Gardening Blog

Gardening Blog: Roses

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I grew hybrid tea roses for over twenty years. The sheer beauty, variety and the perfume of the flowers, captivated me from the first plant I purchased. But even with a professional grower and nurseryman to sell me hearty stock and keep me well advised, there was no question that growing roses is the most labor intensive of all the annuals Iíve grown. So the question must be asked, before we get to the types and characteristics of this queen of flowers, are you willing to do the work to get top notch results? For this article I am referring to hybrid-T roses only.


Roses can be shipped two ways, as bare root roses, when the plant is hopefully dormant and doesnít need additional food and as container roses, which may or may not be dormant and are shipped in 6Ē or 8Ē peat pots. The bare roots roses usually have wax on the cut ends of their canes to prevent dehydration. Containerized roses are not as severely pruned and lack the wax, as they are watered. In this instance, I suggest strongly that you go to a nursery or order on the web. Roses are too expensive to trust a supermarket to buy the best and care for them well. Both can be shipped in the early Spring or Late Fall.


When your roses arrive home, put the pots out in partial shade and water thoroughly. Bare roots roses should have the packaging stripped off them, the roots separated and spread out and the plants should be placed in a shallow tub of water. If all danger of frost is passed, acclimatizing to local conditions should take three to five days, certainly no more than a week.


Roses thrive on full sunlight. Select your beds accordingly. Hybrid roses have a graft mark just above the soil line. This is where the tender hybrid has been grafted onto a hardy root stock, usually Rosa Rugosa, a very old and frost resistant type of rose root stock. Dig your holes with the idea of keeping the graft just at the soil's surface and wide enough that the roots on the bare root plants can be fanned out. For the pot grown plants breaking up the impacted soil around the roots on the exterior and pulling roots away from the root ball is helpful. Some people make small knife cuts on the larger roots, just breaking the skin and feel that new roots will grow from these breaks. Fill the holes with water, let it drain and plant your roses. (At this point you could have added fertilizer, but I found if the soil was well adjusted in the first place, this was not necessary. I favor topical rose food applications after the plant growth is well established).


Properly trimmed roses need to start the season with a few, well separated canes growing upwards, and the center of the shrub open to the sun and air. Cut out any crossed branches, juvenile canes, or those with dead tips to achieve this effect. The main canes selected should be cut back to 4Ē or 5Ē. You should pick a healthy bud on the outside of each cane and make your cut just above it. Think of your cupped hand as the rose, with the buds growing on the outside of the canes, where your fingernails are located. Being exposed to the drying wind and sun will help with soil borne pathogens like black spot and mildew that thrive on damp. Note: to keep Hybrid Teas blooming, you must cut off, (deadhead), spent flowers, so the plant makes new flowers and don't concentrate on making seeds in the hips of the spent roses.


To that end, itís a good idea to water with a soaker hose which lays on the ground and leaks water into the soil. Watering roses from above is a risky business as the droplets strike the soil violently and bounce up again into the low foliage of the plant, carrying black spot and mildew with it. Some people strip the lower leaves off their roses to avoid this. If you canít afford soaker hose, water from underneath with a watering can. Set the rose in a downwards position relative to the can and water only the soil underneath the plant. It sounds like a lot of work, especially in dry weather, but if youíve ever seen a leafless rose in mid summer with small, misshapen flowers, and you love roses, you will find the extra toil worth it.


There are some very effective dusting powders for roses that help a lot with airborne diseases. They are applied with a hand cranked fogger or in liquid form with a Hudson sprayer. (A sprayer that can be pumped up to release its contents under pressure). Alas, rain will wash the treatment off the leaves and you will have to re-apply after every significant rain storm. Read the can or box for directions and follow them closely.

Come the Fall

If you are growing roses in an area where it freezes, itís a good idea to cover the roots to insulate them from the cold. A good covering of snow helps a lot, as it offers its own form of insulation for the dormant roses. My father who was no slouch at growing roses himself said a long cold winter was a boon, a winter where it froze and thawed and melted snow saturated the ground before it froze again was deadly and in all the years Iíve cared for roses, Iíve always lost more plants in a mild wet winter than in a continuously cold one. Many people cover the plants with leaves as they are plentiful in most yards or can be asked for from neighbors, but this can be a problem, too. Pathogens, insects, mice and voles love to burrow in the piles of leaves and the four legged critters can leave the canes badly chewed. Iíd recommend getting enough top soil from the garden center to mound them up well. The last chore is to cut the canes back to a foot or less. The winter wind can catch a cane, especially if itís still carrying leaves and crack it down lengthwise. This leaves the plant open to disease in the early Spring before you can get to it. Better to do the pruning in the Fall and be safe.
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