Treat your roses well and they will reward you with years of enjoyment
1. Climate issues
No climate is too cold or frosty for roses and they will grow where it is hot and dry, too, as long as they are watered regularly and protected from strong winds. Your local nursery can recommend varieties suited to your area.
In tropical areas choose the tougher, more disease-resistant roses. In hot, humid areas, avoid those particularly prone to black spot. Roses need at least six hours of sun per day to perform well. A few of the toughest hybrids will survive on five hours.
2. Soil requirements
Many people believe roses only grow well on heavy clay soils. This is not true. While roses grow well on soils where the subsoil is clay, the topsoil should not be clay. They will grow well on but not in clay. Roses will, in fact, tolerate a wide variety of soils. The ideal is a moisture-retentive soil with a lot of organic matter. They can even be grown on light, sandy soil provided you add a lot of manure or compost before planting and fertilise and mulch regularly.
3. Buying roses
Roses have traditionally been sold bare-rooted and packaged in winter. Roses bought this way are not in flower, so you should visit a specialist nursery or a rose flower display in the flowering season and note the names of those you want or choose from a catalogue.
Bare-rooted roses dry out very quickly if left too long, so buy early in the season from a reputable buyer with a quick turnover. Look for firm, plump stems and plant your purchases quickly. An increasing number are available in flower in a container and can be bought all year round.
4. Planting roses
Remove any packaging material from bare-rooted roses and plant them as soon as possible after purchase. Protect them from sun and wind if you can’t plant immediately.
Plant into well-prepared soil, cutting off any very thin stems or damaged shoots with a slanting cut just above an outward-facing bud. Roses in containers can be planted at any time, although spring and autumn are best. Ensure the bud union, seen as a bulge in the stem, is at or just above ground level. Do not fertilise roses that are planted in winter as this may burn their roots. Wait until they make some early spring growth. Roses planted into well-prepared soil shouldn’t need fertilising in the first year.
5. First flowers
Roses planted in winter will start flowering the following spring. Don’t pick too many of the first blooms on newly planted roses as the plants need long stems and leaves to develop vigour. Just trim faded flowers.
Newly purchased (bare-rooted) climbers will not flower in their first summer. Climbers must be pruned in summer, but as the nurseryman will have cut them back in winter in order to dig and sell them, this will have cut out the flowering stems.
6. Fertilising roses
Roses are heavy feeders and established plants will benefit from regular feeding with a complete plant food, specially formulated rose fertiliser or an organic fertiliser of blood and bone. This is better than mushroom compost or poultry manure, which is too high in nitrogen for regular use on roses, encouraging leafy growth rather than flowers.
Feed them in spring as growth starts and again in mid-summer.
7. Mulching advice
Keep roses mulched with organic material. You may need to pull this back occasionally to fertilise and water the plants. Lucerne hay is good mulch for roses. It is rich in nitrogen and potassium and has a nutrient balance that is close to ideal. Spread it 5cm thick in spring and repeat in summer. Remove it in winter.
8. Watering needs
Roses are deep-rooted and require a heavy weekly or twice-weekly soaking rather than light daily watering, which will not reach the roots. They should be watered in the morning. Wet foliage overnight encourages black spot.
9. Correct pruning
Correct pruning is vital to success with modern roses in order to maintain the shape of plants and to maximise the number of flowers. Old-fashioned roses need little pruning, other than to keep them tidy and restrict their height, and miniatures only need dead-heading and cutting out of weak stems.
With the exception of climbers, roses should be pruned in winter when they are dormant. In mild winters, roses do not always lose all their leaves and go completely dormant. In this case make sure you prune them before new growth starts.