Ten Steps to Growing Good Roses

By following a few steps, you can grow beautiful roses.


1. Locate the Bed for the Best Growth

The rose bed should be located away from trees and shrubs with at least 4-6 hours of sun per day, preferably morning sun. Good drainage is essential – consider raised beds.

2. Buy only #1 Rose Bushes

Grade #1 rose bushes that grow well in this area (Zone 7a) and that are highly rated by the American Rose Society will give you the best results. The Handbook for Selecting Roses lists all the rose ratings and can be purchased from the American Rose Society (318) 938-5402 rose.org.

3. Plant Properly

Roses can be planted in the spring whenever the soil can be worked. Avoid buying any waxed roses. If planting bare root roses ordered by mail, soak them overnight in water. Dig holes approximately 18″ by 18″. Setting the top 6″ of soil to one side, discard the rest. To the top 6″ of soil, add sand and organic matter (composted manure, peat moss, rotten sawdust, leaf mold, etc.) to make a mixture of approximately 1/3 top soil, 1/3 sand, and 1/3 organic matter.

Place a shovelful of mixture in the bottom of the hole and add 1/3 cup Superphosphate in one lump. Cover this with another shovelful of soil mix. Place roots of bush fanned out over this mix making sure that the crown of the bush will be at ground level. Fill hole to half full with mix slightly tamping mix as you go, then water in. Add the remaining mix, then add 2 cups of alfalfa meal on top. Water in well again. Cut canes back to 8″ at an outside eye. Completely cover bush with dampened mulch. Completely cover bush with dampened mulch. This step is critical!

4. Spring Pruning for Established Roses

On or about the third week of March (depending on the weather), uncover the roses very carefully so as not to disturb any new growth. A hose at half speed will help remove the mulch. Begin pruning the canes; if there is any dark brown discoloration in the center of the cane, keep pruning down one inch at a time until you reach wood that is only slightly discolored or all white. At this time, you can work into the soil around the bush 1 cup of Alfalfa Meal or 2 cups Mills Mix, an all organic fertilizer. Spray the bushes with a fungicide and insecticide and let dry. Recover the bushes with mulch. After the last frost date (April 15-23), you can begin to gradually pull the mulch away from the crown. Be careful not to damage any new growth. (White basal breaks will be damaged by the sun, so they should remain covered until the tips begin to mature.)

Watch a hands-on pruning demonstration!

5. Fertilize

After the plant is well leafed out – around May 1 – use any balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or Fertilome at the manufacturer’s recommended rate. Osmocote and BloomKote from Mills are timed release fertilizers that are applied one time in the spring. Mills Mix is an all organic fertilizer that can be used in the spring and summer. Water bushes well before fertilizing, then water again after working fertilizer into the soil at the drip line. If using liquid fertilizers like Miracle Grow or Mills Easy Feed, do not water after applying.

6. Water

Watering is the most important aspect of growing roses. Water converts fertilizers into a liquid form that can be absorbed by the plant’s roots. Water a minimum of once a week (deep soak), more often in the heat of the summer. Three to four inches of mulch will help to retain water and keep the roses cooler.

7. Spray

Public rose enemy #1 is blackspot (black spots on the leaves). Start your spray program in the Spring when new leaves first begin to appear. Apply Funginex, Immunox, or other fungicide every 7 days. Banner Maxx may be used every 14 days.

Use an insecticide only if you have an infestation. One of the most useful and least harmful contains the chemical Spinosad. If allowed to dry for 6-8hrs., it is not supposed to harm bees so spray it late in the day. It can usually be mixed with fungicides. (Check label to make sure the chemicals you are using are compatible.) Follow all label directions! Protect yourself with goggles, respirator mask, gloves, long sleeves and long pants when spraying. Most chemicals can be found at county co-ops.

To grow roses without spraying, choose carefully from more resistant varieties.

8. Prune

Newly planted roses should be pruned very lightly (roses cut with very short stems) until after the first bloom cycle. Better yet, remove only faded blooms leaving as many leaves as possible. Leaves are like solar collectors that provide energy for the bush.

You can build a bigger bush if you have will power. Most roses will produce two side buds for every main bud. Snapping off the main bud will force the side buds to grow and will increase the size and vigor of your bush.

9. Fall Care

After the end of August, continue watering but stop all fertilization. The plant needs a gradual entrance into dormancy – any new growth might be killed by early frost. This would be an added stress for even a healthy plant going into winter.

One of the most important jobs in the rose garden is to get a soil test, and fall is a great time to do it. Any corrections that need to be made will have all winter to work. Check pH and adjust to pH 6.5.

10. Winterization

After a minimum of two hard freezes (temperatures below 28 degrees) and when roses become dormant, cut them back to approximately 24 – 36″ high. The end of November is a good time to begin winterization, completing it by mid- December. Mound mulch all around the crown of the plant to at least 10-12″ high. Any organic mulch such as sawdust, manure, pine bark, etc can be used. Check mulch in January and February and replenish any that has washed down in the rains. Collars are useful to hold mulch in place.