How to Grow Roses

Close Up of Red Rose Flower Blooming in The Gardening Outdoors, Beauty in Nature.
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Roses need no introduction. But there are so many varieties, requiring so many different levels of care, which is why it's important to factor maintenance and attention into your decision on which type of rose to grow. This article assumes you want to learn how to grow easy roses that require about the same amount of care you'd give to any other perennial plant in your garden. With the variety information and plant care tips below, you can have a flourishing abundance of roses for years on end.

Rose Varieties

Photo by: Evgeny Pivovar
Climbing roses. Evgeny Pivovar / Getty Images

The easiest-to-grow roses are floribunda bushes, shrub roses, and climbers. Climbers need a support structure like a pergola, fence, or sturdy trellis, while shrubs/bushes are free-standing. Your choice of shrub or climber may depend on the available space you have and how and where you want them to grow. Roses come in every color but blue; some are more fragrant than others; some tolerate heat or cold better than others. The key to choosing the right rose is to have these properties in mind before you head off to the garden center. Even experienced gardeners can fall in love with a beautiful bloom and make impulse decisions that, in the end, may not be right for their garden. Roses can live a long time, so think of your choice as a long-term investment.

Some Easy-to-Grow Varieties

  • American Beauty: Dark pink climbing rose. Hardiness zones 5-9.
  • Knock-Out: Many colors. Shrub rose. Hardiness zones 4-9.
  • Roald Dahl: Peach-colored shrub rose. Hardiness zones 5-9.
  • Red Eden: Red climbing rose. Hardiness zones 6-9.
  • Sally Holmes: Cream-colored climbing rose. Hardiness zones 6-9.
  • Snowdrift: White-colored shrub rose. Hardiness zones 4-9.

How to Plant Roses

Planting should be done either in late fall or, preferably, early spring. Plan ahead: They will need ample space to spread out, run along a support structure, and bask in the sun.

Growing From Seed

It takes patience, but starting roses from seeds is easy. “Stratify” your rose seeds by placing a moist, soil-less medium (such as perlite and peat) in a sealable plastic container, place your seeds ¼ inch deep, label and seal the container, then place it in your refrigerator for 3-4 months. In spring, remove the container from the refrigerator, let the seeds sprout, then transplant outdoors. Be careful not to touch the roots.

Growing From Seedlings

If you have purchased seedlings, they will usually be a bare-root plant, where the soil is removed and the roots are wrapped in peat moss. Soak the roots in a bucket of water for at least a few hours before transplanting.

Growing From Cuttings

You can propagate new rose plants by layering or from cuttings. Layering involves burying a low-lying cane without detaching it from a healthy plant and turning it into a root. Using cuttings involves the same process but with a 12-inch cane cut from an existing plant. 

Early in spring, strip a single cane of all but its topmost foliage. Cut an inch-long notch in the stripped portion of the cane and apply a hormone (available at garden centers) to spur root growth. If layering, bend the cane to the ground and bury it up to its tip in a shallow (3 to 4 inch) trench. If you are using a cutting, simply pot the cutting in 6 inches of potting soil. Keep the soil moist and mulched. By the beginning of the following spring, you will have a well-rooted plant ready for cutting from its parent or for transplanting from its pot. 

Transplanting

To transplant roses, dig a hole 2-feet deep, place your seedlings, cutting, or bare-root plant in the hole, then begin back-filling the hole with a mix of soil and compost or composted cow manure. When the hole is half- to three-quarters-full, tamp down the soil and pour in a gallon of water. When the water has drained fully, fill the hole completely, then mound up 3 inches of your soil/compost mix around the base of the plant. Water in again.

Plant Care for Roses

Once established, "easy roses" need little care: good soil and sun, a little mulch, a little fertilizer, water if needed, pest-control if necessary, and a bit of pruning every few years.

Light and Air

If you want flowers, you need sun. Roses need at least six hours of sun per day and good air circulation. This will prevent mold and mildew from damaging your plant.

Soil and Nutrients

Roses do best in well-draining, fertile soil. Sandier soil is better than heavy clay soil. If your soil is too clayey, mix in some compost to improve its drainage.

Squeeze Your Soil

To test how well-draining your soil is, do the simple “squeeze test.” Grab a moist handful of your garden soil and squeeze it in your fist. If the clump immediately falls apart, your soil is too sandy. If it doesn't crumble at all, your soil has too much clay. Silty soil will feel slimy when wet and become powdery when dry. Properly draining soil is a mix of sand, silt, and clay, and will hold its shape but crumble if you start poking at it.

Flowers are the high-fashion clothes of a rose plant — flashy, expensive, and discarded annually. They cost the plant a lot of energy to produce, so a regular supply of water and fertilizer is necessary if you want to enjoy their annual show. If rain doesn't provide a weekly watering, give you rose plant 4 to 5 gallons of water per week (more in arid climates). You can reduce evaporation by deep-soaking your plants once or twice a week rather than more frequent sprinklings. 

Fertilize your roses in early spring with an organic compost dressing rather than chemical fertilizers. Since organic fertilizers work slowly, a healthy dose of nutrients in early spring will be all the fertilizing you have to do.

Water

Before your plants reach maturity, water regularly only enough for the soil to not dry out. Once your plants have reached maturity, to retain moisture you can cover your plants with a compost mulch. During an extended drought, be sure to keep your roses watered — frequent applications of a moderate amount of moisture is better than infrequent deep soakings.

Overwintering

Mature shrub roses can survive unharmed through the harshest winters, but younger plants, and most climbing roses, can be sensitive to the bitter cold. The deeper its roots, the more a plant is able to resist hard winters. (Check the plant label for your plant's hardiness. North America is divided into different hardiness zones. Your garden center or a quick internet search can tell you which zone you live in.)

You can reduce your roses vulnerability to freezing in a number of ways. You can cut back your rose bushes until the canes are 1 to 2 feet long. You can create a 12-inch mound around the base of the plant with soil, fallen leaves, or a compost/mulch mix. And you can wrap your roses with a winter blanket of burlap.

If you live in an arid climate, a good mulch will help reduce evaporation and keep your soil cool.

How to Prune Roses

Holland, Goirle, woman using pruning shears for cutting rose
Mark de Leeuw / Getty Images

There are two related reasons to prune: to remove old or diseased growth and to encourage new growth.

Old growth is a drain on a plant's resources. Healthy canes will be supple, green, and smooth. You can easily spot dead canes by their woodiness, brown color, and rough texture. Removing them opens up the canes to more air circulation and sunlight and promotes healthy growth.

Pruning just above a bud will encourage your roses to become bushier rather than lankier. Depending on the structure your roses are growing on (say, a long fence versus a wide trellis), you may want to do fewer or more pruning.

Remember that plants aren't always good at multi-tasking. Roses will grow roots and stems first, then bloom on year-old canes, so the season directly following your pruning activity may be one of fewer flowers as your rose plant rebuilds its stem structure. It'll be lusher the following year.

Pruning no more than a third of the plant will reduce the amount of stress on the plant. So will pruning your roses when they are still dormant — while the buds are swelling but tightly closed. Be sure to wear a pair of leather gloves and long sleeves, and use only sharp, clean pruning shears.

Controlling Pests and Disease

To reduce the need for pest and disease controls, ask your garden center what diseases are most common where you live and look for rose varieties that are “disease-resistant” to those specific diseases. Powdery mildew, black spot, and rust are the most common diseases affecting roses.

Aphids and thrips are common pests, but the bane of rose gardeners are Japanese beetles, which have no natural predators in North America. Milky spore is an organic soil treatment that reduces the number of Japanese beetle grubs in your soil. You can also make your own organic pesticide, if needed: In a spray bottle, mix a half-cup of dish-washing liquid, a half-cup of cooking oil, a tablespoon of garlic powder or cayenne pepper, and water, then apply to your rose leaves.

The best way to control pests and diseases, however, is prevention. Provide disease-resistant roses with lots of sunshine, water, nutrient-rich soil, and good air circulation through regular pruning, and you can keep your plants vigorous enough to fend off all but the worst infestations or disease outbreaks.

Rose Garden Reading

Austin, David. The English Roses: Classic Favorites & New Selections. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, 2006.

Beales, Peter. Botanica's Roses: The Encyclopedia of Roses. New York: Welcome Rain, 1999.

DiSabato-Aust, Tracy. The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, 2006.

Kukielski, Peter E. Roses Without Chemicals. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, 2015.

Ondra, Nancy J. Taylor's Guide to Roses. New York: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 2001.

Scott, Aurelia. Otherwise Normal People: Inside the Thorny World of Competitive Rose Gardening. New York: Algonquin Books, 2015.