How to Plant and Care for Rose Bushes
Though it might seem daunting, anyone can grow healthy rose bushes that provide wonderful blooms year after year. All you have to do is follow a few simple instructions.
Do Rose Bushes Grow Well in Containers?
Indeed they do! Many rose bushes thrive in containers made of plastic, clay, or wood. I prefer plastic or wooden barrels, as they seem to fare better in colder climates, where freezing can crack clay containers to bits.
If your climate is warm all year round, I suggest using clay containers. The clay container will keep the roots cooler during the summer months. If choosing plastic due to a cooler climate, it is better to purchase the lighter terracotta color, rather than the darker plastics. The darker ones tend to attract heat, and this is a "no-no" for the rose bushes' roots.
How big should the container be?
It is important that rose bushes and small shrub roses be placed in containers no less than 15 inches in diameter. They will do well there for two years, but will then need to be transplanted into larger pots. You can save yourself the trouble of having to transplant later on by using a larger pot from the start.
Roses in containers deplete the soil of its nutrients faster than if they were bedded in the ground. So keep in mind that the bush can outgrow its home and may need transplanting.
How do you prepare the soil in the container?
To prepare the container for the rose to be planted, place a layer of gravel (or other medium-sized rocks) about an inch deep in the bottom of the container. This layer will serve as drainage and prevents the soil from becoming too compressed at the bottom of the pot. You can use the soil mixture recipe found later on in this article.
When to Plant Rose Bushes
If you plan on planting rose bushes in a container indoors, perhaps near a sunny window, then they can be planted at any time of year. If you plan on planting them outside, it is best to plant them in the spring and fall. This way, the roots have a chance to make a home for themselves before they are stressed by extreme cold or heat.
What about planting bare-root roses?
Bare-root roses purchased from a nursery are in the dormant state, so planting them is different. Planting time for this type of rose is based on the severity of the individual winter climate in your area.
If temperatures in your area do not fall below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, you can plant bare-root roses whenever they are available. If the minimum winter temperature falls between 10 degrees and -10 degrees Fahrenheit, you should only plant them in the early spring or late fall. If the coldest winter temperature in your area is below -10 degrees Fahrenheit, plant them only in the early spring. If you fall in this final group, be sure to wait until the possibility of spring freezes has passed. New transplants can succumb to severe drops in temperature.
Regardless of when you plant, choose a day that's not too windy or very hot.
Note: If you have ordered bushes from a mail order house, the supplier will take the guesswork out of it for you and ship them to you at the proper planting time for your area.
Proper Soil Is Important
Roses like good, rich soil. When planting them, make sure to mix in generous portions of compost and manure into the native garden soil. If compost is not available, add store-bought peat moss mixed with cow manure.
I like to simplify things by using a premixed rose soil, such as Miracle Grow for Rose Bushes. You may choose to mix your own soil, however. This is not hard to do, but you will likely have to spend more money for the different soil components.
A Simple, DIY Soil Mixture Recipe for Roses
This soil combination will help your roses produce many hearty blooms over the growing season.
For the base, mix these three components together in equal parts (1/3 each):
- good-quality commercial potting soil
- hearty garden compost (if you do not have compost available, substitute it with more potting soil)
- composted mushroom or steer manure
- 1 cup of perlite (to enhance soil drainage)
- 1 cup of fish meal
- 1 cup of blood meal
Planting Rose Bushes in a Container
Fill the container about two-thirds full with the soil mix, mounding it in the center. This helps the roots sit more easily on the soil, allowing them to grab into the soil with ease.
Place the rose bush—with its roots well spread out—over the slightly mounded soil. Then fill in around the bush with the remaining soil mix. As you add the soil, press down gently, but firmly, around the protruding canes. The soil edge surface should be level with the bud union (where the rose is grafted onto the rootstock). If the rose seems too deep in the potting container, remove it, and repeat the planting procedure.
The soil will compress with time, and the entire contents will sink into the container. For this reason, make sure to fill the container right to the top.
Planting Rose Bushes in the Ground
If you are planting the bush in a hardiness zone that experiences cold winters, the graft should be planted two inches below ground level. This will give the bush protection in winter months. If the bush will have only mild climates to deal with, plant the graft two inches above ground level. (The graft area is easy to spot: Simply look for the bumpy knots that sit above root system.) Keep in mind that grafted roses are hardier than un-grafted varieties.
How to Dig an Appropriate Hole
When digging the hole, keep in mind that the roots need room to comfortably spread out. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that there is about eight inches of space from the root on all sides.
Once you have dug the proper depth and width for your hole, form a small mound of dirt in the center bottom of the hole. Next, add about 1/3 cup of superphosphate or bone meal mix into the dirt mound. Superphosphate will give the bush the nourishment it needs while taking hold.
How to Properly Plant Your Roses
First, make sure to drape the roots over the dirt mound you have created. Add soil, while providing stability to the bush. Tap the soil down, and continue to add soil and tap down until the hole is half full.
At this point, add about 1/4 cup of Epsom salt, sprinkling it around the soil and working it in with your hand. After this, continue to fill the hole with dirt until you're at the point of leaving your graft level as instructed above. Water well.
Protecting Your Bush With Mulch
A fresh, 2-inch layer of mulch at the base of the rose bush, placed just over the root, can help keep the bush healthy. Mulch works to keep the soil moist and cool in hot weather, and it can also provide a barrier against nutrient-stealing weeds.
Don't Let Your Bushes Dry Out
After you have planted your rose bush, saturate it with room temperature water. I keep a warming barrel handy, effectively using the sun to heat my water.
Containers tend to dry out more quickly than soil in the ground. This is one reason it is so important to water container roses often, especially during long periods of drought or days of prolonged heat. I suggest spot-checking every two days in the summer months by scratching the soil about an inch down. If it's totally dry, the rose is in need of watering.
I also recommend you water at the base of the rose bush and avoid getting the leaves wet. Hot, humid weather is a breeding ground for rose diseases. Also, if you have applied insecticides or fungicides to the leaves, directly watering those leaves will wash all of those chemicals away.
Providing Lots of Sunshine and Fresh Air
Access to plenty of sunshine is the first and foremost consideration to think about when planning your rose bush. If possible, they should have a full day of sun, or at least a minimum of seven hours a day.
If a full day's sunlight is not available, roses will tolerate partial shade. Naturally, however, the bush will not give as many flowers, and the blooms may be smaller. I have planted rose bushes in partial shade before though, and with a bit more food, they grow quite well.
Roses Need Room to Breathe
For strong, healthy roses, place the bush in an area where it will benefit from moving air. Good air flow can help prevent the fungus-related diseases. Spacing containers about two feet apart will also help with this.
Supplements and Shelter for Your Bushes
In spring, offer roses in containers a tablespoon of Epsom salt. Just sprinkle the salts around the base of the plant to provide your rose bush with the necessary magnesium it needs for healthy summer foliage. A kick-start of fish emulsion in the same season will also help them get off to a healthy start.
Additionally, if you live in an area where winters are cold and harsh, it is advisable to temporarily move the container indoors or to a sheltered site when the temperatures drop below freezing.
How to Feed a Hungry Plant
Roses consume significant amounts of nutrients, and what you add to your soil at planting time will kick-start the plant's growth. As they grow, they will need a good, continuous feeding regime to flourish.
Fertilize on a regular basis, about every two or three weeks. Use a higher nitrogen fertilizer at the beginning of the season to promote the growth of leaves and roots. It really gets the rose bush off to a good start. When buds start to pop, switch over to a food with higher phosphorus to promote good growth and big, healthy flower blooming.
Most garden stores carry several varieties of fertilizers, including ones specifically made to feed roses. I suggest using store-bought fertilizer to feed your roses. When reading the fertilizer packaging, note the middle number on the bag—this indicates the levels of phosphorus in that particular mixture.
Aphids and Roses Don't Get Along
Aphids are soft-bodied insects about 1 ¼ inches long. They can be found in a range of colors, including black, pink, white, and pale green. They usually cluster on the new growth of perennials, roses, and woody plants and damage them by sucking out sap. In small quantities, aphids do little harm, but they can rapidly build up to destructive numbers. Inspect your rose bushes regularly for aphid infestation.
In addition to eating your leaves, aphids also secrete a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew. If left on the leaves, the honeydew will serve as a growing medium for black, sooty mold that attracts ants.
How do you get rid of aphids?
Aphids hate potassium, but rose bushes thrive on it. So, don't toss out those banana peels. Put them at the base of your rose bushes. Don't fret—the peelings disappear into the soil within a day or two.
Natural garden predators like ladybugs, green lacewings, tiny parasitic wasps, and hoverflies can all help manage aphid populations as well. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the bugs in your garden are necessary to ensure a healthy environment. Using chemical pesticides, for instance, might grant you the short-term benefit of clearing out some pesky annoyances, but those gains might be overshadowed by the loss of beneficial insects that help your garden stay healthy.
Deadheading to Promote New Blooms
Want to have blooms all season? Deadheading the old, spent flowers will promote the springing forth of new blooms. If you don't deadhead old blooms, your rose bush will get spindly, with long stems that may not produce new blooms in the current season. Deadheading will give you beautiful blooms all summer long.
There are a couple methods to deadhead a spent rose. I use the traditional method, and it has served me well.
Just below a rose bloom, you will see a left stem with three leaves. Look further down the stem. As you come to a juncture where you see two five-leaf configurations in a row, one five-leaf configuration will be about 1/2 inch below the other. You will be making your cut at the first five-leaf configuration. Cut at a 45-degree angle just slightly above where the stem meets the leaf configuration, leaving the two five-leaf configurations intact.
Keeping Your Rose Bush Manicured: Pruning and Trimming
Rose bushes respond well to being manicured, and it's important to prune them on a regular basis. A well-maintained rose bush should look full, without appearing shaggy and ill-shaped.
It's important to allow several main stems to grow and develop without pruning, leaving enough room between the stems for good air circulation. This trimming pattern will also help to avoid plant diseases and promotes growth at the remaining stems. This will ensure the bush will send off new stem shoots, where many new flowers will bud and flourish.
A good rule of thumb is to prune immediately after the flowering season. This means that if a rose blooms only once a year, it should be pruned right after the flowers have finished. Do not overdo summer pruning. It can result in the loss of too much sap. The repeat or continuous-flowering roses should be pruned when they are dormant, usually in January.
What Type of Rose Bush Should You Plant in a Container?
It's important to choose the type of rose bush that suits your needs. Most rose bushes will thrive in large containers, but I always think it's smart to ask lots of questions before purchasing a certain variety.
I have listed below three of my favorite varieties to plant in containers, each of which suits different landscaping needs.
Popular and Hearty: Carpet Rose
Sometimes referred to as the "Wandering rose" or "Rambling rose" due to its ability to wander and carpet large areas with beautiful clusters of color, the Carpet rose is wonderfully placed in containers where you want lots of showy colors, with a mass of bush and flowering ground cover. I love the Carpet rose in a large container, just flowing over and doing its thing. It gives great height to a garden, bringing the eye up from ground level.
The Carpet rose was introduced in 1995 and came about with more than 30 years of breeding by German grower Noack Rosen. He wanted to create the perfect rose that would be easy to care for, would grow well, and would be disease- and pest-resistant, while still giving off hardy, long-lasting blooms. He succeeded in achieving just such a rose, as the Carpet variety has all the qualities Rosen set out to achieve. It is beautiful, grows with almost no care, and blooms continuously throughout the summer.
Carpet rose is now the number one rose bush used for ground covering. It has grown to take over 10% of the annual rose market, making it the single most popular rose variety in history. It's a perfect choice if you are looking for a rose bush with low maintenance. It grows best in a sunny location, needs no special care or feeding, and can grow in hardiness zones 5–10. It is also perfect for flower beds, landscapes, and hanging baskets.
Fragrant and Beautiful: Hybrid Tea Rose
What's the first thing you do when you see a rose? Smell it!
If you're a fan of wonderfully fragrant blossoms, you may want to consider planting a Hybrid Tea rose bush. It gives off wonderful, long-stem cutting flowers that will gift a delightful scent to any given room.
I plant Hybrid Tea roses in large containers on my patio and deck. That way, it's close, and I can easily enjoy its scent.
Strong and Low Maintenance: Knock Out Rose
The Knock Out rose is an easy rose to care for, and it will bloom from early summer to late fall. There are tons of colors and variations to choose from. So, next time you visit your garden center, check out a few variations of Knock Out rose bushes.
The Knock Out is easy to prune and is very resistant to black spot and powdery mildew too. You can keep the bush small or let it spread, that's up to you.