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A Rose Garden for Everyone / Roses 101
"Roses are too hard to grow."
"Roses are so much work."
"I can't grow roses where I live."

My answer to these comments? No they aren't, and Yes you can! Unless you live on the snow caps of the poles, there is a rose which will grow for you. You only need look for the right one.

Roses aren't the Garden Divas they are made out to be. As flowers go, they give the most for the least amount of work. "Well", you say, "I've tried to grow roses and they all died/didn't do well at all." Most of the time a small amount of investigation can unearth the reason for the failure.

Most roses fail because they were the wrong variety placed in the wrong spot. Another common thread I hear, "They were only two bucks, I thought 'What do I have to lose?'" Sick or inferior roses are bound to fail in most cases. A healthy rose is harder to kill than a sick rose is to make healthy.

It all starts with where and what you plant roses in. Roses in general require six or more hours of direct sunlight and well drained soil. Select your planting area before you bring your roses home. If your soil is mostly clay or sand, you will do well to add organic material to the soil to make it more rose friendly. Compost and peat moss are good choices. Follow the directions on the packages, and the roses will reward you. If you have drainage problems, digging deeper and adding gravel or constructing raised beds can correct the problem. If the only full sun you have is on your patio, most roses will do fine in a big enough pot. I started growing roses in pots on the patio of my apartment. Where there is a will there is a way.

Selecting your rose

The references here on HelpMeFind are invaluable to the new and experienced Rosarian alike. Choosing a rose starts with where you live. If you don't know what zone you live in, or even what a zone is look at The zone map is there with instructions on how to read it.

There are a number of beauties I'd love to grow in my USDA zone 6a garden. I've learned through experience one can't make a tender rose survive winter conditions. Tender means the rose is intolerant of temperatures below freezing. Hardy roses refer to those which will tolerate winter weather. Most florist roses will not survive even the mildest of winter weather. Dr. Griffith Buck's roses will survive zone 3 winters with little to no damage because they were bred for that purpose.

Now you know what zone you live in. The next step is to decide what you want from your roses. Do you dream of long stemmed vase beauties? Does a bush covered from head to toe in colorful blooms appeal to you? Or do visions of an English country garden dripping with old fashioned cabbage roses fill your mind's eye? There are many classifications of roses. If you would like, do an advanced rose search on Help Me Find andclick on 'Class'. It is mind boggling. For the purposes of a new rosarian we'll stick with the basic, well known, classifications. Please understand each rose is as different each person is. There is a lot of latitude found in each classification, research is always a good idea.

Hybrid Tea
What most of us think of when we hear 'rose'. If long stemmed cut roses are your dream, this would be the place to start your search. Disease resistance varies in this class. New growers may want to steer clear of varieties which are noted as Florist roses, as they often have specific requirements to do well. There is an abundance of solid performers for most zones in this class.
Are shorter than Hybrid Teas, and bloom in sprays (many roses on one stem). They are delightful for showy displays in the garden with minimal maintenance.
This classification calls for multipleblooms on one stem showing at different stages of development. Grandifloras can get very tall. This class offers some stunning varieties with good disease resistance.
Minis can be small enough to fit under a tea cup or three feet tall. What makes a mini a mini is bloom size, generally two inches and under. This class has many different bloom forms. From tiny hybrid tea to lovely cupped 'English' rose style. Minis tend to be very disease resistant, making them easy to care for. They provide an abundance of blooms over the course of the season. There are fragrant varieties available.
A newcomer to the rose scene these combine the best of Floribundas and miniatures. The blooms of a Mini-flora are in between Minis and Floribundas on a compact bush. Most stay in continuous bloom over the course of the season.
These are found gracing arbors, flowing over fences or reaching up the side of homes. They are easy to train, but do take attention the first three years until they take off. Left on their own, they will grow every which way.
This class includes the newer English roses with the old cabbage rose form. Size varies greatly, from very large to compact. Most shrubs are low maintenance, independent growers. They will happily fill a spot in the garden with season long color and minimal care.
A very sturdy class which tends to do well for Novice rosarians. This class is well armed, meaning there are a lot of thorns and prickles. The attraction is their independent nature. They will perform well with little attention. As important as which variety you chose to grow and what you plant it in, is the quality of plant you bring home.
Roses are available in three forms.
These are dormant and are either shipped at planting time with the roots covered in damp paper, or available in bags, peat pots or boxes from a local retailer. Select a rose with at least three healthy canes. Follow the planting instructions on the packaging. If you are in a winter zone place the bud union (the knobby part where the canes come out) three to four inches below the surface to protect it from freezing. Mound the rose to two thirds its height with mulch and water very well. Keep the rose watered. Most bare-root failures can be traced to insufficient water while it is breaking dormancy. When the bush has strong new growth on it, the mulch can be removed. Resist the urge to feed until after the rose has bloomed. If the canes are waxed consider gently removing the wax as it can cause problems in warmer climates.
These roses are growing and blooming at the nursery. They are a good choice for the beginner for a couple of reasons. A growing blooming rose gives you a good idea of what you are bringing home. Potted roses are easy to plant, do follow the instructions given on the tag or by the nursery. Avoid bringing home a potted rose which looks ill or has insects on it. It's not worth bringing home disease, no matter how badly you might want the rose. Things to look for: Dark or purple blotches on the leaves. White powdery substance on the leaves or stems. Plants with yellowing or dropping leaves, this can be caused by over watering or illness, it's better to be safe.
Own root
As the name suggests these roses are growing on their own roots. Own root roses are smaller to start, but catch up to their grafted counter parts fairly quickly. The reasons for planting own root roses vary. Own roots tend to be much more winter hardy, decreasing winter kill loss in colder zones. Own root roses don't sucker, meaning there is no under-stock to sprout up around the rose. If you've ever heard 'The rose went wild', this is what they are referring to. The rose didn't go wild, the graft died and the under-stock is growing. Or the under-stock is growing, tapping energy from the grafted variety. Most varieties are more vigorous on their own roots and produce an over all healthier bush. Should the lawn mower or weed whacker have an encounter with an own root rose, chances are extremely good you won't lose the bush. The plant will send up new canes from the roots.

If you are purchasing grafted plants here is a short run down on under-stock. Most commercially available roses are grafted onto an under-stock from a different variety of rose. The most common are: Dr. Huey, Multiflora and Fortuniana. Dr. Huey and Multiflora are the most common because they do well in most situations. Fortuniana is becoming very popular in the South where nematodes are a problem and in the sandy soil of the desert. If you live in the deep South or Desert, it would be worth your while to investigate purchasing roses on this under-stock.

A word to the wise; All suppliers are not the same. Please resist the urge to purchase bargain bare root roses. Buying cheap mail order or bagged roses is a gamble. It is not in a novices best interest to purchase anything less than a Grade 1 bare-root rose. 1½ and 2 Grade roses are smaller, and frequently fail to thrive.

Rock bottom priced roses come with a higher risk of mislabeling. It can be quite disheartening to think you have a wonderful red hybrid tea and discover you have an orange floribunda. My lovely Brass Band was supposed to be a red Rugosas.

Rose Mosaic Virus is far more prevalent in bargain roses. RMV effects roses in a number of ways. If you are very lucky the rose does fine and doesn't seem to notice it's virused. Most of the time the rose lacks vigor and doesn't perform well. RMV normally presents with what looks like lightening bolt patterns on the leaves. In extreme examples the leaves can be mottled with yellow, orange and red. Bargain Basement roses have a higher incidence of RMV because the supplier is either unaware of the problem or more nterested in the bottom line than the quality of roses they are offering. I ordered 8 roses I couldn't find from any other supplier from a bargains source. Of the eight, six are showing signs of RMV. The others may be infected as well, time will tell. RMV can take five or more years to present. It is spread by grafting or budding infected under-stock or cuttings. There is no cure. The only good news is it is not thought to spread to neighboring plants, so it doesn't endanger other roses.

These things can happen with a well known Rose supplier as well, but your chances of a bad experience are greatly reduced. Most well known and respected nurseries will replace a mislabeled rose with the correct variety. If your rose fails to thrive, many will replace it with a healthy cultivator if notified within the first growing season. They often will replace RMV infected roses as well, because it is in their best interest to do so.

Are you plotting out a rose garden in your mind's eye? Dreaming of the arm loads of roses you will grow?. Still not convinced? Well okay, perhaps if you understood how little is involved in making roses happy. Rose care for different regions vary. Selecting roses specific to your area and planting them correctly is truly 90percent of the battle. What I'm going to out line is what I do in my garden and have done for some years with good result. You will want to watch what others in your area do and develop a regiment which works well for you. Don't be shy. Most people who grow roses love to talk about them, and will gladly share tips.


Water is the most important consideration. If you only plan to have a small rose garden hand watering your roses with a hose may be the simplest approach. It is better to water deeply less often than to water a little every day. Roses require the equivalent of one inch of rain per week. It is easy to tell if they aren't getting enough, they will sag and look pathetic. If they are over watered, very easy to do in pots, the lower leaves will turn yellow and start to drop. Properly watered roses are green, lush and blooming.

If you plan on a larger garden, a drip or spray system may be in order. It need not be an expensive or complicated affair. Mine is simple and connects to the hose. There are systems which work with automatic lawn sprinklers to make watering nearly a non-job. Drip and bubble heads are good where weed control is a consideration and where the soil allows for the water to seep down and spread. Spray heads offer a couple of advantages. They can water more than one rose at a time and when properly positioned to spray the lower leaves can keep spider mites at bay. Speak with other rosarians or local nursery staff for advise on what would be best in your area.

Disease and Insect control

You can be as aggressive or passive with this subject as you wish. I've discovered that over spraying creates it's own difficulties.

Your garden is a small ecosystem. Every ecosystem will find a balance between predators and prey. Spraying too often for insects upsets this balance. For this reason, I spray with a systemic product early in the season, before the roses leaf out. I only spray again if there is an explosion of harmful insects and the roses are being extensively damaged. I tolerate some damage as part of growing roses. Spider mites hate water, water the bottom of the bushes regularly and they should stay well contained. Always water roses well the day before you spray any product on them to reduce the chance of damage to the foliage. Never spray in the heat of the day. In the Morning or Evening is much preferred.

I spray for disease with a systemic product before the roses leaf out in the Spring. Mild out breaks of disease I control by pulling the effected foliage off. When there is an outbreak of Powdery Mildew or Black spot, I remove the effected foliage. Next I water the roses very well. The next day I go through and spray the roses and the ground around the roses. Most of the fungus which attack roses lives in the mulch or soil around the roses and can be transferred by splashed water.

A new garden may require more frequent spraying. Each season decrease the spraying and you will find nature will strike a balance. I started my current garden with monthly spraying seven seasons ago. This season I sprayed once for insects and three times for disease. This was accomplished by allowing the beneficial insects to do their job and by selecting more disease resistant rose varieties. Less spraying means more time to enjoy the roses.


Like any living thing, roses need to be fed. Use a balanced food, I like 20-20-20. It doesn't have to rose food. The roses don't know the difference. Honest they can't read and don't care where the food comes from so long as it comes. I hook the hose end feeder to the drip line once a month. Over feeding accomplishes very little and can be harmful to the roses in some cases. For long term continuous feeding 1-2 cups of alfalfa pellets from the feed store are scattered near the drip button. They can be spread around the entire base of the bush as well. Where you place the pellets depends on how you water your roses. As with any thing, experiment with different products until you find the one or ones which work best for you.


Roses are particularly sensitive to herbicide spray. The drift can and does cause distorted growth and a lack of blooms and vigor. It is much preferred to use pre-emergent such as Preen. Here I manage weeds by controlling where the water goes, landscape fabric, a thick layer of mulch. Landscape fabric goes a long way toward weed control. If you do nothing else, put down a thick layer of mulch for weed control. Roses love mulch. Did I mention roses love mulch? They do adore mulch and weeds find it difficult to grow through a deep layer of mulch.

Keeping your roses blooming and looking good

Roses bloom for reproduction, like any other plant. Removing spent blooms prompts the plant to produce more flowers. There are many opinions on just how you should go about dead-heading a rose bush. What I've found works the best is to find a healthy set of leaflets facing in a direction I want growth and cut the rose there. Resist the urge to cut too short. You will get new growth on a weak stem and the flowers will be small and weak as well. The most pleasant way to approach this task is to go out often and bring in cut roses for your home or to share with others. Landscape shrubs appreciate being dead-headed, but it is generally not required for them to continued blooming.

Presently I grow nearly 200 roses. I've lost more roses than I care to count because they were the wrong variety or sickly when I brought them home. This last winter I didn't lose a single rose to winter kill. I suspect my acceptance of the zone I live in has a good deal to do with this. The right rose....

Using what I've outlined, the roses take less than an average of nine hours in any given week during the height of the growing season. Remember there are nearly 200 in my garden. A dozen or so would take much less time.

Spring pruning, spraying and spreading alfalfa pellets take a bit more time and effort, but over all taking care of the rose garden doesn't dominate my life. I spend much more time wandering through enjoying their bounty then slaving over them.

Neighbors tell me they alter their jogging route in the Summer so that they can see my rose garden. Everyone thinks I spend hours in back breaking labor to produce such lovely roses. The truth is, the roses are lovely on their own with very little assistance from me.

Yes, you can grow beautiful roses too!
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