Roses are easy plants to grow contrary to popular belief. Why do you think Roses have been around for millions of years? All they need are food, water and sunlight. Just like you and me.
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Now that you have received your bare root roses, what’s next? First on the agenda is to remove them from their packaging materials and place them in a bucket filled with water so all the roots and the bud union are covered. Soak them for at least 24 hours in the bucket of water mixed with two tablespoons of Clorox to get rid of any diseases they may carry. If you don’t have time to plant them, you can leave the roses in the water for a week with no ill effect. If you’re unable to plant the roses within a few days, you should place the bucket of roses in the coolest, darkest place you have and cover them with a dark plastic bag.
Before planting, check the plant, removing all broken or damaged roots to encourage the formation of feeder roots and help your plant get off to a strong start. Remove all dead and damaged canes. Cut the canes, at a 45 degree angle, just above a bud eye and seal any canes whose diameter is larger than a pencil, with Elmer’s glue to prevent damage from the cane borer larvae. Prune out any small canes that compete with other canes. Prune canes to about 6-8 inches. If the canes are twice the size of the roots, the roots cannot support the top growth and the plant growth will be stunted.
The way you plant your roses is very important. When planting the new rosebush, remember the old adage “Never put a $25 rose in a $5 hole.” In other words, don’t skimp on the hole. First, dig a hole wide enough to spread out the roots and deep enough so the bud union will end up an inch or two below the ground level for Zone 7. If you live on Zone 8, the bud union can go above ground. The hole can be 18-24 inches wide and deep to help your bush get off to a strong start, so that the roots will not have to compete with compacted soil. If the soil is rich and drains well, amend it with compost. If the soil is poor and does not drain well, discard all the soil and use good potting mix. You can also use a mix of peat moss, compost, sand and potting soil.
At the bottom of the hole, put a banana peel, ½ cup of bone meal to help with root development, and ½ cup of superphosphate mixed slightly with the loosened soil. To the rest of the soil mixture, add ½ cup of bone meal and ½ cup of superphosphate. Make a mound of soil at the bottom of the hole and spread the roots over the mound making certain the bud union is 1-2 inches below the soil level. I place a yardstick across the hole to gauge the depth of the bud union. Fill the hole half way and then water. Tamp it firmly with your trowel to avoid air pockets but not enough to compact the soil and damage the roots. Do not use your foot to press the soil down. It will compact the soil. After the water drains, fill the hole with more soil and then water again. After the bush is planted and well watered, you should mound some soil around the bottom of the canes to a height of about 6 inches, to keep them from drying out. Water the plant gently every three days to keep it constantly moist but not soggy. Be careful not to over water. Roses don’t like wet feet. For the lazy gardener, you can buy a pre-mix potting soil. I used Scott Moisture Control at my garden in Charleston and it had great results. I don’t have to worry about watering while I’m away. The rain takes care of that.
When planting the big rose bushes, you can integrate alfalfa meal and fish emulsion with the potting mix. If planting miniature roses, it is advisable to start them in a container with some organic materials like compost, then place the container in a location with filtered light. You can feed lightly with liquid fertilizer on a weekly basis till you see roots coming out of the hole. Then you can move it to a permanent place in the garden.
Bare root roses take a while to break dormancy, so be patient. If the weather stays cool, they will do nothing. When the weather starts to warm up, slowly take off the mound of soil you placed on the canes, by just hosing it down gently a little at a time. After the bush has leafed out, you can start your fertilizing program. Fertilizers applied during the cold months, when roses are still in dormant stage, don’t start to work until the soil warms up and the canes finally wake up.
If you are starting bare root roses in pots, trim the roots to the size of the pot. Some suppliers recommend starting roses in pots, then transplanting them into the garden after they are growing actively. For the first week or two, place the pots in a completely shaded area till you see green growth before moving them to a location where they can get few hours of direct sun and several hours of shade. Once they are growing actively, move them to a sunny location for another two weeks before transplanting into the garden, to reduce transplant shock. Use regular potting soil mix from your local garden center. Be sure to water your pots regularly as they will dry out faster than your garden soil.
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