Caring for Roses

Bed of Red Roses

With a little attention each season, you can have a garden full of beautiful, fragrant roses. You might be surprised to know that roses are much easier to care for than you think.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, "There are many types of roses available, some roses require more maintenance than others. Tea roses tend to require more attention, while shrub roses are low maintenance. Find the right type of rose for your gardening style."

Early Spring Pruning

In the spring, you should prune roses as soon as new buds start swelling. These small red buds will eventually become new branches. Start by removing all the dead, or damaged branches, then prune the plant until there are 5 to 10 stems left (depending on type of rose). If you leave too many, the plant will become overcrowded.

Then cut these stems down so that each has a red bud at the top facing to the outside, which ensures the plant grows to a healthier and more attractive shape. Cut at a slant rather than straight across. This makes rain water drain away rather than lodging at the end of the stem.

TIP: Karen advises, "Pruning will vary by the type of rose. For example, climbing roses have a different growth habit than hybrid tea roses and each type would be pruned differently."

Many roses are grafted onto hardy root stock. Occasionally you may see a sucker from the root stock. It will originate below the graft. Remove all suckers, as they will not have the desired characteristics. To remove suckers pull them off at the root rather than cut them away.

Summer and Fall Care

As the roses are growing, be sure to fertilize them regularly. You can use a liquid fertilizer every few weeks, or for an easier technique, you can put a granular, slow release rose fertilizer into the soil, which should not require further maintenance. There's not necessarily a right or wrong method of fertilizing, as different gardeners have different ideas.

TIP: Karen suggests, "The first application of fertilizer should be in the spring when the leaves first appear."

Roses also need a regular supply of water, around an inch a week. If there isn't enough rain to provide this amount steadily, you need to water the plants yourself to make up the shortfall. The best time to water is in the morning. Water thoroughly to encourage deep roots.

TIP: Karen notes, "Water the soil and not the leaves. Watering the leaves can spread disease."

During the summer, you need to trim dead roses from the bush. This prompts the plant into producing more blooms. You should also put 1 or 2 inches of biodegradable mulch on the soil, which will help prevent weeds, keep the soil moist, and over time add organic matter to the soil.

Winter Protection

Around a month before the first winter frosts are due, you should stop fertilizing. If you live in a relatively cool region, add a few inches of soil to the bottom of the rose once the winter frosts arrive. If you are in a particularly cold region, you may need to add up to a foot of soil, compost, or leaves for protection. It's also worth wrapping the plant in a fabric such as hessian (sack cloth) if extreme cold is likely.

Disease Control

The best way to avoid disease on your roses is to buy quality plants, grow in full sun, and follow good cultural practices. If your plants do become diseased, take a cutting and ask a horticultural specialist (such as those at a garden center) for advice on the best plan of action to treat the problem.