Roses For Beginners

the simple beauty of a rose

You don’t have to be an expert to grow roses. Witness the showers of brilliant blooms often seen hugging the walls of an Old World cottage.

Roses belong to history and to the storied gardens of ancient castles.

They belong also in your garden and mine, where they lend an air of beauty equaled by few other flowers.

With reasonable attention to varieties, planting directions and upkeep, the amateur can have roses with expenditure of little more time than he gives to the cultivation of other plants.

Bed Location and Soil

Fortunately for the beginner, many of the time-honored musts for rose growing can be happily discarded. Location of a bed, for example, really appears to be of greater importance than texture of soil. Roses are extremely tolerant and will do fairly well under what used to be called unfavorable conditions.

They do better, however, when planted on a spot where they will receive considerable sunlight and some protection from high winds. At the same time, bushes should be given plenty of space to allow for free circulation of air, for stagnant air encourages disease.

Close proximity to tree roots should also be avoided because roses need plenty of moisture. Good soil drainage is absolutely essential.

the simple beauty of a rose

While rich, medium loam is probably the first choice for rose beds, any soil that produces good vegetables or herbaceous plants will do very well. The earth needs deep turning and working as it does in any garden. if it is extremely heavy, it may be loosened up a bit with lighter materials.

If too light, it should be enriched with the usual soil builders. Experts fail to agree about the most desirable point of acidity. Good roses have been produced on soil that ranges from the acid pH 5 to the alkaline pH 8.

Selection of Varieties

Once the bed has been decided upon, the gardener turns his attention to varieties of roses. Here, sometimes, is the beginning of failure and discouragement.

Faced by a bewildering list of names, come-on pictures and descriptions, he is likely to make a random selection of the ones that appeal to his eye or pocketbook.

The two most popular types of roses for bedding are the hybrid Teas and the Polyanthus. The first are the descendants of the old, ever-blooming Teas and the stronger Hardy Perpetuals.

Colors range from white and cream, through the yellows, orange, reds and coppers, and the exquisite combinations of these hues. Some varieties produce single petaled flowers prized mostly for prolific bloom or bright color.

Others offer a choice of perfect double flowers of every size and type. Some of them are fragrant, some are not; and the scents range from sweet, delicate, and spicy to a faint suggestion of tea leaves.

Outstanding characteristics of the frequently unscented Polyanthas and Hybrid Polyanthas or Floribundas are those of bearing flowers in clusters and general hardiness. Blossoms are single or full and the color range is wide, including a unique scarlet-orange.

Practically all varieties are easy to grow and therefore a boon to the new rose grower. Cheap rose bushes are rarely bargains and many failures in rose growing may be traced to them.

Soil Preparation and Planting

With your plant selection in hand, attention must be given to bed preparation. The soil should be spaded deeply and pulverized as it is in any good garden program. Although roses are heavy feeders, they should be fertilized sparingly until they are established.

Well rotted cow manure or bonemeal may be worked into the lower depths of the bed before planting, but commercial fertilizer should be avoided the first year.

Bushes should be set in place as soon as possible after they arrive from the nursery. On no account should the roots be permitted to dry out by exposure to sun and wind. Many excellent plants have been ruined in this way.

Holes are dug 18 inches to 2 feet apart, wide enough to give the roots plenty of room and deep enough so that the bud union will be about one inch below the surface of the bed. Roots are spread out and loose earth is worked among them carefully.

If the soil is in friable condition, the heel may be used to tamp it firmly around the roots. Sticky soil may better be washed into place with water.

Severe pruning to two or three eyes serves a two-fold purpose at planting time. It compensates for the loss of roots when plants are dug, and it induces shoots to start from the base, making a better balanced bush.

the simple tree rose

After planting, cutting back and thorough watering, the earth is mounded up around the stem to a height of 8 or 10 inches.

In spring, this protection from sun and wind is left for a week or two until the plant starts growing. Around fall-planted bushes, the mounds remain over winter.

Care of Roses

The usual rules for keeping down weeds and regular shallow cultivation apply to roses.

A mulch of peatmoss, grass clippings or burlap is a great help in preserving soil moisture, discouraging weed growth and, to a certain extent, preventing black spot.

Mulch is best spread after cultivation and while the soil is still damp from recent rain.

Artificial watering of roses should consist of an occasional ground soaking. As black spot, the worst of all rose diseases, is liable to develop when the leaves are wet for six hours or longer.

It is advisable to water either early in the day or to prevent the water from coming into contact with the leaves.

Winter protection consists of mounding the earth around the plants after the canes have been subjected to a few heavy frosts. Long canes are cut back so that they will not loosen the roots in the wind play.

After hard freezing, a mulch of straw spread over the bed is sometimes desirable.

The best times to feed roses are in early spring and after the June blooming period. From one to four tablespoonfuls of commercial fertilizer to a bush should be spread in the depressions between mounds before the bed is leveled off in spring. A similar application is worked into the soil in June.

The actual amount and the most suitable rose fertilizer depend on the size of the bush and the fertility of the soil. In our rather poor soil, we use three tablespoonfuls of 4-12-4.

Pruning is a regular spring operation and should be done as early as possible. It consists of removing all dead wood and shortening back all other growth.

Those who are pruning roses for the first time may well follow the general rule of pruning the weak growing varieties hard and the more robust ones lightly. Always bear in mind that heavy cutting back means fewer but better flowers.

Disease and Pest Control

There remains one other phase of rose care that is not difficult if the gardener acts promptly and regularly. This is the control of disease and insect pests.

Check with your local garden center or county agent to find the recommended control for your area.

However, a product containing sulfur (for disease) and another like Malathion (for insects) is sometimes bundled as an all-round remedy.

In our own garden this material has proved economical and effective when used every ten days during the summer or a little more often in a rainy season.

Heavy infestations of aphids may be controlled with the Malathion preparations used on other plants and minor infestations may be ignored.


Even the sore problem of the Japanese beetle and the clinging rose chafer is in the way of solution as Malathion comes to the rescue.

New formulas are developed all the time and these materials should be applied according to the manufacturer’s directions. Natural control is also an option with one of the natural pesticides like neem.

Obviously in so short an article I have been able to touch only on the high spots of rose growing, omitting the finer details. Those who would increase their knowledge and enjoyment, of roses would do well to join the American Rose Society.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

LJ Jackson June 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

As a fellow gardener, I appreciate the real world details here (not just the I-want-to-sell-you-this details I often see). I plan to do an article soon on selecting a variety. Could I link back to this article?

admin June 16, 2010 at 6:54 am

Please drop us an email so we can read your article and please do link to the article if it is helpful.