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How to Grow Roses
Just like people, roses need a few basic things to live: water, food
and the right place to set down roots. How well your roses grow depends
entirely on the quantity and quality of those three ingredients.
There are as many variations on how to grow roses as there are
authors of this information. So, which methods should you use? This
will be up to you. To help you decide, first arm yourself with some
basic biology. Learn how soil and water feed plants. Most good gardening
books cover this fundamental information. Then, seek out successful
gardeners, and ask them their secrets -- most love to talk about
their "special techniques and recipes."
Just remember the three basic ingredients that roses need: water,
food and good soil. And pay attention to your roses -- you'll soon
recognize when they are in need of something, and experience will
help you figure out what that "something" is. Don't worry, this
isn't rocket science -- it's fun!
Roses, love water! Your roses should each have the equivalent
of at least one-inch of water each week during the growing season.
This equates to roughly one gallon of water. So, if it doesn't rain,
or rain enough, be sure to give your roses a weekly drink of water.
However, make sure that they aren't "standing" in water or their
roots will rot. Moist, well-drained soil is ideal.
Consistent moisture is also very important. Allowing the soil
to dry out between waterings can adversely affect your plants growth
and blossom production.
For a rose plant to achieve its full blooming potential, it needs
adequate amounts of basic nutrients. Here's a step-by-step guide
that outlines a basic feeding program to help ensure that your roses
get what they need to provide you with the show of blossoms that
Step 1: Understanding Fertilizers
The basic ingredients in well-balanced fertilizers are nitrogen,
phosphorous and potassium (NPK). These are listed as numbers on
fertilizers labels: 5-5-5. NPK are the building blocks of life for
plants. Nitrogen promotes new, green growth; phosphorous helps with
root growth, photosynthesis and flower production; and potassium
helps to strengthen canes, improve vigor and increase winter hardiness.
We recommend using slow-release organic fertilizers to prevent "burning"
your roses. Many water-soluble, nonorganic fertilizers with high
nutrient content (such as, 20-20-20) can be too much for your roses
and cause the leaf tips to "burn" and turn brown, or cause the leaves
to fall off completely.
Step 2: Selecting Fertilizers
you start fertilizing, select the right ingredients. Our list of
recommended fertilizers includes:
- A basic granular, organic or natural-based fertilizer
with a balanced nutrient ratio in the single digits (example:
5-5-5). This fertilizer provides the basic NPK and micronutrient
building blocks for plant growth and bloom. There are many acceptable
brands available. Avoid fertilizers with manufactured chemical
ingredients, like Urea. These can burn your plants and don't do
anything to build up your soil.
- Bone Meal or rock phosphate. Helps promote
- Fish/Kelp liquid fertilizer. Fish provides
a nitrogen source and kelp adds necessary trace minerals.
meal or tea. Alfalfa contains triconatol, which promotes
plant growth. Alfalfa also conditions the soil.
- Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate). Promotes
enzyme activity in the soil, and also promotes more basal breaks
in roses resulting in more blossoms.
- Compost. Feeds the soil by adding organic matter
and basic nutrients, which will improve the soil and soil life.
Nutrients in healthy, living soil are more easily absorbed by
If the above seems too daunting, at
least do this: apply a shovel full of compost or rotted manure
around the base of each rose once a year -- preferably in
Step 3: Feeding Schedule
Basic rule of thumb: If possible, apply fertilizers either right
after it rains to help move it through to soil to the plant roots.
- First Feeding in Spring:
As soon as spring arrives and you can dig in the soil a bit
(usually April 1-15 in Zone 4), give your roses their first
feeding of fertilizer. Apply the fertilizers in a circle around
the perimeter of the plant (about 1-2 feet from the center of
the plant). Gently pull back the mulch in the dripline circle
and gently scratch the fertilizers listed below into the first
one-inch of the soil surface (be careful not to injure the tender
feeder roots that are close to the soil surface).
For each plant apply:
- 1/4 cup Epsom salts
- 1/2 cup bone meal or rock phosphate
- 1 or 2 cups of basic granular organic fertilizer
- 1/2 cup alfalfa meal or pellets
- A shovelful or two (or three) of compost (be generous).
Apply this over the top of the other fertilizers. Compost
can also serve as a mulch to help retain moisture, inhibit
weeds and keep the soil surface temperature from getting too
- Summer Monthly Feeding Program:
Basic rule of thumb: Apply fertilizer once a month throughout
the growing season, making sure to stop feeding at least six
weeks before the first frost.
About one month after the first feeding in spring (around
May 1 in Zone 4), apply either one cup of dry fertilizer or
one gallon of fish/kelp liquid fertilizer once a month throughout
the growing season. Be sure to stop all feeding at least six
weeks before the first frost. This helps your roses "harden
off" for winter by reducing or eliminating new, tender growth
that can be damaged by frost. Scratch all dry fertilizers into
the first one-inch of the soil surface (be careful not to injure
the tender feeder roots that are close to the soil surface).
Sprinkling a shovefull of compost around the base of the plant
is an extra step your roses will appreciate.
The first thing to understand about soil is that it is full of
life, from microbes to earthworms. Healthy soil is alive with millions
of microscopic creatures that break down nutrients and make them
available to plants. The key to healthy soil, like heatlhy plants,
is food and water. Lots of organic matter, such as compost, will
increase the health of your soil and, thus, of your plants.
The second thing to understand about soil is its pH: whether its
acidic, neutral or alkaline. pH can affect how nutrients move through
the soil to your plants. Roses prefer a soil pH that is between
6.5 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic to neutral (7.0 being neutral).
If you've provided your roses with adequate amounts of water and
food and it is showing signs of chlorosis, or yellowing, the first
thing to do is have your soil pH checked. A neutral pH makes the
nutrients, especially important micronutrients like iron, more readily
available to the plants. If the soil is too acid or alkaline, it
binds the iron, making it unavailable to the plant. This may cause
the chlorosis or other problems. If the pH is acid, add lime; if
it is alkaline, add sulphur. Check with your local county extension
agent for information about getting your soil tested and how to
correct a pH problem.
your roses are established you may want to do some maintenance pruning.
Every spring, prune out the dead wood. Dead wood is brown and dry
on the inside, so prune until you see green on the inside of the
canes. In colder climates, some roses may die back to the "snowline"
and will need the dead tops removed. If you're not confident about
what's dead and what's alive, wait until the plants leaf-out. Then
you'll know for sure.
Other than cleaning out dead wood, most old garden and shrub roses
don't need much yearly pruning. However, you may want to prune your
oses to control their shape. When you do this, be sure to prune
once-blooming roses after they bloom. If you want rose hips, don't
prune after blooming.
In addition, some shrub roses may seem to bloom less after about
5 or 6 years. They may have lots of large canes that just don't
seem to bloom like they used to. To remedy this, prune back the
top of the plant by one third, and remove some of the largest canes.
This will encourage the rose to grow new canes that will produce
plenty of blossoms.
To learn more about pruning, check out our on-line magazine article