How to Grow Roses

The best thing you can do for a rose is plant it right. Roses are long-lived plants, and they will flourish if you plant them in well-drained soil in a sunny spot (with at least six hours of sun). Morning sun and eastern exposures are best; dew that forms overnight will dry quickly in the morning, and flowers last longer in mild morning light than they do in the hot afternoon sun in a western exposure.

To get your roses off to a good start when you plant them, amend the soil with compost to add nutrients and improve its structure.

Established roses are drought-tolerant plants, but they need moisture to thrive and bloom. Deep watering every week will encourage repeat-blooming roses to produce flowers all summer long. Mulching plants with compost helps keep moisture in the soil, maintains an even soil temperature, and keeps weeds in check.

Roses should be fertilized in spring, when they leaf out. Organic fertilizers containing micronutrients will keep roses healthy and blooming, and they contribute to the health of the soil. Fertilize in spring, then every six weeks, stopping about six weeks before the average first frost in your area.

Healthy rose bushes are resistant to bugs and blights, but no plant is immune to them. In an all-rose garden, plant diseases or an infestation of bugs can swiftly cause serious damage, but a garden that includes other flowers and shrubs will attract good bugs that will help keep the predators in check. Birds also help; insects and caterpillars are an important food for them. If necessary, pick caterpillars off rose buds by hand. Black spot, a common fungus disease that affects rose leaves, can be a problem, but otherwise-healthy roses will bounce back. You shouldn’t have to spray your rose bushes with pesticides.

Prune roses in early spring, cutting back any stems with winter damage, canes crossing and rubbing against each other, or canes growing out across garden paths. On older rose bushes, taking out old canes allows room for vigorous new shoots to grow.

“People have this idea that pruning is complicated,” says Michael Marriott, a garden designer with David Austin roses. “I do pruning workshops and I start off saying just chop them off about halfway, and you’re not going to go far wrong.” Pruning stimulates growth, he says, so don’t hesitate to prune hard to bring an old rose back into proportion or to achieve a shape you like. “Once you’ve done it, it’s liberating,” he says.

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