Is a Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose?

Rosaceae

Roses are the most popular flower in the world. They are grown in almost every climate and on every continent. Despite their beauty and reputation for difficulty, roses are really very tough and durable. In fact, the best roses seem to be those least fussed with. Unless you plan on producing exhibition roses, your rose plants should provide pleasure, beauty, and scent for a minimum amount of time and energy. Because of their forgiving nature, roses are an ideal plant for a novice gardener.

Roses
Beautiful roses needn't be tough to grow.

Though they have an ancient history, the popularity of roses as we know them today started with the Empress Josephine and her garden at Malmaison almost 200 years ago. While Napoleon was off harrying the neighbors, Josephine was collecting and cultivating roses. As Empress, she influenced others and the rose's popularity spread. There are dozens of books available on rose varieties, cultivation, and history.

Growing roses for the uninitiated

If you've never grown roses, you might find them a little intimidating. A stroll through the local nursery is enough to daunt anyone. Row upon row of special concoctions for powdery mildew and blackspot—especially for roses—as well as fertilizers and amendments populate row after row of shelves.

Then you look at the plants outside. Dozens of floribundas, teas, and heirlooms that are nothing more than scraggly sticks with thorns popping out of boxes and bags. Tags with pictures promise climbers, bushes, and miniatures in every color but black and blue.

Where in the world are you supposed to start?

Start with one in early spring

Take a deep breath and start with just a single plant. Pick by color, size, scent, or habit. It really doesn't make any difference. Roses can run from $5 to $20 depending on where you get them and how they are packaged. They may come in a box or pot or bareroot in a bag. If you can't plant it immediately, make sure it doesn't dry out.

The best time to plant roses is in the early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Most roses start to show up in the nurseries in late January or February. They are dormant at this time or just starting to show budding. Treat bareroot roses to a soak in a bucket of water or compost tea before planting. For roses that come in the box, you can leave them in the box—it will eventually disintegrate—or remove it from the box, and plant it as is.

Roses, depending on your location, can often be transplanted any time of year as long as the ground isn't frozen and you give it enough water. In desert climates, don't forget the ever-important vitamin B-1 to reduce transplant shock.

Rose connoisseurs may blanche, but really all you need to do is dig a hole, make sure you have decent drainage, add compost, and plop your rose in. Cover it up and water it well. As long as it is well sited, and your climate supports it, it will probably be fine.

Cultivation basics

There is no reason to make rose cultivation hard. Like any other critter, they need sun, food, and water. The biggest plus is that you don't have to schedule play days or take them for walks.

Roses like full sun. The minimum during the summer season is about six hours. The more northerly your latitude, the more important exposure is. A southern exposure for all but the hottest climates is best. If you live in a hot climate, plant your roses on the east side of your house to block them from the most intense afternoon sun, or use a sun screen to shade them part of the day. If you can give them a southeastern exposure, you'll have a very happy rose.

The soil for roses needs to be decent, loamy soil with good drainage. If your soil has issues like too much clay or sand, you'll need to amend it with good compost. You can get dairy manure, which should be well-rotted, or use mushroom compost or worm castings. Any rich organic compost is fine. Mulching with coffee grounds is good. You can often get sacks of spent grounds from the local Starbucks, so check with your local barrista.

Roses need food. Lots of it. As a result, most people use a rose fertilizer several times a year. However, with rich soil and judicious top dressing, you can grow your roses organically. Compost tea is now available at many nurseries and feeds the soil with millions of microorganisms that will support the health of your plant.

Space plants so each one has about one foot all the way around it. Good spacing allows easy care and adequate ventilation.

Last, but not least, water is vital to your roses. The key is slow, drip irrigation. You can set up a drip irrigation system or use milk jugs with a few holes in the bottom. (Place the jug next to your rose, fill with water, then let it slowly seep out.) By keeping water off the leaves, you'll reduce the potential evils like blackspot and powdery mildew. If you choose to use a chemical fertilizer like Miracle Gro, the milk jug approach directs the fertilizer where it will do the most good. The second aspect of watering your rose, is retaining the water you give it. Mulch your rose and you'll conserve water, and your rose's cool, moist root system will be able to provide all the support and nourishment necessary for a healthy plant.

Pruning

Ah, the mysteries of pruning. So you've got this rose in the ground, it looks good, and you want to know how to make it look good next year? Each type of rose has slightly different requirements for pruning.

Dead heading your roses, especially repeat bloomers, during the growing season is the weekly regimen of light pruning that will keep your roses healthy all summer. For flower gathering, cut the stem back to an outward-facing bud above a five-leaflet leaf.

General rules include:

Rose problems

If you have healthy soil, and plenty of sun and water, your roses should be relatively disease resistant. If you have an aphid infestation, black spot, or powdery mildew, botrytis, or any of the other problems that assail roses, go back to the basics first. Hungry, dry roses in poor soil without good ventilation are candidates for a host of ills. You can spray or prune to remove offending symptoms, but until you address the root cause, the problems will continue to plague you. Like you, your roses need a balanced diet and lots of water, otherwise you can expect the rose equivalent of colds, flu, and allergies.

The truth is some roses are a little fussier than others. If you want a disease-resistant rose, consider Buck roses, which were bred for disease resistance.

Resources and books

Foolproof Guide to Growing Roses—This is a great book for anyone getting started with roses. It will answer all your questions and more.

American Rose Society Encyclopedia of Roses —As a reference work, this book has no peer where roses are concerned. It catalogs more than 2000 roses. It has great pictures and offers expert advice.


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