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Rose Flowers: Planting, Growing, and Caring for Roses

How to Grow Roses: The Complete Rose Flower Guide

Delicate peach roses in a full bloom in the garden. Close-up photo. Dark green background. Orange floribunda rose in the garden. Garden concept. Rose flower blooming on background blurry roses flower
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Rosa spp.
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Planting, Growing, and Caring for Roses

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Roses are the cornerstone of many beautiful gardens and bouquets! Our Roses Growing Guide covers everything you need to know about caring for these flowering favorites—from planting to pests to pruning! How should you look after your roses? 

About Roses

June’s birth flower is the rose! And it’s not surprising that rose shrubs are often at their very best this month, but many types will flower from late May through early fall. 

The rose has been a symbol of beauty, love, and passion for thousands of years, and it remains so today. Growing roses can be demanding or carefree. Roses are shrubs of many forms, available for every blooming season and in various colors. Knowing rose classifications helps understand their growth habits, climate preferences, and general requirements.

Rose bushes come in a variety of forms, from climbing roses to miniature rose plants. One way to group roses into classes is according to their date of introduction:

  • Old roses—also called “old-fashioned roses” and “heirloom roses”—are those introduced prior to 1867. These are the lush, invariably fragrant roses in old masters’ paintings. Hundreds of old rose varieties—whose hardiness varies—provide warm and mild climates choices.
  • Modern hybrid roses, introduced after 1867, are sturdy, long-blooming, extremely hardy and disease-resistant, and bred for color, shape, size, and fragrance. The hybrid tea roses, with one large flower on a long cutting stem, are among the most popular hybrids.
  • Species, or wild roses, are those that have been growing wild for many thousands of years. These wild roses have been adapted to modern gardens and usually bloom from spring to early summer. Most species of roses have single blossoms. 

See three easy roses for beginners!

Choosing from all the possibilities can be a daunting task. Take your time and wander through nurseries to enjoy the beauty of roses!

Plants That Pair Well With Roses

Also, consider which plants make good companions for roses. Pretty purple catmint (Nepeta) offsets roses beautifully (especially pink) and hides roses’ leggy bottoms, so the focus is on their lush green leaves and blooms at the top. Lavender (Lavandula), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla), and tall growing pinks (Dianthus) do the same, as well as help suppress weeds. Plant other plants at least one foot away from your roses to avoid crowding; roses need lots of open-air circulation to avoid disease. 

Plant companions can also be chosen to deter pests if you have pest problems. Find plant companions that deter Japanese beetles here.

Planting

When to Plant Roses

If you order bare-root roses from a mail-order company, order with your planting date in mind. Bare-root roses should be planted soon after they arrive.

In North America, roses are usually shipped in the early spring, well before leafing out, when plants are fully dormant. They’ll look like a bundle of sticks on arrival. Note that they are not dead—simply dormant! Check that the packing material is moist and keep them in a cool, dark place until ready to plant.

  • In colder regions, plant bare-root roses as soon as the soil is workable in the spring.
  • In warmer regions, you may plant bare-root roses in the early spring or in late fall as long as the plant is dormant. 

If you are buying potted roses, it’s best to plant them by late spring for best results. However, you may plant them almost any time during the growing season—just be sure to keep them well-watered, especially during summer!

Selecting and Preparing a Planting Site

  • Plant roses where they will receive a minimum of 5 to 6 hours of sun per day. Morning sun is especially important because it dries dew from the leaves, which helps prevent diseases. Roses grown in the partial sun may not die at once, but they weaken gradually, producing subpar blooms and overwintering poorly.
    • Remember that light changes as the angle of the sun shifts throughout the season. If you live in the northern half of the U.S., choose a site that will offer full sun year-round. The more sun you have, the more flowers your plants will produce. In the southern half of the U.S., choose spots with a little bit of afternoon shade. This protects blossoms from the scorching sun and helps your flowers last longer.
  • If you live in a colder climate, consider growing roses close to the foundation of your home. This provides plants with some degree of winter protection. Walkways are also good spots, provided there is full sun.
  • If you’re planning for multiple roses, be sure not to crowd. Good air circulation helps prevent fungal diseases such as powdery and downy mildew. 
  • Roses need soil that drains well but holds onto moisture long enough for the roots to absorb some. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to not provide adequate drainage. Roses do not like wet, cold feet. 
  • Roses like loose, loamy soil leaning more toward sandy. Too much clay and the roots can become waterlogged. If you are not starting out with loose, loamy soil, you will need to do some amending. 
  • Roses prefer a slightly acidic soil pH between 5.5 and 7.0. A pH of 6.5 is just about right for most home gardens.
    • An accurate soil test will tell you where your pH currently stands. Acidic (sour) soil is counteracted by applying finely ground limestone; alkaline (sweet) soil is treated with ground sulfur. Learn more about soil amendments.

Planting Roses

  • Wear sturdy gloves to protect your hands from prickly thorns. Have a hose or bucket of water and all your planting tools nearby. 
  • Soak bare-root roses in a bucket of water for 8 to 12 hours before planting.
  • Prune each cane back to 3 to 5 buds per cane. Any cane thinner than a pencil should be removed.
  • If planting container-grown roses, loosen the roots before planting.
  • When you plant the rose, be sure to dig a much bigger hole than you think you need (for most types, the planting hole should be about 15 to 18 inches wide) and add plenty of organic matter, such as compost or aged manure.
  • Water liberally after planting.
  • Mound up loose soil around the canes to protect the rose while it acclimates to its new site.
  • Some old-timers recommend placing a 4-inch square of gypsum wallboard and a 16-penny nail in the hole to provide calcium and iron, both appreciated by roses.
  • Don’t crowd the roses if you plan to plant more than one rose bush. Roses should be planted about two-thirds of the expected height apart. Old garden roses will need more space, while miniature roses can be planted closer.

Propagating Roses

To root a rose cutting, insert it into a potato, then plant both as one.

Growing

Deadheading Roses

After roses bloom, be sure to deadhead religiously to prolong flowering. Every leaf has a growth bud, so removing old flower blossoms encourages the plant to make more flowers instead of using the energy to make seeds. In addition, you always want to snip off any soggy rose flowers to prevent rot from setting in.

  • It’s worth deadheading at least once a week and even daily in midsummer. 
  • To deadhead, cut back to the first leaf below the spent flower. A new shoot will then grow from this point. 
  • As well as deadheading religiously, keep the beds clean. Remove any debris around the rose bush that can harbor disease and insects.

In late summer and early fall: If your rose produces good hips (rugosas), remove only the petals, so the hips can continue developing. Hips can be harvested and dried on screens, away from sunlight, then stored in an airtight container.

Stop deadheading all your rose bushes 3 to 4 weeks before the first hard frost so as not to encourage new growth at a time when the cold may damage new shoots.

Watering Roses

  • Diligently water your roses. Soak the entire root zone at least twice weekly in dry summer weather. Avoid frequent shallow sprinklings, which won’t reach the deeper roots and may encourage fungus. In the fall reduce the amount of water, but do not allow roses to completely dry out.
  • Roses love water—but don’t drown them. That is, they don’t like to sit in water, and they’ll die if the soil is too wet in winter. The ideal soil is rich and loose, with good drainage. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to not provide adequate drainage.
  • Use mulch around your roses. To help conserve water, reduce stress, and encourage healthy growth, apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of chopped and shredded leaves, grass clippings, or shredded bark around the base of your roses. Allow about 1 inch of space between the mulch and the base stem of the plant. See our Mulching Guide for more information.

pink roses

Feeding and Fertilizing Roses

  • Artificial liquid fertilizers tend to promote plant growth that is soft and tender, and this type of foliage can attract aphids and other pests. Instead, rely on compost and natural fertilizers to feed your plants before and throughout the blooming cycle.
  • Once a month between April and July, you could apply a balanced granular fertilizer (5-10-5 or 5-10-10). Allow 3/4 to 1 cup for each bush, and sprinkle it around the drip line, not against the stem. See our fertilizer guide for more information.
  • In May and June, you could scratch in an additional tablespoon of Epsom salts along with the fertilizer; the magnesium sulfate will encourage new growth from the bottom of the bush and make flower colors more intense.
  • Fertilize with rabbit food; it contains alfalfa meal, which supplies a growth stimulant, nitrogen, and trace elements. Scratch 1/2 cup of pellets into the soil around a rosebush, then water well.
  • Banana peels are a good source of calcium, sulfur, magnesium, and phosphates—all things that roses like. (Note that it will take longer for your roses to reap the benefits from bananas than it would with pure soil amendments.) Here are three ways to serve them up: 
    1. Lay a strip of peel at the base of each bush.
    2. Bury a black, mushy banana next to each bush.
    3. Chop up the peels, let them sit for two weeks in a sealed jar of water, and pour the mixture under each bush.

Pruning Roses

  • In North America, repeat blooming roses such as floribunda and hybrid tea roses need heavy annual pruning, which is done in the spring when plants begin to leaf out for the new season. (Roses are often not the earliest plants in the garden to respond to spring’s warming temperatures, so be patient.) Give the plant time to show its leaf buds, then prune above that level. 
     
  • But do not prune old-fashioned roses and climbers in spring. they bloom on wood from the previous year’s growth. Prune in the late summer immediately after flowering. 
     
  • At any time of the year, remove dead, diseased, or damaged wood and remove diseased foliage. Learn more about common rose diseases.
     
  • When you prune, wear elbow-length gloves that are thick enough to protect your hands from thorns or a clumsy slip but flexible enough to allow you to hold your tools. Always wear safety goggles; branches can whip back when released.
     
  • Use sharp pruning shears for smaller growth. For growth more than half an inch thick, use loppers, which look like giant, long-handle shears. A small pruning saw is handy for large and heavy, old stems, as it cuts on both the push and the pull. 
     
  • As much as two-thirds can cut back large rose canes and smaller ones to within 6 to 12 inches of the ground. In general, cutting back hard promotes stronger growth. 
     
  • When you prune, start by removing all stems that are crossing, rubbing against each other, damaged, discolored, or competing for space. Leave only the most vigorous, healthy canes. When pruning, check to make sure the stems show no sign of discoloration. 
     
  • Prune 1/4-inch above an outward-facing bud to prevent compacted growth. Cut at an angle. Any cuts you make that are greater than the thickness of a pencil should be sealed with nail polish or wood glue to prevent cane borers from entering.
     
  • Not all types of roses are pruned the same way or at the same time of year. Learn more here: How to Prune Roses.

Winterizing Roses

  • In the fall, shorten the extra-tall canes to 30 inches to reduce damage from winter winds (which can loosen and damage roots). 
  • Clean up the rose beds to prevent overwintering of diseases. Collect any infected leaves that have fallen to the ground. One last spray for fungus with a dormant spray is a good idea, too.
  • Stop fertilizing 6 weeks before the first fall frost, but continue watering during dry fall weather to help keep plants healthy during a dry winter.
  • Add mulch or compost around the roses after a few frosts but before the ground freezes. Where temperatures stay below freezing during winter, enclose the plant with a sturdy mesh cylinder, filling the enclosure with compost, mulch, dry wood chips, pine needles, or chopped leaves (don’t use maple leaves for mulch, as they can promote mold growth).

Container roses acquired in late summer or fall can be overwintered above ground. 

In northern zones, expose the plant to the first deep freeze (this helps with dormancy). Put it in a dark, unheated room, basement, or garage. Water occasionally, only enough to moisten the soil. Bring the plant outdoors when it shows signs of coming back to life. Plant when the soil warms.

 In tropical climate areas (where it’s never below 20°F), container roses can remain outdoors. Water regularly to keep roots alive.

White roses

Harvesting

Cut roses in the early morning. Choose buds with outer petals already open. When inside, strip off lower leaves and recut the stems. Change the water in the vase every couple of days and recut the stems at the same time. Vase life is up to 12 days.

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Wit and Wisdom
  • The rose is the U.S. national flower and is honored by the annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
  • Roses are edible! Rose petals are brewed for tea blends and are sometimes used in gargles and tonics to treat congestion, sore throats, and stomach disorders.
  • Rose water is a refreshing skin splash. Try a flower facial! Gentle, aromatic steam cleanses your pores. For oily skin, add a few rose petals to boiling water in a heatproof bowl. Make a bath towel tent and lean your face about 10 inches above the water. It should feel warm, not hot. After 10 minutes, rinse your face with cool water, then blot dry.
  • Red roses symbolize love and desire, but roses come in a variety of colors, and each has its own meaning. For example, the white rose’s meaning is purity and innocence. See flower meanings.
  • Roses are also one of the beautiful June birth flowers.
  • It is believed that the cultivation of roses began about 5,000 years ago in China. 
  • During the Roman Empire, rose gardens were established in the Middle East. 
  • In the 17th century, kings and queens considered roses legal tender for purchases.
  • Roses have a long and symbolic history.

And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
–Christopher Marlowe (1564-93)

Pests/Diseases

Good gardening practices, such as removing dead leaves and canes, will help reduce pests. If problems develop, horticultural oil and insecticidal soap can help control insects and mildews. Possible rose pests and problems:

  • Japanese Beetles: See many tips for deterring these pests, including great companion plants for roses which will help prevent Japanese Beetles.
  • Aphids: All plants deal with aphids which are easy to manage with a spray of water or insecticidal soap; just stay on top of your plants and check consistently.
  • Black Spot: Rose plant leaves with black spots that eventually turn yellow have black spot. This is often caused by water splashing on leaves, especially in rainy weather. Leaves may require a protective fungicide coating, which would start in the summer before leaf spots started until first frost. Thoroughly clean up debris in the fall, and prune out all diseased canes.
  • Powdery MildewLeaves, buds, and stems will be covered with a white powdery coating. Mildew develops rapidly during warm, humid weather. Prevent mildew by pruning out all dead or diseased canes in the spring.
  • Botrytis Blight: This gray fungus will cause the flower buds to droop, stay closed, or turn brown. Prune off all infected blossoms and remove any dead material. Fungicide application may be necessary.
  • Spider Mites
  • Thrips
  • Rust
  • Stem Borers
  • Deer: Roses are a delectable tidbit, so try planting lavender near your roses. Not only will you have the makings of a nice potpourri, but the scent of lavender will discourage browsers. You can also spread human or dog hair around the garden area or check our list of deer-resistant plants to protect your roses.

In general, avoid rose issues by buying disease-resistant varieties and cleaning up debris, weeds, fallen leaves, and any diseased plant material as soon as possible. 

Also, speak to your local Cooperative Extension or trusted nursery about a spray program with products approved in your state.

Cooking Notes

The tart reddish-orange hips of rugosa roses are used for jams, jellies, syrups, pies, teas, and wine. Check out our Rose Hip Jam recipe.

Rose petals are edible and can be tossed into salads for color, candied to decorate cakes, or distilled to make rose water. Make sure the rose petals are pesticide free.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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