphate to the soil. A soil pH of 6.0-7.0 is preferred by roses. If possible, prepare planting beds as early as you can to allow the soil to settle. Bed preparation is a good time to address issues of nutrient and pH adjustments. It is absolutely necessary to prepare the bed before planting any plants.

Roses do best with uniform soil moisture throughout the growing season. The general rule of thumb suggests that one inch of water be applied per week during the growing season. The amount of watering applications, and the frequency as well, will depend on the type of soil. The sandy-type soils require irrigation more frequently than do heavy clay soils. Another reason why you might need to irrigate more frequently would be enduring hot temperatures. Using a soaker hose in the bed is strongly recommended. Water can be delivered in adequate amounts while keeping the foliage dry, preventing disease.

The use of mulch around the base of the plant to help retain soil moisture is a practice that is highly encouraged. Mulch will also serve to keep soils cool and help slow down the growth of weeds. Materials such as wood chips, straw, or dry grass clippings make good mulches. More decorative materials such as shredded hardwood bark or cocoa bean hulls could also be used. Mulches should be applied about 2-3 inches deep and replaced as needed. As organic mulches decompose, they tend to retain the nitrogen, so to prevent your plants from losing the nutrients it needs, an additional fertilizer may be necessary when using an organic mulch.

In order to maintain strong, healthy plants, it is important to establish an annual fertilizing routine. Scheduling your fertilizer applications will depend on what type of roses you have planted. For specimen roses, an application of general-purpose fertilizer in the spring will usually suffice for the season. These fertilizers (10-10-10 or 12-12-12) are measured at about 1/2-1 cup per plant. Spread the fertilizer in a band starting six inches from the crown of the plant, going out to about 18 inches. Work it in lightly and water.

All other roses benefit from a second application about June 15 or at the end of the spring bloom period. For continuous flowering or repeat bloomers, a third application in mid-July is suggested. It is recommended not to fertilize after August 15; this is to discourage soft, succulent growth which is easily damaged in the winter months. Once your plants have gone dormant in the fall, you may fertilize again. The purpose for this application is not to encourage growth but to have it available to the plants as they start to grow again in the spring. Also, by using a high-potassium fertilizer, the chances for survival during the winter months tends to be increased. A timed-release or controlled-release fertilizer is another type you may opt to use. This type of fertilizer is dry and encapsulated, and releases its nutrients slowly over the season, usually in 4-8 months depending on the specific formulation. Nutrient release is dependent on the soil moisture and temperature. These materials are generally applied in May, using about 1/2 cup per plant. Several forms are commercially available.


Dead-heading is the removal of dead flowers before they can develop seed. Dead-heading is a form of summer or day-to-day pruning. It is recommended to cut the stems back to an outward-facing bud above a five- or seven-leafed stem. This general rule applies best to plants that are vigorous. If the plant is weak or small, you may not want to cut off as much. Each time you remove this much wood you are removing a lot of the food-making ability of the plant. This method works well for most recurrent-blooming types of roses. With "rugs" and shrub-type roses you will probably want to cut off the old flowers. In this case, simply clean the spent blooms away with your hand, leaving the hips. Flowers should not be cut after October 1 so as to allow the plant to begin hardening off for the winter. Dead-heading is also a good way to lessen the likelihood of diseases becoming a problem.

Pruning bushes is often confusing, especially when referring to the old garden roses, the hybrid teas, English roses, and shrub roses. Don't let your confusion lead to improper pruning or no pruning at all; let the following information be your guide.

The class of rose and the time of year it blooms influence the type and amount of pruning. General pruning principles apply to all roses, but there are differences between classes. The closer one gets to species roses the less intense the pruning. Hybrid teas have the distinction of requiring the heaviest pruning for best results for blooms and the plant's health.

Because of the variety of types of flowers available, one may need to have an understanding of how a rose flowers. Pruning should also be looked at as applying a few common sense principles to accomplish several tasks. These tasks are to remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood; increase air circulation; keep the shrub from becoming a tangled mess; shape the plant; and encourage the growth of flowering wood.

The majority of pruning is done in the spring. Many growers suggest waiting until the forsythias start to bloom as a good signal for the pruning season to begin.

The basics of pruning for all roses include the following:

  • Use clean, sharp equipment.

  • Cut at a slant (45-degree angle) about 1/4 of an inch above the outward-facing bud. The cut should slant "away" from the bud.

  • Remove entirely all dead flowers and dying canes. These are canes that are shriveled, dark brown, or black.

  • It is recommended to seal the ends after cutting using white glue; this prevents cane borers from getting inside the stem.

  • Remove all thin, weak canes that are smaller than a pencil in diameter.

  • If roses are grafted and there is sucker growth, remove it. The best way is to dig down to the root where the sucker is originating and tear it off where it emerges. Cutting suckers off only encourages re-growth of several suckers where there once was one.


Roses are prone to falling victim of a number of diseases and insects. They can survive without a basic pest control program, but they may not be very attractive. The best pest control program begins with choosing the proper location, optimum soil preparation, excellent drainage, adequate spacing, cultivar selection, and maintenance care. All these things factor into the ultimate health of your roses, enabling them to withstand the pressures of disease and insects.

When selecting roses, note the resistance to disease of a particular cultivar or named variety within a class. You want to select by cultivar, not by class. All too often, many gardeners assume that shrub roses (the class) are very tolerant or resistant to disease and make their selection based solely on class. In fact, there are a number of cultivars that are very prone to severe disease injury.

Another interesting fact about diseases is that plants can have two types of resistance: phenotypic or genotypic. Phenotypic resistance is when a cultivar is resistant to a disease in one location or part of the country but not in another. Genotypic resistance is due to the presence of genes that are not affected by climate, location, or horticultural practice. That is why, when the term "resistance" is used as a blanket term and assigned to a variety or class, it may or may not apply depending on where you garden.


A lot of the plants in the "old garden rose" class are very tolerant of cold winters, while other types, i.e., the hybrid teas, will experience a considerable amount of damage. Also, budded roses stand a greater chance of injury or death due to severe cold than do the own-root roses. Basing your selection for your bushes on the USDA hardiness zone map, always select cultivars that are able to tolerate the coldest temperatures in your area. One of the ways to protect roses for the winter is to be sure they go completely dormant. To accomplish this, stop fertilizing early enough so growth slows down. No fertilizer should be applied after August 15. To further encourage dormancy, stop dead-heading or cutting flowers after October 1 and allow the plant to form hips.

There are many methods to provide winter protection for roses. The whole idea of winter protection is to keep the plant uniformly cold and frozen all winter so as to prevent the damaging effects of alternate freezing and thawing. Whatever method is chosen, don't begin covering plants too early. Wait until a hard killing frost has caused most of the leaves to fall. You may also want to wait until the temperature has dropped into the teens for several nights. Prior to covering, remove any foliage or other debris that might harbor disease for the next season.

Before you do any covering, some of your taller plants may need some minor pruning to lessen the height of the plant, but please remember to keep any pruning done at this time to a minimum. The majority of the pruning will be done in the spring to remove dead and diseased canes. Also, it's a good idea to tie the canes together to prevent wind damage.

To provide protection during the winter, the most common way to do this is to pile or "hill-up" a well-drained and loose compost/soil mix around-and-over the plant about 10 or 12 inches deep. A variety of hilling materials can be used, but the key is to be sure that the material is well drained. Wet and cold is far more damaging than dry and cold. Also, the decisions made when preparing the site for roses actually governs what kind of success you will have with winter survival. A rose that is planted in poorly drained soil will suffer and often not survive the winter, when that same rose planted in a well-drained site will flourish. Soil that is used to "hill-up" plants should be brought in from outside the rose garden. Scraping up soil from around the plant can cause root injury and lessen the plant's chance for survival. Once mound of soil has frozen, it can be covered with straw, hardwood leaves, or evergreen boughs to help with insulation and keeping the soil frozen longer.

A variation of the "hilling" method that may offer a bit more protection, is one utilizing collars. An 18-inch-high circle of hardware cloth or chicken wire is placed around the plant. The collar is filled with soil, allowed to freeze and then mulched with straw. The benefit of the collar is that it holds the soil in place all winter and prevents erosion or being washed away. Otherwise, during the winter months, any erosion can lessen the mound to a very inadequate level and expose your plants to the possible dangers of winter weather.

Another common method to protect your roses during the winter months is to use Styrofoam cones. However, if you choose to use this method, it's imperative that you use them correctly.

Follow these tips when using Styrofoam cones to cover yours roses:
1. Don't cover your plants too soon; use the same timing guideline as you would if using a different method.
2. Make sure the cones are well ventilated. This will prevent heat from building up on the inside during those sunny winter days. To ensure proper ventilation, cut four or five 1-inch holes around both ends of the cone. It is also recommended to build a mound of soil around the point at which the root of a seed plant joins the stem before covering your rose plant with the cone. For extremely tender varieties, some rose growers cut the top off the cone and stuff it full of straw for added protection. It is also a good idea to weight the cone down with a brick or stone to keep it from blowing away.

Climbing and rambler roses offer challenges with regard to winter protection. In very cold climates and for marginal varieties, climbers may need to be removed from their supports and bent to the ground, then covered with six inches of soil and mulched. When laying climbers on the ground for covering, one needs to be very careful not to injure or crack the stems. As the weather gets colder their long stems are not as pliable, and they are easily cracked resulting in the loss of that cane.

Another method that can be used is to physically pack straw around the canes while they are still attached to the trellis or support. The straw is held in place with twine to keep it in place over the winter.

Finally, always remember that healthy roses are much more likely to make it through severe winters than are roses weakened by disease, drought, insects, or nutrient deficiencies.


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Creating a Garden
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