Roses in the Sunshine State: A Guide to Growing Roses in Florida

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“I’m from the North,” she said, “and I haven’t seen a good-looking rose since I’ve been in Florida.”

She was a gardener and a rose-lover; like all enthusiastic gardening specialists, she tended towards exaggeration, for fine roses are grown in Florida. 

Florida RosesPin

Yet it is certainly true that one must look far and wide to find consistently good roses.

Why There’s Scarcity Of Beautiful Roses

Why this scarcity of healthy, beautiful roses? The major cause is to be found, I think, in the attitude of the gardeners of Florida. 

In the North, roses are given meticulous care by gardeners who have waited all winter long to see their roses bloom in the spring. 

In Florida, however, roses bloom every month of the year; amid this plethora of bloom, Florida’s gardeners grow careless, forgetting that roses, like only children, require constant attention. 

Given proper care, the roses of Florida will be as good as, in many instances, better than the roses of the North.

I know this is true because I have grown wonderful roses here in Florida. The plants are strong and vigorous with sturdy leaves and huge fragrant flowers which gush out in fountains of rich bloom week after week all year round.

How I Grow These Glorious Roses

The planting time for roses in Florida is during January and February (Louisiana and Georgia plant in January; in South Carolina, in February).

Here’s how I grow these roses.

  • Purchase a plant with a good understock. Do not delay planting, for even a short exposure to wind or sun will damage the delicate roots. 

If the delay is unavoidable, the roots should be puddled (dipped in a thick mixture of clay and water to check the moisture loss). Never permit the roots to dry out.

  • Dig a hole 22” inches deep and add enough good garden soil so that the bud union (the swollen part of the stem at the junction of stems and roots) will be at ground level when the plant is placed in the hole. 
  • Add more good soil around the roots; pack and water thoroughly to eliminate any air pockets. Then fill back the soil to ground level, firm it, and water again.

It is extremely important that the original soil be replaced, for most ordinary garden soils in Florida are relatively poor.

  • Mound the soil over the bud union to prevent drying out. It is a good practice to keep a small mound of soil around the base of your rose bush at all times during the first few months after planting.
  • When your bush develops new growth in the spring, give a liberal top dressing of cow manure. Cut away the suckers which sprout up from below the bud union; don’t cut out the reddish-colored canes that develop above the bud union, as these are good wood.
  • When rose buds show, pinch off the outer ones (catch the bud between your thumb and forefinger and pull out and down, snapping the bud off cleanly). The center bud will produce blooms of maximum beauty.

Pinching Buds in Mid-summer

If your rose plant produces inferior flowers during the hot summer months, pinch off all the rose buds for six weeks in midsummer. 

Don’t permit a single flower to show. Pinching off all the buds until October guarantees a magnificent display during the winter months. 

The old Northern saw—when in doubt, prune hard—does not apply to roses in Florida. However, you must keep the bush’s center open to light and air. Cut out the twigs and most old damaged wood (the newer canes are light-colored). 

Leave enough old wood, however, to retain the shape of the bush. January, February, and March are the months for pruning roses in Florida; do not prune during summer.

Sprayed and Dusted

Roses in Florida, like roses elsewhere, must be sprayed and dusted. It is best to consult a good rose book or a local expert before spraying or dusting, for the time of year and the insect or disease determine the spray or dust to be used and the method of applying it.

Summer Is A Difficult Time For Roses in Florida

Give your rose bushes a little shade by putting some sort of temporary shade boxes over them. During July and August, three or four hours of shade in the middle of the day are highly beneficial. A 2-inch mulch of peat moss or pine needles is also helpful in summer. 

Even with mulch, don’t spare the water, or you will spoil the roses. Instead, water your roses in the early morning. Avoid splattering the foliage, buds, and flowers; just soak the ground around each bush.

Best Time For Cutting Roses

Early morning and late afternoon are the best times for cutting roses. Don’t shear off all the blooms on new plants; give them a chance to develop into robust bushes. 

Leave at least 2” inches of stem, and always try to cut about ½ inch above the nearest leaf.

If you follow these planting and maintenance instructions, you should be able to grow healthy, beautiful roses in Florida.

44659 by John L. Russell, Jr.