Basic Rose Gardening

Six easy-to-follow steps to successful Rose Growing

By Mike Chute

Many home gardeners feel that roses require special expertise and that you need to be a mystic or an alchemist to successfully grow backyard roses.  Not so.  Most rose failures can be traced back to basic mistakes that are preventable once you know what they are.  Roses have fundamental requirements and by following these six basic steps, successful rose gardening is not only possible, but also easy, enjoyable, and highly satisfying.

 1. Buy Good Plants.

Buy roses from highly regarded local sources that specialize in roses and other plants. These nurseries and garden centers are in the plant business and sell quality roses.  They will render advice on plant care and will be able to assist you if there is a problem. Roses from these sources are usually graded “number 1,” which is the highest grade in their industry, and come from reputable growers.  Plan to spend more on these plants but their size and overall quality more than off set the difference in price.  It is true that cheaper roses are available in discount stores, but they are smaller and generally receive no care once they are placed on the sales table.  You will find yourself spending the first season nursing an inferior plant along and at the end of the summer, when all is said and done, you have gained nothing.  Superior roses are available by mail order, also.  The RI Rose Review published a list of mail order sources in the February 2001 issue.  Buying mail order greatly increases your choices and the plants arrive in excellent condition ready for planting.

Tip. The Rhode Island Rose Society has made arrangements for its members to receive discounts on roses and other plants from five local nurseries.  Members can get good plants and save too!

2. Start with Good Soil.

Everything begins with the soil.  The native soil in Rhode Island is “sandy loam” which is almost perfect for roses.  Sandy loam drains very well but doesn’t have enough of the  organics that roses need to be ideal soil.  This is not a problem; we can build our own by simply adding organics.   These amendments are necessary, not so much for nutrition, but for soil conditioning.  They hold water, buffer the soil against wide swings in pH, promote the growth of important microorganisms, and generally improve the tilth of the soil.  Amend sandy loam with compost, horse manure, peat moss, etc, all of which are available locally.

Ideal pH for roses is a slightly acidic 6.5 to 6.9.  Roses will tolerate pH down into the low 5’s, but beyond that, they become malnourished even with nutrients present in the soil.  This is due to the extreme acidity which prevents the rose from absorbing these nutrients.  Our New England soil is naturally acidic, but this can be overcome with pH monitoring and adding lime to the soil if necessary, particularly in the fall as it takes several months for any change in pH to take place.

Tip.  Horse manure can be used fresh and need not be aged. There are plenty of sources for horse manure in RI and stables are glad to be rid of it for a nominal charge or, in some cases, free for the taking.


3.  Six Hours of Sun (Minimum).

Shrubs that flower heavily need sun.  Roses require a minimum of six consecutive hours of daily sunshine to optimize their flowering capabilities.  However, it is useful to know that varieties that have fewer petals in the bloom will tolerate the shade more than heavily petalled roses which need ample amounts of heat and light to open properly.  The color of the bloom is also affected by the amount of sun…the more sun, the brighter the color.

Tip.  Try growing roses in containers.  This way they can be moved from place to place in a shady yard thus gaining additional sun exposure


4. Roses Love to Drink.

Roses require water and plenty of it.  It is difficult to over-water roses planted in amended sandy loam.  How much is enough?  Don’t let the soil dry out completely at the base of the plant.  In cooler weather, water a couple of times per week.  In the heat of the summer, everyday is not too much. 

Tip. It is much better to give the plant a deep soaking, 4-5 gallons, twice per week than to lightly water everyday.


5.  Roses Love to Eat.

Flowering shrubs like roses need regular feeding all season.  Commence fertilizing when new spring growth reaches an inch or more, usually around the first of May.  Feed large roses 1 cup of 10-10-10 monthly through August, then stop.  For miniature roses cut the regimen in half.  Triple 10 is a balanced fertilizer that provides the essential elements of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that roses need for robust health.  It is inexpensive and available everywhere.  Augment this with water-soluble fertilizers applied at the recommended rates. Specialty fertilizers with trace elements are good, but not essential.  Roses can’t read and they eat anything.

Tip. Cutting the dosages in half and feeding twice as often is a superior method of fertilizing if you have the time.


6.  Insect and Disease Control.

Insects can be controlled as they appear with a variety of methods.  Control of fungi, on the other hand, needs to be preemptive as blackspot spores, for instance, are present on the foliage 30 days before the spots occur.  There are spray products available in garden centers that effectively control all the common fungi in the home rose garden.  Follow the instructions and apply at the recommended rates.

An alternative to this is to plant varieties that have a demonstrated resistance to disease and maintain a clean garden with ample air circulation.  Disease resistance has become a primary objective of modern rose hybridizing and resistant varieties are introduced every year.  Check the RIRS Rose Buyers Guide, recently updated, for the latest scoop on dozens of varieties including the most disease resistant.

Tip.  Attack Japanese beetles in the larva stage in the soil with milky spore disease or lawn care treatments.  This takes time but has long lasting positive results.


The only thing left are the simple mechanics of planting the rose properly, which is easy enough once you see how.  The RI Rose Society teaches basic rose care, including planting and pruning, in the spring as well as other times of the year.

The next time you buy roses, put away your ouija boards and tarot cards and send Merlin back to Camelot.  If you follow these six basic steps to successful rose gardening then you can grow good, no, make that very good, roses right here in southern New England.

 (From May 2001 issue of Rhode Island Rose Review)

Mike Chute lives in East Providence.  He is a certified American Rose Society (ARS) horticultural judge, an ARS Consulting Rosarian, and past president of the RI Rose Society.

©Copyright 2009, all rights reserved. Patham