“We can all grow roses. We all do grow them. Simply dig the bushes up from one place (the nurseryman does this for us), plant them in another place (the garden), and there you are - result: roses. Simple.” H.L.V. Fletcher, The Rose Anthology
Preparing a Rose Bed
Old Garden Roses are hardy even in poor conditions, but they will be at their lovely best if planted in a favorable situation with rich, well drained soil. The best place to locate a rosebed is in an open area that receives at least six hours of direct sun daily (preferably in the morning) and allows good healthy air movement around each bush. Soil preparation will make a great difference in the health and long term vigor of your roses. Adding a quantity of organic material to the bed before planting will both enrich a sandy soil and break up a heavy soil to allow proper drainage. Preparing the soil several months in advance of planting will allow micro-nutrients to become available so that your roses have the best and healthiest of beginnings. We recommend (for the south) preparing a bed in spring or summer for planting in the optimum fall/winter season.
Planting the Roses
Upon receipt, our roses need only to be kept watered and held in a bright, sheltered area until the local climate allows planting to take place. They can be held in their container for months if the site is not ready or transplanted into larger containers and grown indefinitely until you choose a permanent location. Remember to use a high quality potting soil (one that drains well) when transplanting. Also remember that roses growing in containers will need more frequent fertilization and watering than those planted in the ground. Once a site is chosen, knock the plant out of the container and place directly into the prepared hole. There is no need to spread out the roots or add any soil additives - only water.
Mulching And Watering
We sincerely believe that mulch is the key to happiness - at least in the garden! A several inch thick layer of mulch applied 2 or 3 times a year means fewer weeds, less water stress, less heat stress, richer soil and healthier plants. We use decomposed pine bark on our beds. However, pine needles, leaf mulch, or any weed free material will do the job. Rose varieties that have survived for many years are usually drought tolerant, but your plants will look much better in your garden if they get a good deep soaking every 7 to 10 days. This is much better than frequent light watering which encourages the roots to grow near the surface where they are vulnerable. Deep watering will encourage your roses to hold their foliage and bloom better in the summer months. A soaker hose or a form of drip irrigation works especially well to minimize water waste through evaporation and to keep the rose leaves dry. We suggest soaking the ground until saturated (several hours or overnight).
Disease And Insects
If your old roses seem to be unduly affected by blackspot or powdery mildew, they are possibly planted in the wrong spot; too much shade, too little air circulation, poorly drained soil, etc. A properly situated old rose should give years of, virtually, trouble-free beauty. This is not to say that the Old Garden Roses never get blackspot. They are disease resistant, but rarely completely disease free. The difference is that none of the fungus diseases really debilitates them. They will generally shed any infected leaves, continuing to grow and bloom with healthy vigor. If you choose to spray in order to keep the foliage perfect, we recommend using a mild, broad spectrum fungicide on an “as needed” basis rather than a regular preventative program. Aphids, thrips, and other insect pests rarely affect a healthy rosebush severely, but they can damage and disfigure the tender new growth, buds, and flowers. This is particularly irritating in spring, when we’ve been without roses all winter. Orthene, Malathion,or Diazanon, used according to label instructions, should control infestations. Miticide, or a vigorous hosing with water, controls spider mites. If you are worried about toxicity, Safer products are very mild, or, in a small garden, you may enjoy squashing by hand. Ladybugs and praying mantises are easily available from many garden supply catalogs. We have found these beneficial insects to be relentless pursuers of aphids and they add a nice cottagey look to the garden.
Old roses don’t require the stringent and careful pruning that is needed by many modern sorts - in fact, they can sulk and refuse to bloom if pruned too hard. Just a light touch of sharp pruning shears is all that is needed for them to respond beautifully. A good rule of thumb is to remove all dead canes and clip back no more than 1/3 of the remaining bush, thus encouraging full foliage and heavy bloom without destroying the vigor and natural attractive form of the plant. When a rose bush, like any other healthy shrub, is cut back, it responds by putting on a spurt of growth. This tender new growth can get frost or heat-burned, so avoid mid-summer and late fall pruning. Everblooming varieties can be lightly trimmed or “tip-pruned” several times a year since they flower on new growth. Roses that bloom but once annually are best pruned after they have bloomed. Their flowers come from wood that has hardened over a winter, so early spring pruning will reduce their display. Rose hedges can be shaped easily with hedge shears and roses in a natural or wild setting can be left completely alone unless a hard winter produces some unsightly dead canes. If left unpruned, many varieties of old roses will produce attractive hips to brighten the winter garden.
Many dedicated rose lovers have secret recipes for rose fertilizers that border on black magic, but we have found that most commercial rose foods and organic fertilizers produce good results. The important thing about any fertilizer application is that plenteous water will be wanted; both to dissolve the fertilizer into a form the rose can use and to clean any residue off the bush. Chemical fertilizers can burn or even kill a plant if over-used, as many of us know from having killed a favorite rose through generosity. Read the label, and when in doubt, remember less fertilizer is better than more. Always water heavily. We admit to preferring organic fertilizers (such as fish emulsion or manure) for their beneficial rejuvenation of the living organisms in the soil. Healthy soil grows healthy plants. Organic fertilizer can be combined with slow-release pellets (such as Osmocote) to keep container grown roses at their peak. For those who simply want to keep their roses healthy and vigorous, one feeding in spring and another in early fall should suffice. For maximum performance, begin feeding about 2 weeks before the last frost date for your area and continue at 4 to 6 week intervals until 6 weeks before the earliest frost date for your area. For the last feeding of the year, you might want to use a high phosphorus compound (12-24-12) so that your plant will shift to a slower, tougher growth in preparation for cold weather.
Rose Training Tips
Old roses are a delight to use in the landscape and generally quite easy to train and maintain. Remember to choose your roses to fit your space, leaving plenty of elbow room for large varieties. The following tips will help you achieve special effects with your garden roses.
Climbing roses need support whether they are placed against a wall, fence, or trellis. On a trellis, this is achieved by attaching the fanned-out canes to the openwork. This both supports the rose and increases the flowering potential, since a rose cane drawn out horizontally will bloom more heavily than one that shoots straight up. The same effect can be created by fastening the canes of a climbing rose to the links of a chain link fence or to staples driven into a wall or privacy fence. We recommend using gardener’s stretch ties, as they expand with the growth of the rose cane. Another way to train a climbing rose is to wrap or braid it around a tall post, creating a pillar rose. Once again, fencing staples or nails can be used with stretch tie to secure the cane. When the rose reaches the top of the post, it can either be trained further along a wire or over an arch, or allowed to cascade outward in an “umbrella” fashion. A true pillar rose is simply a more moderate climber that can be trained up a post, without any loose ends left over the top. Arches, pillars, trellises, fences, or gazebos: however a climbing rose is displayed it will add height and depth to the garden and will also soften and decorate the hard angles of walls and buildings.
Container-planted roses are a versatile and rewarding landscape option, and almost any rose can be grown this way if the container is large enough. A pot about 7 gallons in size will give the rose roots some room and is still fairly easy to lift and move. It’s best to match the shape of the rose bush to the shape of the container. Pots of roses can be grouped together or mixed with containers of perennials to provide the colorful effect of a hedge or a flower border. Large containers can be stacked to provide a multi-level effect. Some climbing roses can even be used. They may not reach their full size, but they can still make a graceful accent for a balcony railing or patio wall. Remember to use containers that have proper drainage and a soil mixture that is rich and drains well. Peat moss and composted manure mixed with sand and top soil or a good potting soil will provide a healthy base. Slow-release fertilizers such as Osmocote can cut down on maintenance. Roses in containers usually need water more often than those in the ground. Make sure your plants don’t get water-stressed.
Making a Rose Hedge
There are two basic types of hedges - formal and informal. A large, informal hedge can replace a wall or privacy fence, or be used to disguise or soften an existing one. Members of the Shrub rose class, most of the Hybrid Musks, several of the Species roses, and individual varieties from other classes such as the China rose, ‘Mutabilis’, or the Rugosa, ‘Sir Thomas Lipton’ make excellent subjects for an informal hedge. This type of rose planting requires almost no care at all other than the basics of feeding, watering, and removing the occasional dead cane. Roses can also be used to create a neat, formal, everblooming hedge that offers a great deal more color and interest than the traditional “green mustache” of shrubbery that hides the foundations of many modern houses. The keys to a formal appearance are not in trying to keep the bushes all precisely the same shape (continuous production of new bloom stalks will always make the bushes slightly irregular) and choosing one specific variety rather than trying to mix and match. China and Tea roses are excellent for hedges in the 4 to 6 foot range, with Polyanthas useful at shorter heights. In order to create a really thick hedge, the rose bushes can be planted in a double row or staggered in zig-zag fashion to maintain appropriate intervals between plants. If the bushes are pruned back hard the first year or two, they will fill out vigorously with uniform thick growth. After the plants are established, the hedge can be simply sheared to the required height once or twice a year (late February and late August in the South) and left alone to bloom.
One method of training roses that has been nearly forgotten is called pegging. A rose suitable for pegging will have long flexible canes about 5 to 7 foot long. A number of Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals, as Peter Beales agrees, are “almost custom-built for this purpose.” Climbing roses that reach over 7 feet are not good for pegging, because they quickly grow out of bounds and become unattractive . To peg a rose, fasten the canes to the ground by pinning them with a hook, or “peg”. It is important to remember to let new canes harden properly before they are bent down and pegged no matter how unruly they may look; otherwise they may break. We peg our roses twice a year, before the onset of new growth (for us it is late January and late August). We use the long 6 to 7 foot canes that have grown in the prior season. Older canes can be pruned away every second or third year to make room for these newly pegged canes. The canes can be left with a high arch or fastened nearly horizontal, arranged in a perfect wheel around the center of the plant or swirled slightly depending on artistic desire and available space. There are a number of creative ways to use this method, but the end result is basically the same. Pulling the canes horizontal causes the rose to produce flowers at nearly every leaf axil, increasing the blooming potential a hundredfold. A pegged rose is generally used as a specimen plant and takes up quite a bit of space, but the incredible floral display and unique shape make it quite worthwhile to try the technique.
How to Take Cuttings
Many of our customers have called requesting information on how to root their own Old Garden Roses. As a rose grower, we have at our disposal large greenhouses, automated mist systems, and trained personnel. As a result, we have fine tuned our rooting program. However, we can offer these general guidelines for the home gardener that we have found quite successful. Fall has proven to be the best time to take cuttings here in Texas, although we have had success with late spring cuttings. During the heat of the Texas summer most roses do not tend to grow actively. However they do flush in the Fall. Once the new growth has stiffened, we select a pencil-thick stem as our cutting. Growth that is too new has soft tissue that will wilt too quickly once cut. Cut the stem into lengths containing 2 to 3 leaflets each. The bottom cut should be just below a bud eye. The cuttings are stuck in a well drained potting soil (a styrofoam coffee cup with a pierced bottom works well as a pot). Then place a plastic bag (supported by straws to keep it off the cuttings) over the top as a canopy. Place in a warm area with lots of humidity and indirect sunlight. High humidity can be accomplished by misting periodically during the day for the first two weeks (a spray bottle works well). Your rose should root within three to six weeks, but some varieties are difficult, so be patient. Once rooted, the canopy can be removed and the light level increased, but watering must continue on a fairly consistent basis. With the root system established, the plant can be transplanted into the yard.