Home Plants How to grow roses

How to grow roses

A complete growing guide to fill your garden with colour and scent

Like most of us, I love roses (until the thorns rip your hands off) and have amassed an eclectic collection over the years. Apart from sweet peas, you’re hard-pressed to find a group of plants with such astounding scent.

I find it very disappointing to find a rose without perfume, although I do have a couple I tolerate because they do other things.

One of these is my unknown rambler – it does its stuff, then that’s it. It gets blackspot and takes up too much room. However, its ‘stuff’ is a brilliant show of cream/apricot clusters. It is trained up a stout bamboo trellis at the edge of the tropical border.

There’s two climbing James Galway from David Austin Roses on the drive fence, with warm pink blooms fading to pale pink packed with an unfeasible amount of petals. it has a lovely ‘old rose’ scent, is disease resistant, almost thornless and performs well in shade. One downside, the flowers suffer from ‘balling’ in persistent rain – but you can’t have everything.

A climbing Claire Austin rose, which clambers through the old apple tree has large, cupped, creamy white blooms with a strong fragrance of myrrh, meadowsweet, and vanilla.

Leah Tutu is a fragrant modern shrub rose with large multi-petalled golden yellow blooms (although to me, they look more like dark apricot).

Latest in the rose club is climber Crown Princess Margareta from David Austin Roses. It’s in a partially shady spot, so has taken some time to get going but promises to be a highlight in my east-facing border.

Dark red hips on Rosa glauca

Rosa glauca, the red leaf rose, is a must-have. It’s a species rose (you can find it in the wild, not here, but it grows as far north as Scandinavia).

Its flowers are simple and lovely, pink/white singles, with bluish-green to purple leaves, followed by showy dark red hips. The flowers are loved by pollinators, the fruit by birds.

Plants have some thorns, so make a great natural boundary, as the arching branches grow from 5-8ft.

Among the more motley members of my crew are a large cream single floribunda, a yellow hybrid tea climber with no scent and rampant black spot and an aged red floribunda in the front garden which has flowered right through the last two winters.

Two surprise stars are a little orange climbing floribunda (supposed to be Harlequin), so nearly discarded in 2014. Its rich colour and red-toned leaves have been moved into my new ‘hot bed’ and it’s racing away.

The other is an unknown dark fuchsia climbing sport I bought years ago at a Northumbrian stately home’s walled garden (I can’t even remember which one) – it blossoms its heart out, with a great perfume.

Lovely Desdemona

I also have Desdemona, one of David Austin’s three new English roses at The Chelsea Flower Show 2015. It produces chalice-shaped blooms from early summer until the first frosts. Peachy pink buds open to reveal pure white blooms, with a hint of pink at the earliest stage of flowering.

The blooms are not harmed by rain and have an intense myrrh fragrance. A strong, healthy shrub with broad, open growth. 4 x 3ft.

David Austin roses are available to order at www.davidaustinroses.co.uk; order line: 01902 376300 or e-mail retail@davidaustinroses.com.

Why bare-root roses are good to grow

Bare root rose; Picture courtesy of David Austin Roses
Bare-root rose. Picture; David Austin Roses

It seems everyone loves roses, but many people are wary of planting them supplied bare-root.

It’s nothing to fear – bare-root is quite literally what it says – the plants are dormant, pruned and to an untrained eye, do look a bit dead.

However, give them the right conditions and they’ll soon burst into growth.

They’re usually better value and quality, and you have a bigger choice of varieties from both specialist growers and at garden centres.

Here are the differences between them and container specimens and how to plant them.

Potted guide: bare-root roses

  • Plant in late autumn at leaf fall and from late winter to early spring, before growth resumes.
  • Avoid planting in the middle of winter when the ground is frozen or waterlogged.
  • Available from November to March, usually mail order.
  • Plants are dug from the open ground and packed to prevent the roots drying out.
  • They usually have a wider root spread than containerised plants.
  • Plant immediately.

Containerised roses

  • In garden centres from November to March. They are bare-root roses planted up in pots to prevent them drying out.
  • Plant immediately.

Container-grown roses

  • Available all year round. Grown in containers for a growing season or more.
  • Plant at any time.
  • Comparatively costly.

Black spot on rose
Black spot on rose

How to plant roses

Mix in a bucket of rotted organic matter per square metre into the planting area.

For a single rose, dig a hole twice the width of the roots and the depth of a spade’s blade.

Apply general fertiliser (blood, fish, and bone or Growmore), at 100g per sqm over the surface, forking it in.

Tease out the roots of container plants. Place the rose in the centre of the hole and make sure the graft union is at soil level (to avoid rose dieback). Backfill and water thoroughly.

If you are replacing roses with new ones, replace the soil to a depth and width of 45cm, as roses are at risk from replant disease, also known as soil sickness.

How to prune roses

It’s important to prune back roses after planting to encourage them to make strong, vigorous new growth. Remove dead, damaged and weak growth.

Hybrid tea: Cut stems hard back to 10-15cm.

Floribunda: Prune back to about 15cm from ground level.

Ramblers and climbers: Cut stems back to 30-40cm from ground level.

Shrub and species roses: Leave the remaining strong stems unpruned.

Rose Defender
Rose Defender. Picture; ecofective

General rose care

Check out my review of ecofective’s Rose Defender spray here.

Feeding: Apply rose fertiliser at 100g per sqm, every spring, repeat in midsummer.

Mulching: Use well-rotted stable manure, in a layer of up to 8cm deep, or compost or chipped bark, immediately after feeding. Leave a 10cm gap between mulch and stems.

Watering: Water well in dry spells for at least two summers.