Do You Love Roses?

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When I ask new acquaintances what is their favorite plant, 60% of the time or more it’s, you guessed it – roses. So, for all rose lovers, novices and veterans alike – let’s get ready this March for roses.

A bit of background:  Hybrid tea roses are long-stemmed cutting roses that are characterized by big flowers that have high centers with pointed buds, a large petal count, and good repeat blooming throughout the summer and fall until frost.

Floribunda roses generally have smaller flowers than hybrid teas, but produce more flowers on each stem. Floribundas are usually low-growing, densely branched bushes which are suited to many types of landscapes. Colors range from snowy white to deep crimson. Grandiflora roses are quite hearty, and produce larger, but fewer flowers than the floribunda.

Although roses can’t grip or attach to a support, the “climbing rose” sends out long shoots or canes that can be trained over trellises. Some bloom only once, while others bloom continuously. Some have large, hybrid tea type blooms, while others bloom in small clusters.

Planting:  Where is the perfect spot for your rosebush? Plant where it will get 6-8 hours of full sunlight each day. The best site is one with full sun early in the morning, and late afternoon shade. This lets leaves and buds  dry early in the day which will discourage diseases. Shade in the afternoon will encourage the development of good flower color. The area should be relatively open for good air circulation and away from fruit trees and vegetable gardens to limit insect and disease problems.

Roses need good drainage and most of our native soil will need some amendments before planting. A “raised bed” design works well for this condition. Get your soil tested to determine what is needed to adjust the pH to the 5.5 or 6 range. The soil should be tilled to a depth of 8-12 inches. Organic matter such as decayed sawdust, pine bark, compost or manure may be added to soils to loosen it.

A good plant will require a hole large enough so roots can spread out into it – about 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide, depending on the size of the plant. Before putting soil back around the roots be sure they are loose and not circling into a ball. Broken roots should be pruned off. The backfill should contain native soil along with the amended soil for good moisture distribution and uptake. Plants should be mounded slightly higher than “grade level.” The soil should be tamped down to eliminate any air pockets, but not to the point of compaction. Watering during planting will help in this.

A 3-4″ inch layer of mulch will help hold moisture, discourage weeds, and prevent soil crusting. It is important to use mulch rather than pine straw as pine straw quickly compacts and breaks down adding too much acid to the soil for roses.

Watering: Rose plants need a weekly soaking by nature or by you. Soaker hoses work great for this, especially if they’re connected to a programmable timer. This delivers moisture to the roots while keeping leaves dry. If an overhead watering system is used, operate it in the morning to allow the leaves time to dry. This will help lessen the chances of black spot or powdery mildew infections.

Pruning established roses:   Your established roses should already be mulched, so start by pulling the mulch away from the center to see the full form. Hybrid teas and floribundas are pruned similarly. Around the time when forsythia is blooming, do a spring prune just as the buds break dormancy. You will see red bud eyes where new growth will begin and possibly up to a quarter to half inch of new growth. So watch for the buds: when they begin to swell, go ahead and prune. Spring pruning also allows for removal of wood which was damaged by the winter. If you have grafted roses, cut off growth coming from the base rootstock below the graft to keep energy into producing roses from the desired top (scion) of the grafted plant not the rootstock.

Pruning cuts should be clean and at a 45 degree slant. The wood should be removed about 1⁄4 inch above an outside facing bud. Be sure to cut a cane down to a point where the cross-section shows no sign of discoloration. Periodically dip the pruning shears in a disinfectant solution to limit the spread of disease. Remove battered, diseased, and crossing canes. In Hybrid teas and Grandiflora bushes prune to form a bowl shape from 3-6 canes with the center cleared out for air circulation. The old wood is removed to stimulate new growth which will flower next year. Many climbers are pruned to stay within a basic boundary with the older canes pruned. Look for blooms about 6-8 weeks after pruning. First year roses should be allowed to bloom. After the rose bush matures the flowers can be cut regularly.

Fertilizing: Immediately after pruning, blend organic amendments into the soil. Water thoroughly first, then spread the ingredients evenly around the bush, under the outer perimeter of the bush. Blend lightly into the top 1-2″ of soil and water well again. As the soil warms with the weather, the organics will start to break down, supplying slow release nutrition to your roses and the beneficial soil micro-organisms.

For newly planted bare root plants, be careful not to burn the tiny new roots. Apply organic amendments to the soil at planting time, then wait until after the plant has produced its first blooms to apply chemical fertilizers about once a month. By this time you can be sure the roots are large enough to withstand chemical additions without burning. Water well first, apply the fertilizer and water well again. Apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer to established roses in early to mid-March. If you properly prepared your rose bed with lots of well composted cow manure, the rose bushes will have the micronutrients they need to thrive.

For more information, including varieties take a look at the following publication:

The two keys to success in gardening are understanding how plants grow and understanding how to provide them with a good home. Good Gardening!

Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.