Roses, there is nothing more iconic in a garden. And it’s no secret why, they are pure colour and fragrance. But what does surprise me time and time again is how some people consider them difficult and fussy. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
To the new gardener, roses could seem overwhelming. They have inspired passionate study over the years which has resulted in a fair bit of information circling out there. Books have been written on everything from how to classify to how to grow them. In fact, a lot of books have been written on them. There is even a specific name for someone who specializes in them, a Rosarian. But you don’t have to devote your life and commit to becoming a rosarian to enjoy a rose to two in your garden, here are few things you should know to get started and try to keep it simple.
Care of Roses
First off how do you grow a rose successfully? Plant it in the right spot, treat it reasonably well and prune it once a year.
The right spot for a rose should be somewhere that gets 4 – 6 hours of sunlight, these are not shade plants. Be sure to keep it well watered and feed it. You have lots of options for fertilizer, everything from organic to slow release, so go have a chat with an expert at your local GardenWorks and find one that works for you.
It’s not the scary thing people think it is, but there are a few things to learn. The first thing is to just relax. You can’t too much damage so take a breath. I am confident in saying that no one has ever killed a rose by pruning it (okay, I don’t actually know that but I’m pretty sure it’s true). Roses are remarkable for their response to pruning. The reason you prune is to promote air flow (as this helps to keep diseases such as black spot in check) and to keep a visually pleasing compact growth.
There are several different techniques and theories to rose pruning, but here are a few of my favourites:
First off, arm yourself: Get yourself some good bypass pruners, you’ll thank me. Also consider some specialist rose gloves to protect yourself, rose thorns can be nasty… trust me.
Timing is everything. Rose pruning is best done in the spring before too much growth has emerged. A good tip is to look around in your neighbourhood for when the yellow Forsythia is blooming, this means it’s time to prune your roses.
Pick your Technique: Now, this is where things can get different. Some people like to cut their rose by 1/3rd each year, others to cut their roses back by even more, cutting off 2/3rds. This more aggressive pruning can delay flowering but is thought to create stronger more vigorous growth.
A newer method being recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society is called the “easy care method”. You simply shear your rose bush by half each spring (sounds like the perfect method for the busy part-time gardener). By the way, shearing is about as un-fussy as it gets with pruning. Whereas pruning is selectively removing branches, shearing is just like cutting the wool off a sheep… indiscriminate.
Also, another pruning tip I like is the 3-3-3 method, you prune by a 3rd in the 3rd week of the 3rd month.
So, as you can see there are several different ways to prune roses and these methods will work for most rose types, the only difference is when you get into climbing and rambler roses. Ramblers don’t need to much pruning if you have room to let them grow (hence they are rambling) and if you decide you want to have a orderly trained climbing rose, then I suggest you get one of those books I mentioned early, they are full of wonderful information, but don’t forget the gloves and a good pair of pruners.
Also don’t forget to deadhead your rose during their blooming season. Removing old dead flowers can trick your plant into making more flowers… also, old dead flowers are ugly so you should get rid of them.
Common Types of Roses
There are a lot of roses out there, which is good, it means that no matter what there is one that is going to work for you. This is by no means a complete list of all the options, instead it’s a generalized listing of some of the more common ones for the everyday garden.
Roses bred in modern times, they bloom almost all season long and are incredibly variable in colour, fragrance, size, shape and disease resistance.
Hybrid Tea Roses:
What most people think of when you hear the word rose, it’s also what you get in a bouquet.
These are the “Grande Dame” of the roses. Large single flowers on a long stem, make them great for cut flowers.
A specific pruning tip for these roses it to remove stems smaller than a pencil since they won’t be able handle the weight of the flower.
These roses, have smaller delicate clusters of flowers, aka smaller flowers but more of them. Generally, a smaller bushier plant.
Something in between a Hybrid Tea and a Floribunda.
The large elegant flowers of a Hybrid Tea but in the long–stemmed clusters of a Floribunda, the best of both.
This is a bit of a catch all for a lot of different roses, both “old” and new. In general shrub roses are known for their nice round shape, repeat blooming, winter hardiness and pretty good disease-resistance. Some of the most popular are:
Modern roses with old world charm.
David Austin was an English rose breeder who created some stunning roses with the character and fragrance of old garden roses with the repeat blooming and wide colour range of modern roses.
If you love the look of “old cabbage style” garden roses, then you should get a David Austin.
Climbers & ramblers:
Pretty self–explanatory. Plant these roses if you have a structure for them to grow on.
Rambling roses are usually more aggressive and will only flower once where climbers are a bit more subdued and will repeat flower all season long (although there are exceptions to this rule).
These are some of the cool new roses, and they are ridiculously easy to grow.
They have disease resistance, are compact and tidy (they don’t even need pruning as much as other roses) and will just keep blooming.
This is the rose for you if you just want to plant it and forget it (well… you might need to water and fertilize sometimes).
They come in a variety of colours, look for Meidiland brand roses and OSO Easy roses by Proven Winners.
Modern shrubs, hybrid musk, hybrid rugosa:
These are three similar types of roses.
They are generally large shrubs with lots of flowers and many will flower throughout the seasons. Some even feature showy rose hips (the swollen red fruit of the rose).
Roses bred to handle Canadian winters. The Parkland series and Canadian Explorer roses are a must have for anywhere with below zero temperatures. These are seriously tough roses.
These are historic roses that were bred before 1867. This includes a variety of roses like Gallicas, Damask, Moss, Alba, and Centifolia. Old roses that are cold hardy, very fragrant but not disease-resistant and generally not repeat blooming. They are romantic roses and great for the keen rose gardener, but perhaps not for the beginner or small garden. Just to make things really confusing there lots of roses that get put into this group even though they are more modern than 1867 (for example the Bourbon, Portland and hybrid perpetual which are slightly more modern repeat blooming roses that are often referred to as old garden roses).
This is just as nature intended. Fragrant, extremely hardy and disease-resistant, they generally have simple flowers that are followed by hips. They are very vigorous growers, and happy with minimal input from you. One to look for is Rosa woodsii ‘Kimberly’ which is a naturally occurring variant found growing near the town of Kimberly, it has a nice compact habit and single pink flowers.
Common Disease for Roses:
Black spot is a fungal disease that affects the leaves of roses. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, unsightly black spots on the leaves, that soon turn yellow and fall off the plant. Many roses are susceptible while other are resistant to the disease.
When considering a rose, be sure to check out the label, if a rose is resistant it will say so, otherwise consider it susceptible. But some of the most stunning roses can get black spot and they shouldn’t be excluded from the garden because of it.
Black spot can be managed. It likes to grow in moist humid environments so if you prune your rose to improve airflow you are less likely to get it. Also, when watering your rose keep the water near the roots and try to avoid getting the leaves wet.
Lastly try to remove all the old spotty dead leaves as they are just providing inoculant for more infection. If you still are having trouble there are a number of control methods, head down to the garden centre and talk to someone about your options.
So, this is a lot of information and It’s okay if you get confused, that’s why we have rosarians… to sort it all out for us. The moral of the story, if you are still with me, is that there is a whole bunch of choice out there and roses are easy to grow. Head down to your local GardenWorks armed with a bit a knowledge and find one that works for you, whether that’s a classic Hybrid Tea, an old-world-charm David Austin or an “easy-peasy” Landscape rose. No matter which one you choose, to quote Shakespeare “a rose by any other name, is still awesome” at least I think that is what he said.