Planting Roses

Someone once said, “The love of flowers is really the best teacher of how to grow and understand them.” It is easy to love the rose. The rich fragrance, the sumptuous clusters of silky petals, the extravagant color, the rewarding bouquet in the vase on the kitchen table…

It is also easy to be frustrated by the rose…the powdery mildew, the black spot, the aphids, the “little green worms”, the pale dull foliage, the sparse blooms…
In the maritime Northwest with our cool summers and our wet winters, the rose may feel like somewhat of an unwelcome guest, unless we consider its needs and comforts as good hosts always should. Our article will help you navigate the pitfalls of growing in our Maritime climate. Also, Genevieve Schmidt at North Coast Gardening has a great post on Disease-Resistant Roses for the Pacific Northwest.

Hybrid Rosa rugosas are sturdy and disease resistant. Look for those with a “neat” or “tidy” growth habit to limit suckers.

To begin with, choose your variety carefully. Our Northwest market is flooded with huge freight loads of roses from Texas and California for cheap prices that may or may not grow well here in our climate. You may end up being disappointed by a poorly performing, diseased rose bush. The folks at your friendly neighborhood garden center will have some good suggestions for you.

Consider carefully the purpose for your rosebush. Will it be a climber to be trained upon an arbor or trellis, a rambling shrub rose to swag over a fence, a low spreading ground cover type to fill the front of a mixed border along a walkway? There is so much versatility with roses that can be used to our advantage. In a group of plants which, at its smallest, will reach just twelve inches high, and at its grandest, takes the form of forty foot climbers, there is scope for a great deal of imagination.

There are three choices in sun exposure when choosing a site for a rose…sunny, sunnier, or sunniest. In other words, roses need sun to bloom and to be healthy. Make sure you have at least six solid hours of sun a day. The other requirement is well-drained soil. A rose will not do well in heavy, dense clay soil that holds the water all winter long.

Dig a planting hole about 18″ deep and a couple feet wide. Start dumping in some composted organic matter such as mushroom compost, well-rotted steer manure, or garden compost. Make about a 50/50 ratio of the soil amendment & native soil. Mix it well. Dig out the hole again and add a good quality, balanced, organic fertilizer. This encourages strong root development and good flower production. Place the root ball into the hole, making sure to keep the graft (if there is one) well above the soil line. Back fill the loose soil into the hole and water in well.

It’s a good idea to top-dress the soil around the rose with alfalfa meal. Roses love alfalfa meal. It’s a good source of inexpensive nitrogen and it seems to help the roses resist disease.

Deep water your roses once a week during the growing season. Fertilize in April, June & August with your good organic rose food.

Any insect pests that appear, usually aphids, can be controlled by a strong spray from your garden hose, a mild insecticidal soap, or with predatory insects like Ladybugs or Silver Lacewings. Please avoid the systemic insecticides. They do kill the aphids but they also kill the beneficial insects that keep the insect community in balance in our gardens. They also kill any honey bees that may come to visit your rose. Birds have been known to die after drinking water from a puddle that developed near a bush that is full of systemic insecticide. Bear in mind that rose diseases can be controlled by close monitoring and good sanitation.

Lightly prune the tall roses in late Fall just to keep the canes from whipping around in the wind. Then wait till March 1st to do the hard pruning. Be careful when pruning the climbers, the antique roses and the English roses, removing only the least productive old wood, and any damaged or diseased wood.

Tuck your roses in for winter by applying bark mulch about a foot up the canes to protect against winter injury. Remove the mulch from the canes and spread it out in the spring when you prune again.

With a little love, care and understanding, our thumbs grow greener and our roses grow stronger and more beautiful!

Maureen Murphy Bayview Farm & Garden

Photo Credit: Rosa rugosa:  Midori (Own work), CC-BY-SA-2.1-jp, via Wikimedia Commons