How To Plant Roses:
Growing Healthy Organic Roses

Many people think learning how to plant roses (especially organic roses) is difficult, but it's really a matter of learning the basics of rose care.

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There are over 100 rose species and many hundreds of different types of roses, so keep looking until you find the right rose bush for your edible garden.

Handy facts about rose plants:

  • Plant type: Woody perennial shrub
  • Plant size: 1-30 feet tall, depending on variety. Width 1-6 feet, depending on variety.
  • Edible parts: Petals, fruit
  • Fruit color: Orange-red to dark purple "rose hips" appear in the fall in most varieties.
  • Flower color(s): Every color except blue and black. Some rose varieties are striped.
  • Stem colors(s): Branches are gray-brown (old growth) or yellow-green to red-brown (new growth); some varieties have red leaf twigs.
  • Leaf color(s): Medium to dark green
  • Leaf type: Oval, some with serrated edges, 1-4 inches long depending on variety
  • USDA zones: 3-11, depending on variety
  • Uses: Container gardens, fragrance gardens, potagers, flowering bed plants, flowering shrub, informal flowering hedges, flowering barrier hedges, trellis/arbor/wall (climbing), topiary, ground cover

Types of roses

The two main rose types are bush and climbing/rambling roses. Bush roses grow in a more compact shape, whereas climbing/rambling roses grow somewhat like vines.

Climbing roses aren't really vines, though, so you will need to tie them to supports. The difference between climbing roses and ramblers is that ramblers are "once-blooming" (only bloom once a year) and can grow to 30 feet tall.

Bush roses come in many sizes and growing habits. Miniature roses can be grown in 4" pots, and there are spreading, ground cover or "carpet" roses that grow out rather than up. Traditional bush roses grow 4-6 feet tall as well as wide.

The only difference in how to plant roses of these different types is to place climbers and ramblers close to their support, and give rose bushes enough room to spread out.

Specifics on how to plant roses

Roses are not planted by seed; you'll need to buy rose plants, either potted or bare root.

Don't buy diseased plants or bare root roses that have formed leaves or budded. Stems should be green and smooth, and look healthy.

Tips on how to plant roses:

  • Roses need at least five hours of direct sunlight a day
  • Don't let bare root roses dry out -- either plant them right away or pot them
  • Soak bare root roses a few hours before planting
  • Don't plant your roses if frost threatens; they can only stand freezing weather once established
  • Dig the hole larger than you think you need (at least 18 by 18 inches)
  • Put compost in the hole after you dig
  • How to plant roses in pots: put the plant in at the level it is in the pot, or so the soil is an inch above where the roots meet the stem
  • How to plant roses with bare roots: pour a cone of compost in the center of the hole until the top is level with the soil (it will take more compost than you think it will). Spread the roots out over the cone, fill up the rest of the soil until the plant is at the right level, then pack the soil and water well
  • Until the rose plant is established (putting out new leaves), mound the dirt up around the stem at least six inches so the stem stays moist
  • Keep watering well for the next few weeks until new leaves form
  • Once new leaves form, use a gentle spray of water to remove the mounded soil on the base of the stem, then add compost in a ring around the plant about 2 feet from the stem
  • Pay close attention to your rose plant for the first two weeks to watch for any disease

Organic rose care

Organic rose care is a must in edible landscaping. Do not use pesticides or non-organic fungicides on roses you plan to eat! Such toxins can be harmful to you as well as your garden.

Organic fungicide sprays are available, but the best treatment is prevention.

Roses need watering on a regular basis. If you dig down a few inches and the ground is dry, it's time to water. Don't get water on the leaves or flowers.

For most rose varieties, removing dead flowers ("deadheading") will encourage your roses to bloom all season long. If you want rose hips, stop deadheading about six weeks before your first frost date.

If your roses are the "once blooming" type, it's not recommended to deadhead them, as they usually have the best rose hips.

If you are growing roses in zones 1-5 or in areas right near the edge of your rose's particular hardiness zone, and there is no snow covering your rose plant, then cover your rose if temperatures threaten to go below what it can tolerate.

You can use row cover, plastic, mulch and compost in a wire structure, or whatever is most convenient for you. Once snow covers your rose plant, that insulates it and there's no need for further worry.

In most instances, covering your rose plants on top isn't necessary. However, roses will do better if you cover their roots and the base of their stems in places that have freezing weather. You can use compost, dead leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, or manure -- anything that will keep the ground and stem warm.

Roses in containers CANNOT stand freezing and should be brought inside for the winter. Put them in a sunny room and water well.

If you don't have a sunny room, you can put them touching a wall that gets full sun and cover the whole thing with mulch or compost to keep them warm. Remember to uncover them in the spring!

How to prune roses

Prune in the summer or early fall to control size and shape. Pruning roses is very easy. Use clean, sharp clippers, and leave a bud right below the cut that is going in the direction you want new growth to go.

Wear gardening gloves, and watch out for thorns!

In areas with harsh winters or heavy snowstorms, check your roses in late fall. Remove any branches that are extra long or cross each other to prevent wind damage.

In spring, remove dead, sickly-looking, damaged, or broken branches, and anything that goes outside the size and shape you want. Remove any branches that cross another branch, or that are pointing towards the center of the plant. Make sure that when you cut a branch that the bud right below it IS going in the direction you want, because that's where the next branch will grow from.

These are just general guidelines. When in doubt on how to plant roses, how to prune roses, or if you have any other questions on rose care, follow the instructions given to you on the label or packaging that came with the rose plant itself first.

How to plant roses that are healthy

Preventing common rose diseases

  • Plant roses in full sun with good air circulation -- fungal diseases like black spot love moisture
  • Choose rose plants that can tolerate conditions in your area and are resistant to fungal disease
  • Water the soil rather than the leaves or flowers
  • Water deeply during dry spells -- wilted plants are susceptible to illness
  • Don't let lower branches touch the ground
  • Fertilize with compost rather than chemical "rose fertilizers". This produces strong roses that are more resistant to disease
  • Remove diseased leaves at once and either throw them away or burn them -- don't leave them on the ground or compost them
  • Keep the ground around your roses clean and weed-free
  • Mulch your roses before the rainy season. Mulch forms a barrier between the soil and the leaves, preventing fungal spores from splashing up on the plant

Good companion plants for roses are nasturtiums, alliums, geranium, rosemary, thyme, and alyssum.

Growing roses is a huge topic, and for those of you who want to know even more, I recommend All About Rose Gardening.

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