Rose Growing Guide

Martha Stewart Living, March 2005

There is an enormous variety of roses available today from nurseries and mail-order catalogs: repeat bloomers and single bloomers, single flowered and double flowered. There are roses that exist to scale fences, or to fill borders, or to stand alone as single, dramatic specimen plants. Some are vigorous growers and hardy enough to withstand a deep freeze, while others need protection from winter's chill. To the novice, even deciding which variety to buy can be overwhelming. Then there is the matter of caring for your new plant at home.

Sun and Shade Requirements

Roses in general grow best with at least five to six hours of sun. In warmer regions, such as southern California, the Southwest, and the Southeast, place roses so they have a bit of afternoon shade. This can help blossoms last longer and keep colors from fading.

Soil Requirement

Roses prefer a slightly acid soil, with a pH of about 6.5 (you can do a soil test to check the pH, and adjust it, if necessary). To enrich your soil, use well-composted cow, horse, or, even better, chicken manure. Be generous in applying it; your roses will thank you.

Rose Fertilizer

There are many brands of granular rose fertilizers, some organic; if your water or soil has an alkaline pH, look for one with a higher amount of sulfur, which adds acidity.

Give the first application in early spring, as leaf buds swell. A cup of fertilizer, spread evenly, 3 inches from the canes (stems), is sufficient.

In areas where roses go dormant in winter, use granular fertilizer monthly from the time plants break dormancy (when buds are an inch long) until early August. Used later, fertilizer will promote growth that is susceptible to winter dieback. Apply water-soluble fertilizer monthly during the same period (alternate every 2 weeks with granular). Do not soak emerging foliage or a chemical burn may result; roses with mature leaves, however, respond well to foliar feedings.

For those who prefer organic fertilizer, use fish emulsion, cottonseed meal, processed kelp, or blood meal weekly. Keep in mind that these don't have the high concentrations of minerals that most rose fertilizers have.

Water Requirement

Roses like a readily available water source but don't do well when waterlogged. Encourage good drainage by preparing soil before planting with organic matter, which will bulk up light soil or lighten heavy soil.

Top-dressing with 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch also helps keep water available. It shades the soil, suppresses weeds, and keeps the sun from drawing out moisture.

Pest Prevention

Take care not to overreact at the first sign of aphids. High doses of chemicals usually hurt valuable predators (such as ladybugs) as much as the insects you are targeting.

Small outbreaks of soft-bodied aphids, on new growth and buds, can be knocked off by a strong jet of water. Or try putting on soft cotton gloves and hand-picking the pests (this works with Japanese beetles, too).

If you know when to look for pests -- aphids tend to show up in the spring, for example, while Japanese beetles appear in early summer -- you won't be caught off guard.

Chemicals should come into play only when pests become unmanageable. Get advice so you don't go overboard. Your local cooperative extension can help you find the least toxic response to your problem.

Fungal diseases such as black spot and powdery mildew can affect almost all roses. Prevent and control them with fungicide, or the following less-toxic baking-soda spray (developed by R. K. Horst of Cornell Uni

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