Plant Hassle-Free Roses Now

June 1, 2011

Landscape roses like these Drifts can be used in containers and as gorgeous groundcovers.

Credit: Courtesy of Garden Media Group

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Roses have changed, and it’s about time! The emphasis now is on roses grown on their own roots and shrub and disease-resistant landscape types—ones that you can truly plant and almost forget. They’re no longer intimidating prima donnas, which makes me very happy.

Landscape roses such as these Knock-Outs make for stunning color all season with minimal care.  Courtesy of Garden Media Group.

Gone are the days when endless pruning, spraying and dusting were required to produce a vase full of perfect roses. Now all you do is plant, fertilize and water. Your reward is healthy, beautiful bushes loaded with fragrant blooms for cutting and landscaping all summer long.

Shrub roses and those grown on their own roots are also the best choices for very cold climates. I’ve lost dozens of hybrid teas to -25ºF winters, no matter how much mulch I heaped upon the plants. These same roses also stand up to heat, humidity and the myriad of diseases spawned by hot climates. I know, first-hand, because I’ve lived and grown roses from the Gulf Coast to Wisconsin.

Grown on its own roots, Wedgwood rose from David Austin Roses can be trained as a climber or left to sprawl as a groundcover.  Blooms are heady with fruity perfume with a touch of cloves.  Courtesy David Austin Roses.

Bare root or container?

Both types of rose bushes are available this time of year. If you live north of a line drawn from San Francisco to Washington D.C., plant either. If you are south of the line, container roses are the best choice, because your ground and air temperatures are already escalating.

Soak bare root roses in a bucket of warm water overnight. Then dig a hole 18 inches wide and deep. Mix in compost or peat moss if your soil is hard and compacted. In the center of the hole, make a 12-inch high cone of dirt. Spread rose roots over the cone. Hold rose in place with one hand and fill in the hole with the other. Firm soil and water well.

Plant container roses after the last freeze of the season; dig a hole the depth of the rose pot and 18 inches wide. Remove the plant from pot, place in center of the hole, spread roots and fill in with soil. Water well and firm soil with the back of a shovel or your hands to eliminate air pockets. Scatter slow-release fertilizer formulated for roses around plants and scratch in with a cultivator.

Lady Elsie May is a tough shrub rose that has flowerd non-stop in my Zone 4b garden for the last seven years.  I don't even water it!  Rainfall seems to be enough.  Compost mulch every spring is the only maintenance it requires.  Courtesy of Angelica Nurseries.

Five Unusual Rose Tips that Really Work

• Plant lavender at the base of rose bushes if deer are a problem in your area. Deer are attracted by rose scent, and lavender muddies the rose aroma.
• Dump coffee grounds and used tea leaves around bushes. Both acidify the soil slightly, which roses love.
• Bury banana skins or even the entire black, mushy banana at the base of bushes to provide magnesium, an element plants crave.
• Scratch two tablespoons of Epsom salts into the soil around a rose. The salts make flower colors more intense.
• Use rabbit food for fertilizer. The pet food is composed of alfalfa meal, which supplies a growth stimulant, nitrogen and trace elements to roses. Scratch in ½ cup of pellets around each rose and water well.

Related Articles

Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including

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I've grown roses from very

By Creatively Bold

I've grown roses from very healthy cuttings that have grown into bushes. The mother bushes are very mature and healthy before I collect cuttings. Coffee grounds are excellent to use once the cuttings are established in 5 gallon containers or transplanted into the ground. Be careful not to over water as rose roots are fragile and not deep under ground. They don't like to be muddy at their base. Full Sun for 6 hrs. per day in SoCal. Vit-B-1 treat once in awhile with watering and root hormone on cuttings before planting while soaking in water for at least a 1/2 hr. For more and many photos too!
The Old Farmer's Almanac is a must for all gardeners and I grew up with it in New Jersey before transplanting myself to SoCal. BTW try a bit of dish soap mixed with water in a sprayer bottle to discourage flying bugs and beetles. They don't like soap and it won't hurt your roses. To discourage slugs and snails try crushed egg shells which scratches their bodies. For gopher holes try hot ,hot red pepper powder mixed 50/50 with baking soda. These tips have worked for me. @B~) !

I live in West Tennessee and

By wondering

I live in West Tennessee and am wondering if the last of August is too late in the season to plant a Knockout rose bush?

Depends on when your first

By Doreen G. Howard

Depends on when your first hard freeze is. Any rose needs at least six weeks in the ground for roots to start growing. And, the shrub should be heavily mulched to keep the soil from freezing. Don't fertilize when you plant, as you don't want fresh green top growth that will be killed by a hard freeze.

I have never grown roses.

By Loretta O'Brien

I have never grown roses. What would be a good one to start with? My Gram used to have a fragrant pink rose that grew over her garden gate. I'm not sure what it was. Thanks


By Beth White

My plant grows but will not bloom. What can I do to bring blooms?

Re: Bougainvillea

By Doreen G. Howard

Beth, you don't say where you live.  Bougainvillea needs plenty of heat during the day and mild nights to bloom.  It's tropical plant.  If you live in a cooler climate, plant it in a large container, place it in full sun facing south and mulch the soil in the container with white pebbles or turkey grit (crushed oyster shells).  The white mulch gathers heat and reflects it upward to the plant leaves, plus heating the soil.  You could even try an aluminum foil mulch!

Roses for zone 3-4,Montana

By fotonut

I have tried several varieties and cannot get any roses to survive. I have one this spring that by mid June is finally getting her leaves. Maybe at least one rose by September? arrgh !!!!!

Re: Roses for Zone 3-4

By Doreen G. Howard

You live in a tough climate for many plants.  I thought mine was cold!  Have you considered containers?  Plant in at least a 16-inch diameter pot and put the rose bush outside after night temperatures stay above 30F.  A south exposure will give you more heat, as will mulching the container with white pebbles or turkey grit, which is crushed oyster shells.  You can store pots in the basement after they drop their leaves in fall.  No light needed, as the bush will go dormant.  Water the container every 3-4 weeks to keep the roots hydrated.  I do this with a number of perennials that die in my winter, like bananas, hibiscus and a fig tree.

knockout roses

By mojoman73

My wife loves roses, so we bought a knockout rose a couple of years ago. We had heard they will bloom all summer, but ours have only bloomed in the spring and then all we get are bushes for the rest of the summer. Is there something we can do to get them to rebloom? We are in zone 7b in South Carolina.

I too live in SC and have

By jrdsr19

I too live in SC and have found that a banana peel layed at the base of the roses a couple times a year does the trick and keeps them blooming all summer long. However don't put banana peels on your bushes late in the summer, if you do they will try to bloom too late in the season and they will be frost damaged. Good luck Jeff Davis, Sr.

Japanese Beetles?

By Renee in Rockton

I'm in Rockton, IL, and I've stopped growing any roses, even species roses, because of the damage from Japanese Beetles. They eat the leaves and buds; I've tried Neem oil, hand-picking, traps --nothing has worked. Do you have any advice for dealing with them?

Re: Japanese Beetles?

By Doreen G. Howard

I live a few miles away from you and have the same problem with Japanese beetles.  I, too, tried neem with little luck.  I tried the milky spores for the lawn to kill the grubs and traps.  They worked, but all the beetles from the neighboring land still flocked to my abundant garden full of food they like.  So, I've accepted that the roses bloom and look wonderful until the end of July, and then the plants start looking tattered.  I still get blooms and plenty of color, too.  Sometimes we just have accept what Mother Nature dishes out, like the April Fool's snow we had and the cold long spring that went immediately to summer.  Maybe that weather pattern will slow down the beetles this year!  We can hope.

Doreen, I'm in the same boat.

By Emily Hiesl on August 23

Doreen, I'm in the same boat. I have tried spraying with natural household products like vinegar, salt, chili powder to no avail. What worked best was physically removing the bugs (and even better unfortunately is killing them in a bowl of soap water) from the rose plants, daily if not twice a day. I'm not a killer but I know that is really the best way to rid yourself of the bulk of the beetles!

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