Roses are easy to grow if you start them off right


December 11, 2003


Victoria County Master Gardener


"A rose is a rose" - or is it?


‘Mr. Lincoln’ hybrid tea is a beautiful, fragrant, red rose, best for cutting. Photo by Marce Lucke.


In last Thursday's "The Gardeners' Dirt," a fellow master gardener suggests that now is the time to prepare for planting roses later in January and February.


Roses have been a passion of mine for many years, and I have come to know that the key to growing quality roses is preparing in advance and following a few important steps.


Most people like roses, but they think that too much care is needed to grow them. Roses will grow almost "on their own" if provided with proper basics at the start.


Gardeners today have hundreds of choices when selecting roses. You can learn more about rose choices by collecting information from rose growers' catalogs, which list the class, width and height, type of foliage, disease resistance, color of bud and bloom and usually the size and number of petals in the open rose.


Most gardeners first think of color when selecting a rose, but resistance to disease is of utmost importance along the Gulf Coast, especially due to high levels of humidity. Check for one that has a good disease rating.


Catalog selections will also discuss the rose's fragrance and special features or uses. The All-America Rose Selections organization also has lists of test gardens throughout the United States, and publishes folders by rose-growing experts on rose types, garden tips and care.


Rose experts state that when Gertrude Stein wrote, "A rose is a rose is a rose," a critic should have asked, "What kind?" There are five rose classifications: hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, climbers and miniatures, and those with special adaptations, such as tree roses. Additional types are the ramblers and shrub or hedge roses; the old roses such as the bourbons, the hybrid perpetuals, the China; and now the English (David Austin) roses. All of these different roses should be studied and evaluated for consideration in selecting the best ones for your growing space.


A hedge rose, Simplicity, is the most versatile, best selling rose.  Photo by Marce Lucke.



Once you have selected the types you want to grow, start planning your rose bed. In choosing a location for planting, select an area that gets at least six hours of sun; note that early morning sun is ideal.


Good drainage is necessary, as roses don't like wet "feet," especially in the winter. Raised beds are nearly essential in the Victoria area and are best particularly in heavy clay soils that have little internal or external drainage. Good air circulation also is necessary to prevent diseases, although a windy location is not advised.


Dr. William C. Welch, landscape horticulturist with the Texas Cooperative Extension, states that roses prefer a slightly acid soil (6.0 - 6.8 pH) that is rich and well drained. Roses can be planted in heavy clay soils but these need to be built up and improved by mixing in 4 to 6 inches of compost, peat moss or similar organic materials to help break up the clays, improve drainage and soil texture. Preparing beds weeks ahead of planting time will be more effective to allow for good growth and flowering.


Spacing of the roses will vary with the variety. Most roses will need as much root space as the height of the bush. Prepare the holes for your roses with the proper spacing according to the rose type and listed growth dimension.


Dig the individual planting holes to match the size of the rose's root system when the roots are spread out; generally 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide. Mix one-third organic material and a gallon of well-rotted cow manure (if available) or a half-cup of bone meal with the soil from the hole.


Build a cone of the soil mix in the center of the hole so that the bud union (the knob where the canes join the main stalk) is just above ground level for this climate. Remove any broken canes or roots and trim roots to about even lengths. Spread the roots around the cone. Work soil around the roots and firm in with your hands, being careful with the roots.


Check the position of the bud union again and continue filling in soil and firming. Fill the hole with water and allow it to soak in. Fill in the rest of hole with soil, again keeping the bud union above the ground, and water once more.


Cover with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to prevent drying. Water as needed and follow directions that came with the rose about feeding and other care.


For those who simply want to keep their roses healthy and vigorous, feeding in spring and again in early fall should suffice. For maximum performance, begin feeding about two weeks before the last frost date and continue at four- to six-week intervals until six weeks before the earliest fall frost date.


Many dedicated rose lovers have private recipes for rose fertilizers that border on black magic, but Dr. Welch states that most commercial rose foods and organic fertilizers are fine and give good results.


Another photo Marce took of her roses--This Sun Flare floribunda, a cluster bloomer, has beautiful foliage with medium yellow repeat flowering.


If not pruned when purchased, prune the branches to about 12 inches tall when planting, making cuts a quarter-inch above an outside bud. Once growing, old type roses don't require the stringent and careful pruning that is needed by many modern sorts - in fact, they can sulk and refuse to bloom if pruned too hard. Just a light touch of sharp pruning shears is all that is needed for them to respond beautifully.


A good rule of thumb is to clip back no more than 1/3 of the bush, encouraging full foliage and heavy bloom without destroying the vigor and natural attractive form of the plant.


Everblooming varieties can be lightly trimmed or "tip-pruned" several times a year, as they flower on new growth. Roses that bloom but once are best pruned after they have bloomed.


When pruning bushes, remove any dead canes or twigs, any unbalanced growth and a few inches overall. For climbing roses, only dead or unwanted canes need to be removed.


Once growing, water is best applied to the soil so that the foliage is kept dry and disease held at a minimum. Deep watering weekly, if needed, is superior to a frequent light sprinkling.


These simple steps will help to ensure a beautiful growth of rose blossoms. Having fresh, fragrant roses from your garden is the result of planning and effort put in at the start. It will be well worth it!


Be sure to look for the next article in this column about Texas Superstar Roses, including one identified and designated a Texas Superstar just this year.