Tips for Growing Healthy Roses
Roses not only provide our gardens and bouquets with incredible beauty and fragrance, but they can also connect us to our families and friends. With a little planning, some know-how and a lot of curiosity you can grow roses that will inspire future connections and smiles.
The fragrance of an old garden rose always reminds me of my Grandmother who kept a bottle of rose water on hand. The rose water, I assume, was used to dab behind her ears on special occasions or to soothe skin irritations that farm life undoubtably produced. Most likely it was both. I am grateful that fragrance can trigger that memory and turn my thoughts to my hardworking and loving Grandma.
My parents grow a few fragrant roses in their suburban Maryland garden. Their cultivar names, if they were ever known, have long been forgotten. When I was a child, my mother would cut and gently wrap the thin green stem of one of our roses in a dampened paper towel and then in aluminum foil. I would carry these precious gifts with extreme pride to my elementary school teachers. The school bus ride was always a difficult one for the blossom. I can recall sitting in a high-back vinyl seat holding the crumpled aluminum foil vase tightly in my hand, enjoying the wonderful fragrance and willing the petals to stay attached during the bumpy ride.
Roses can provide us with so much beauty and joy. These tips will help you help your roses and hopefully lead to some beautiful memories of your own.
1. Choose wisely– Do your research. Roses are rated on several characteristics. In my opinion, the most important of these is disease resistance. The less time you need to spend dealing with disease the better. Roses that are rated as resistant to fungal diseases such as black spot and powdery mildew should top your list.
2. Give them what they need– Generally speaking, roses require at least 6 hours of full sun a day (preferably in the morning), a well-drained and nutrient-rich soil, and moderate amounts of water. Water should only be applied directly to the root zone, not to the leaf surface. Adequate sunlight and water applied to the roots only will help decrease the spread and incidence of fungal diseases.
3. Prune for structure– When pruning roses in early spring, prune with the understanding that opening the center of the plant or shrub will allow for better light penetration and air circulation. Allowing more light and air into the center of the plant will create an environment that is less favorable to the development of fungal diseases.
4. Keep a tidy garden– Eliminating dead, dying and diseased plants and plant parts from your garden will help keep it healthy. This includes cleaning up potentially diseased rose leaves that have fallen from the plant. Fungal spores on fallen leaves can overwinter and return in the spring to infect the plant.
5. Learn about your garden visitors– Not all bugs are bad. Get to know the insects that visit your garden. Find out which insects truly pose a threat to the health of your plants (pests) and monitor their populations. Find out if the pest has any natural predators (aka beneficial insects) and monitor those populations as well. A healthy garden should have both. If necessary, introduce more beneficial insects into your garden; they are available through mail order.
Bugs that are referred to as beneficial insects are beneficial only at certain stages in their life cycle. The syrphid fly, for example, only feeds upon prey while it is in its larval stage. Adult syrphids don’t eat other insects, they eat nectar and pollen. Therefore, in addition to roses, grow other flowering plants that will provide a variety of nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season. This will help your garden support natural enemy insects in all their life stages.
Enjoy your roses. If you already have a lifetime of experience with them or are just beginning your adventure, share your story with Smithsonian Gardens through our Community of Gardens portal.