Roses 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing and Enjoying Roses

Pinterest Hidden Image

If you are not a present devotee of the rose, now is the time to become one. No need here to go into the qualities that make this flower a favorite. Its popularity bespeaks its many virtues. 

Of late, the traditional manner of growing roses in special beds (still the easiest way to take care of them) has given way to more interesting uses, such as patio plants, hedges, and perennial garden accents. 

Cut Out RosesPin

The rose horizons have widened, too, in hardier varieties that permit more areas to grow them. And the industry gives us better products for caring for roses. 

In this expansive spirit, the following suggestions in the condensed form are offered as a ready reference for present rose growers and those about to begin.


A rose is a rose. But choosing the right one for your location and purposes makes the difference between satisfaction and the opposite. 

The books list many classes, but for simplicity, we consider here just four main groups of modern roses and their uses—HYBRID TEAS, FLORIBUNDAS, GRANDIFLORAS, and CLIMBERS OR PILLARS.

Hybrid Teas

When one thinks of roses, these are usually the ones envisioned. Often these have large flowers, exquisitely colored and formed medium size bushes and good qualities for cutting. 

They repeatedly bloom through the season. Bred from tender tea roses, they have added hardiness and often retain the fragrance. 

USES: Especially valued for exhibition, flower arrangements, and beauty in the garden. 

Examples are the following:

  • Charlotte Armstrong
  • Crimson Glory
  • Forty-Niner
  • Tiffany
  • Dainty Bess
  • Mojave
  • Peace

Most of these will make plants easily kept under 4’ feet tall.


Developed from the older polyanthus roses, these usually have lower and bushier plants than hybrid teas but are larger than polyanthus. The flowers may resemble hybrid teas in miniature but occur in clusters. As a rule, they have cold hardiness, are tough and vigorous, and bloom continuously. 

USES: Although good for arrangements and corsages, they are best in the garden. They are colorful for low borders, edgings to beds of taller growing roses, landscape accents in front of evergreens, or low foundation plants. 

Although a few floribundas are tall (‘Betty Prior,’ ‘Masquerade’), most are 3’ feet or under. 

Examples are the following:

  • Fashion
  • Pinocchio
  • Spartan
  • Rosenelfe
  • Circus 


The most recent “class” is a combination between hybrid teas and floribundas. They bloom both singly and in clusters. 

They usually grow quite strong and tall and flower profusely and continuously. 

The stems are longer than in floribundas, and the flowers are larger but not the size of a hybrid tea. 

Although grandifloras may take plenty of blue ribbons, it will be rare when one beats a hybrid tea for “Queen of Show.” 

USES: They excel both in cutting and in the garden. Some approach the size of shrubs and must be allowed room. In the garden, they are carefree and trouble-free.

Examples are the following:

  • Starfire
  • Queen Elizabeth
  • Carrousel
  • Dean Collins


These are strong-growing, large-flowered roses blooming singly rather than in clusters (otherwise, they would be “ramblers”). 

They are likely to repeat blooming throughout the season. Climbers are customarily trained on arbors or trellises. Occasionally they bear spectacularly large flowers. No rose is a vine, nor are these. 

They do not climb unless support and assistance are provided. Some are less vigorous than others, and these are referred to by the name “pillars.” They are more suitable for lamp posts than regular climbers, which may ascend to the second story. 

USES: Depending on the potential size of the variety you select, you can do everything with them, from festooning a fence to covering the side of a house. 

Examples are the following:

  • Don Juan
  • Climbing Crimson Glory
  • Ednah Thomas
  • High Noon
  • Gold Rush

The only way to choose roses well is to get acquainted with them. Study them in books and catalogs. Study them at flower shows, in public gardens, over your neighbor’s fence, and most of all, in your garden.


Locate Them Well

The requirements of roses are not nearly as complex as we once thought. They need two main tilings: a place in the sun and a place on dry land. By “in the sun,” it means a spot that gets direct sunlight half the day. 

By “dry land” is meant for a spot that does not withstand water when it rains or holds water like a bog. 

Two other points, although less important, are to put roses out of the reach of tree roots; and to put them where air circulates freely. 

The rest depends on your aesthetic tastes and the design of your garden. However, it is fair to add that care will be easier if all roses are grouped together and not scattered and if plantings are judiciously mixed as to variety, so there will be no possible pockets of disease-susceptible kinds.

Give A Welcoming Soil

Out of the many theories on rose soil, the following ideas are approved in some measure by most rosarians:

Roses need good soil of moderately granular structure, neither all sand nor all clay but a firm loamy mixture. It should be porous enough that water may enter and be retained. It should not bake to a brick in the hot sun. 

If the natural soil where you want to plant roses does not satisfy because of being too sandy or too clayey, the approved remedy is to add peat moss or leaf mold, lots of it, to the top 18 inches of soil.

Test The Soil

Test the soil, too, for acidity-alkalinity. Roses perform well if the soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.5—prefer a pH of 6.5. 

Work in ground limestone if your soil is too acidic; if too alkaline, work in agricultural sulfur. 

As you prepare the rose bed, incorporate balanced fertilizer designed for roses (sold at garden stores) at the rate suggested on the package. 

This fertilizer often consists of a formulation similar to 5-10-5 (5% nitrogen, 10% percent phosphorus, 5% percent potash.) Try to have this preparation done four weeks before the roses arrive, so the soil can settle.

Dig a Good Hole

This sounds simple but has a few vital points. One is spacing. About 2’ feet apart is usual for floribundas and hybrid teas. Roses that get big need more room—perhaps 4’ feet or more. 

The second point is to dig a LARGE hole to accommodate the root spread without coiling the roots around. 

Finally, gather a center mound of loose soil in the bottom of the hole to support the crown as you plant and give the roots a downward direction.


Bare Root

Unwrap roses as soon as they arrive. Inspect them. Root or crown galls are better discarded. Bare roots should be covered now than later in the garden. It’s unlikely, but if you should find a plant with gall, burn it and send for a replacement. 

Moisten root packing on the others, or if you can plant soon, put them to soak in a tub of water. Take them a few at a time to the planting site and keep them covered with wet sacks until used. 

Have sharp primers handy, and as you plant each rose, trim off broken roots or straggly ones that won’t fit without coiling in the king-size hole you have already dug.

Hold the plant in the hole, so the bud union (thickened place at base) is just above ground level. If you can’t tell where the ground level is, lay a yardstick across the hole. 

Spread the roots evenly over the mound and fill in the soft soil around and over them. Work the soil in with your fingers, so it becomes firm. When roots are covered, and the hole is half full, gently tread the earth firmly. 

Pour in a bucket of water and let it soak down while you go on with the next planting. After the water drains away, finish filling the hole. If all has gone well, the bud union will now be just at ground level or slightly covered. 

Northerners often plant roses a little deeper. Mound loose earth over the crown to a depth of 6′ inches. This final hilling, an important step, prevents the top from drying while roots get established. When you see growth beginning, remove the mound at once—but carefully.


Use good sense about potted roses. In advance, water them so the pot will come off without breaking the soil ball. Then, inspect the potting job that was done on each plant. 

If long roots have been coiled around and jammed into the pot, unjam them (carefully) and spread them into the planting soil of your rose bed. Water potted roses copiously as you plant.

Fourth—APPLY TLC (Tender Loving Care)

Principles of Pruning

Preliminary to all, rose pruning is a sharp, efficient tool. One needs at least clippers and a lopper. A small pruning saw is useful, too.

• Prune after winter protection is removed, and buds have started to swell in the spring.

• Expose the bedhead (crown) to see the real situation.

• First, remove dead canes. Leave no stubs. Other canes to be removed are those that are diseased, deformed, or old. Next, remove the canes clean at the crown.

• Consider each plant separately and aim at a balanced, vase-shaped framework with three or four young, vigorous canes free of twiggy growth at the top or base.

• How far back to cut? Winter may have decided for you. If canes are winter-killed, prune back to live wood if it means going to the crown. But hard pruning every year may weaken plants. So if you can, leave canes as tall as your loppers.

• Remove cleanly all suckers coming from below the bud union. 

• In topping back canes, select a good bud and make a slanting cut starting 3/4″ inch above and going down to the opposite side. Long stubs would die back.

• Young plants should be cut back relatively less than older ones.

• If time allows, large cuts should be covered with tree wound paint.

• Old wood is desirable for most climbers. These are pruned to remove dead wood and keep them in bounds.

Principles of Feeding

Newly planted roses in soil prepared with fertilizer should not need feeding during the first season. 

Established roses do better if fed. Specially mixed rose fertilizer is available and contains nutrients in usually acceptable proportions to make roses bloom well. 

These mixtures are probably heavy in phosphorus and lighter in potash and nitrogen. If you want to go on your own in mixing rose fertilizers, begin with a soil test, so you know what is needed.

As to the frequency of fertilizing, once a month lightly is ideal, but three times a summer in heavier doses is adequate—first as growth begins, again as first bloom starts, and finally in early August. 

The fertilizer should be scattered evenly among the plants, lightly cultivated into the surface soil, and then watered thoroughly. 

Foliar feeding with soluble fertilizers added to the spray every other week is also a method used successfully by many rose growers. 

Principles of Watering

Roses have a great thirst. So if it doesn’t rain once a week, get out the hose and give them a drink. Because of the danger of spreading disease, overhead sprinkling is a poor method. 

Much better are soil soakers, bubblers, or water wands that put the water on the ground. Then, at each watering, soak the soil thoroughly and deeply. 

Then let it dry out until the next weekly watering or until rain intervenes. You will discover that the watering process is easier if rose beds are at the same level as the surrounding turf or even slightly below it.

Principles of Mulching

Although roses will grow without mulch, they seem to do better with it. Mulch keeps down weeds; keeps in moisture; keeps soil cooler; cuts down cultivation, thus saving tender surface roots; and makes a clean surface so no disease-carrying rain splashes will bounce blackspots up to the leaves.

The thickness of the mulches listed below should average about one inch. Before applying mulch in spring, level the rose bed, clean it of weeds and debris, and loosen the surface slightly; also, apply the first dose of fertilizer. 

Later feedings can be put on top of the mulch, stirred down lightly, and then watered in. Most mulches should stay on top of the ground and not be worked into it.

 If you hill your roses for winter protection, remove the mulch and store it. Don’t put the soil mound over the mulch.

Some good mulches for roses are the following: 

  • Buckwheat hulls
  • Ground corn cobs
  • Cocoa shells
  • Wood chips
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Dry grass clippings
  • Cottonseed hulls
  • Chopped tobacco stems


Spray or Dust?

You won’t grow roses long before you realize insects and diseases like them, too. 

Spraying, dusting, or probably both, with the right pesticides at the right times is part of growing roses. But the rose is so rewarding, who minds? 

Spraying roses is generally considered the most effective pesticide application method. This is because they stick better, cover more thoroughly, and are more economical than dust. 

On the other hand, dust is vastly quicker and more convenient to apply. Sometimes you simply can’t afford the time to mix up spray, and dusting will save the day. Most rose growers practice both. 

Choose your times with some thought. Spray when the air is still early in the day, so foliage will dry quickly and BEFORE, not after, expected rain. 

Dust when the air is still, and the foliage is already dry (not wet with dew) and BEFORE, not after, expected rain. 

Aim to do one or the other, spray or dust, every week or ten days. On the hottest summer days, however, save both yourself and the roses and rest. 

Several common sprays and dust ingredients will burn rose leaves under extreme heat conditions.

Roses Are Frequent Victims Of These Diseases

What for and what with?


A fungus disease affecting rose leaves. It starts on older leaves as small black fuzzy blots, which quickly grow to 1/2-inch diameters; infected leaves turn yellow and soon fall. Some varieties are especially susceptible and may lose all their leaves if hard hit. 

Remedy: Strict sanitation starting with lime-sulfur spray in spring before buds break; cleanup and burning of affected leaves as soon as they are seen. After growth begins, weekly or every ten days, treat with a spray or dust containing captan, ferbam, sulfur, maneb, zineb, or Phaltan.

Powdery Mildew

Another fungus, spread by wind, but thriving best under still and humid conditions and cool nights. 

Leaves get distorted wrinkles, and blisters covered with white powder turn reddish or purple. Buds, flowers, and stems are affected too. 

Remedy: BEFORE mildew appears, use spray or dust containing sulfur, Karathane, Kelthane, Phaltan, or Actidione PM. The latter, an antibiotic, is usually applied alone and not in combination with other chemicals.


Several kinds affect roses, principally the stems. They are spreading spots of red, tan, white, purple, or brown hues forming on canes and sometimes encircling them, causing dieback. 

Remedy: Cut out diseased canes in spring; give a lime-sulfur spray before buds break; and, where possible, avoid moist winter mulches.

Crown Gall

A bacterial disease causes tumorous swelling near the crown or at the bud union, often under the soil surface and not seen until the plant is dug. Affected plants may live for years, but it is a bare existence. 

Remedy: As yet we have no sure chemical treatments. Keep it out of your garden by inspecting new plants and barring those with rose galls

When you find crown gall on a growing rose, remove and burn the plant and all and dig out and replace the surrounding earth. This disease is spread by cultivating, irrigating, and contaminated tools. 


Roses are frequently attacked by these insects: APHIDS. Soft-bodied plant lice swarm on tender new growth and feed by sucking, causing distorted flowers and petals. 

Remedy: Use dust or spray containing malathion, pyrethrum, or rotenone; or a specific spray of nicotine sulfate, 1 1/2 teaspoons to a gallon of water with a tablespoon of soap for a spreader. 

Japanese Beetles

A problem in East, west to Ohio, and perhaps beyond. Metallic green oval fourth-inch beetles appear in late June and July to devour foliage and flowers. 

Remedy: Protect foliage by covering weekly with spray or dust containing DDT, methoxychlor, malathion, or lead arsenate.


They are almost too small to see, but their effects are easily found in rosebuds that are browned, blighted, deformed, or fail to open. 

The insects are yellow specks, usually found between petals of opening flowers, especially light-colored ones. 

Remedy: Persistent and frequent spraying or dusting with malathion or DDT. 


Several kinds of larvae of bees, beetles, wasps, or other insects, bore into rose canes, causing them to die back. 

Look for holes in the pith of cut stems. Slit down the stem, and you will find maggots, grubs, or adult insects. 

Remedy: Remove the cane down to sound wood and seal the cut surface with a safe tree wound paint or orange shellac. Especially avoid leaving exposed cuts from midsummer on.

44659 by Rachel Snyder