“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
-William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet: Act II, Scene II
One of the oldest flowers to be cultivated, rich with history, inspiration and seldom left out of a landscape- Roses. Arguably one of the most recognizable flower known to man, with rich, often fragrant blooms along with a multitude of sizes, colors and increasing availability, there is no slowing the popular choice to include roses in our gardens. With advancements in hybrids and increasing resistance to pests and diseases, the once temperamental plant now offers varieties that are fairly low maintenance; meaning, there a rose for anyone!
When choosing to plant roses one must first select a site. Roses require a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight, but prefer and thrive on at least six hours of sun daily. Because much of a rose’s strength is dependent on its root system soil is even more important than sunlight. The roots need a rich, loamy, well drained soil without competition from other plants, especially tree roots. A soil pH of 6.5 is best. It is important to note that standing water, even in winter, is not tolerable location to plant.
Choices, choices choices… There are almost endless varieties of roses to choose from. Ground covers are quick spreading, low growing and low maintenance. Miniatures range from two to three feet tall and are covered with miniature blooms in dwarf and compact form. In WNY, they are treated as annuals. Patio roses are sized between miniatures and floribundas, allseason dense growth and blooms, for example KnockOuts. Floribundas are sized under hybrid tea roses with flower clusters heavy and blooming repeatedly from June to frost. Hedge roses are versatile and low maintenance, very vigorous which makes it great as a hedge or privacy screen in mass plantings. Rugosas are hardy, rapid growing and blooming, tall, shrubby and much less formal. The very popular, Hybrid Teas, are great for cutting due to the long stems and nearly perfect flowers. Grandifloras bloom in clusters and on shorter stems than Teas, which are taller and more disease resistant. Polyanthas or ‘antique’ roses are more causal, fragrant, genetically historical, but are disease prone and aren’t readily available. English Roses are a cross between old and modern roses resulting in form, fragrance and vigor. Tree Roses, a rose budded on a sturdy, straight cane and often combined with two varieties, are best in containers in wintered climates. Finally there are Climbing Roses. They then to be vigorous and easy to train for espaliers or other desired shapes or structures due to their long, heavily blooming canes.
Roses are typically sold as bare root or in containers. If planting bare root roses, soak the roots in a tub of lukewarm water for 12 hours before planting. If storing bare root stock for any period of time, keep roots damp, not wet, and cool. Remove any broken roots before planting bare root and always water container grown roses well before planting. Holes should be dug one to one and a half feet deep and wide enough for ease in root development. Fill the hole with two parts of soil mixed with one part of peat moss, compost or rotted manure, making sure the bud union, where the graft of the rose meets the roots, is planted two inches below ground level. Firmly tamp the soil and water. To install a rose bed allow at least an area four to six feet wide and two and a half feet center to center spacing allowing enough space for root bases to develop and not compete with one another. Tree rose varieties will need to be staked before placing rose roots in the soil. When planting in containers, the same process should be followed, but ensure the container is large enough and has sufficient drainage holes. Check rose canes for good health and prune away anything unhealthy or damaged. Any transplanting is best done in early spring.
Once your roses are planted the only thing left to do is care for them. Misting the stems (canes) of bare rooted plants until the plant leafs out is essential. Be sure to water when no moisture is in the soil one inch below the surface. Drip watering or watering at the base of the plant is best as the foliage isn’t touched. Only water from the top in the morning so the leaves can dry thoroughly to prevent any mold or fungus from developing on the leaves. Mulching is recommended as it helps to retain moisture and prevents weed growth so no soil cultivation is required. Fertilizing is generally recommended three times a year. Apply a balanced 555, 5105 or rose specific fertilizer when the rose is leafing out, again after the first completed bloom and lastly, in mid to late July. Fertilization after that point may result in late growth and is very likely to suffer frost damage. The autumn season for roses like many perennials is a time for the plant’s energy to be directed toward the roots and gain strength to endure the winter which is why many plants lose their leaves.
Pruning is best done in spring when the rose is still dormant. Remove any winter damage, weak growth, crossing or rubbing branches or diseased ones. Cut one to two inches below the damage at a 45 degree angle one quarter inch above an outside bud. Weak growth is mostly in the center canes and needs to be removed to allow for airflow and shaping. Prune all sucker growth that forms below the bud union. The bud union is the base of the rose where all canes derive from. To ensure regular blooms, deadheading, the practice of removing blossoms after the blooms have faded, should be performed regularly. Remove any side buds leaving more of the plant’s energy to produce larger single roses if desired.
Roses sometimes do need a bit of protection. Fungicide and pesticide application may be needed depending on the plant’s microclimate and variety of rose. Well maintained gardens will require little if any treatment. Most roses, however, will require winter protection to protect the bud union. Tree roses vary generally between 18 to 36 inches in height where the graft is, while shrub type roses have this union just below the soil level. Tree roses should be released from its supports and one side of its roots loosened, laid down in a shallow trench, secured with stakes and covered with four to five inches of soil, peat, or mulch. Tall climbing roses are treated the same.
Today’s methods, in comparison, offer some reprieve from the historically known intense maintenance. However the little bit of fussing over to enhance the plant’s true beauty is by far worth the effort. The reward, endless colorful spirals of fragrant blooms that have captivated us for centuries and will for centuries to come.