Getting Started Growing Roses~ My Tips
Sometimes it’s nice to hear garden tips from someone who very recently was a beginner as well. When I say “very recently” I mean that I bought my first rose in the Winter of 2016 and have since collected a half dozen or so more. These are small numbers for some die-hard rose fans, but starting small really did help me learn to find a maintenance groove and focus on the care of each individual plant. The following words are my personal tips for getting started growing roses.
As I was saying, I bought my first ever rose in 2016. It was a ‘lady of shalott’ climbing rose from David Austin and it was in celebration of moving into our home. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of having a climbing rose around the doorway. Cottage gardens and images of roses climbing walls, around windows and doors, were the visions I had of my future home. The house we ended up in was not charming at all, but I could see the potential to add character, add flowers, and make it my own little cottage.
The ‘Lady of Shalott’ (pictured below) is a David Austin English rose. You’ve probably heard of people going crazy for David Austin roses, and it’s for good reason. David Austin roses combine all the best qualities of roses—you still have the charm, form, fragrance and elegance of Old or Antique roses but you get the vigor, health, and blooming properties of modern roses. It’s remarkable.
Update: in Spring of 2022, we planted a David Austin rose garden. Check out its progress HERE.
Buying Bare Root Roses
One of my best tips for growing roses is to buy them as bare roots to save money! In Southern California, bare root plants start to arrive in nurseries around now. Not only do roses come in bare root form, but fruit trees too. You can learn how to grow roses from bare root plants in my No-Stress Guide to Bare Root Planting. The term “bare root” refers to selling a plant with it’s roots showing (or simply wrapped) with no foliage because it is in dormancy. Bare root roses or fruit trees literally look like sticks. It’s usually cheaper to buy them this way, and within a couple seasons they are incredible, mature plants.
For 2022, I have already put my order in for the bare root roses I want this year. When ordering, you might notice an option for “own root” or “grafted” plants. Grafted plants are typically grafted onto a specifically selected rootstock made for disease resistance, tolerance to harsher conditions, maturity, etc. It’s up to you what you want to purchase! In rose forums, I’ve read really opposing viewpoints on which is better. Some believe that own root roses live longer (as opposed to 15-20 years for grafted) while others don’t agree. It’s also been discussed that own root roses can take longer to grow large because they have to form their own root system versus being grafted onto a mature root stock. This is from the David Austin website: “Own root roses are grown from cuttings and so develop their own root system, as opposed to our grafted bare root roses which have Dr. Huey as their root system. Our own bare root plants are very similar in size to those grafted onto Dr. Huey and meet the same grading standards as grafted stock.” I personally buy own root if the option is there, but I’m not experienced enough to have a strong opinion on this topic.
Related Article: Tips for Growing Magnificent Dahlias
Follow a Rose Care Schedule Specific to Your Zone or Region
Do you know your garden zone? You can read all about garden zones HERE and look up your zone by zipcode. This is an incredibly important point! I’ve been having great discussions with fellow gardeners about roses that grow well here in Southern California because, believe it or not, some varieties don’t perform as well in our hot, dry Summers. Some roses do okay in humidity, while others do not, and some roses need full sun to bloom while others can still bloom in partial shade. This is why I always like to direct new gardeners to find experienced gardeners who are growing in the same zone. I wish I knew this when I first started growing roses.
In terms of maintenance, garden zones matter as well. Here in Southern California, pruning season is in January and February. We also want to feed and mulch soon after, when the plant is starting to push out growth. The David Austin catalogue has a “rose care calendar by region” that is a quick breakdown and the catalogue is free to order. Otto & Sons Nursery was recently brought to my attention by my garden friend Kayce (who also grows some beautiful flowers on her instagram). Otto & Sons Nursery has a wonderful Rose & Fruit Tree Q&A section Bonus: they are in California too. Overall, my maintenance “plan” is a collection of many different sources combined with my own observations and cycles in my garden.
Some California based rose businesses that are very knowledgeable are: Grace Rose Farm, Menagerie Farm & Flower, Otto & Sons Nursery, The Plant Depot , Roger’s Gardens and of course visiting local botanical gardens that have rose areas is a great way to ask questions or observe care.
Have The Proper Pruning Tools
For roses specifically, there are some tools that you’ll need to make good cuts that won’t damage your plants. The investment is worth it though, as my favorite pruning tools are also the same ones I use for my fruit trees and around the garden constantly.
Best tools for pruning plants:
Manual Hand pruners or secateurs– I use these most often. They can handle most plants, smaller stems, and are hardier than herb scissors.
Loppers– A MUST for thick branches, especially when pruning climbing roses and fruit trees. The long handles help with reach as well.
Folding hand saw– this one I rarely use for roses, but it is a MUST in my fruit pruning toolkit. We often have branches that are too thick for the loppers to handle, and this hand saw works perfectly. This year we also found it handy for sawing down an old banana trunk.
Garden gloves– I don’t think there are gloves out there that will perfectly protect you from thorns, so you still need to be careful, but a good thick pair of garden gloves is really necessary.
Eye protection– whipping branches, getting into thick canopy, and falling debris are all reasons to wear eye protection. Especially when pruning our fruit trees and climbing roses, it’s just better to be safe.
Planting Roses in the Garden
Roses like soil amended with high quality compost. I won’t go into too much detail here, as every soil makeup is different. I highly suggest getting a soil test from a professional lab if this is a brand new area that you are unsure about. Rich, loamy soil is preferred like many of the vegetables we grow. We love making our own compost (I share our compost adventures HERE) and I add that to my garden beds each season.
Every bare root package comes with instructions for planting, and honestly it’s very straightforward. It will probably tell you to soak the bare roots in water before planting, don’t leave this step out! In general, I always follow the instructions from the source. Update: I made a YouTube video of how we planted our bare root roses last Spring!
Plant with mycorrhizal fungi. Back in the day, my bare root David Austin roses came with a sample package of their mycorrhizal fungi to sprinkle on the rose roots at planting time. Mycorrhizal fungi form a network with plant roots that makes it better at absorbing nutrients, water, and withstanding stress. Now I use Plant Success Organics Granular mycorrhizae to sprinkle in the planting hole. It’s a mycorrhizae product that I already have in my garden shed and use for the rest of my garden too! Use code RANDI15 to get 15% off your order!
Most roses bloom and perform best in full sun. I’ve not tried any of the suggested shade tolerant roses on the market. Like many flowers, shade might not be a death sentence, but it could definitely cut back on flower production or prevent lots of blooms.
Mulch your rose garden! Mulching around the base of your rose is important for protecting its root system in our colder months. A good organic mulch also breaks down over time to enrich the soil. I mulch after planting bare root roses and also after pruning my existing roses. I cover organic mulch options in Let’s Talk Mulch!
Pruning is Essential but Can Feel Confusing
Don’t be scared to prune your roses. It’s pretty crazy to think that these plants turn into sticks in Winter, get pruned into shorter sticks, and will still survive! But trust me, pruning is essential to growing healthy roses. I won’t lie, it can be confusing. Why? Because how you are supposed to prune your roses depends on the type of rose you are growing. Is it a floribunda, hybrid tea, miniature, climbing, tree or shrub? This article is not meant for a step-by-step for pruning roses, but rather a guide to help you with where to start and find the proper information.
Start with looking up the rose you are growing. With the internet these days, it’s very easy to find this information. Personally, David Austin has Youtube videos for pruning climbers and shrubs that are excellent. Whatever you are growing, find that specific information to guide you.
Clean your tools. Make sure your pruners are clean so you don’t spread disease from plant to plant. A quick and lazy way to do this is a Lysol wipe or some gardeners use rubbing alcohol. Others wash with dish soap and water. Don’t prune with wet pruners though, let them dry.
Don’t prune before it rains. I learned early on that open wounds on any plant can be an entry point for disease, rot, etc. You ideally want any cuts to heal over instead of getting rained on.
For climbing roses, prune really conservatively the first year (or not at all, depending on size). In fact, for most climbers, you aren’t pruning back the main stems that give structure….only the previous season’s lateral growth shoots. That’s all I’ll say on that topic. It’s definitely worth watching a video.
How to feed roses
I’m really lazy and unorganized when it comes to a feeding regimen. A few years ago I switched to solely using Organic Rose Tone to feed my roses. If I have leftover fish emulsion from feeding my veggies, I’ll often just pour the rest under a rose. Many rose growers feed their roses multiple times in the growing season, but I usually apply rose tone as growth starts (February or March) and after the first flush of flowers ,and then I forget to do more. Whatever you choose to feed or fertilize with, follow package instructions. I only use organic products and feel that growing all plants organically is possible and rewarding.
My Experience Growing Roses & Extra Tips for Selecting Roses
As I’ve mentioned, I already placed my order for 2022 bare root roses. We plan to have a new garden area (how in the world do we keep finding more areas! Haha) that is a mixed border with 5-7 roses, salvias, and other drought tolerant perennials. I’ve done some research on David Austin roses that grow well in Southern California and have ended up ordering: Desdemona, The Alnwick, Alexandra Princess of Kent, Benjamin Britten, Golden Celebration, Carding Mill, and Boscobel. I should mention that the Benjamin Britten I chose because it’s unique, but maybe won’t do well here. The only way to know is if I try! Update: Read A David Austin Rose Garden if you’re curious how those roses are growing now!
Some things that really helped me plan the roses I wanted was 1) talking to others about what grows well here based on their experiences 2) asking a David Austin representative (their customer service is amazing) and 3) using the small thumbnails in the back of the DA catalogue to assess color scheme. You can see in the photo below the small pictures that I cut out to help me figure out what my roses might look like growing together. It’s really fun to play with the color palette!
What Roses Do I Currently Grow?
Should I wax poetic once more about the ‘Lady of Shalott’? Okay, maybe orange isn’t your favorite color, but I personally have been impressed by the vigor, form, and repeat blooming of this climber. PS: ‘Lady of Shalott’ also comes in a shrub version. For our hot, dry climate this rose is a winner and it sits at our South facing door getting full sun.
‘The Lady Gardener’, oooh what a beauty! This apricot shrub rose is beautiful! It starts off as really apricot in color and the blooms open wide (like peonies) to a blush, fluffy rose (pictured in the article above). Absolutely gorgeous!
‘Port Sunlight’ is cute. For me, this rose has smaller flowers compared to my other roses. They open a little more flat and ruffly. The color is apricot but more on the orange side in my garden. It grew very well in a large pot for a couple years, and I’ve since planted it in the ground.
Named after a famous ballerina, Darcey Bussell is a gorgeous rose shrub. It blooms repeatedly, but I will say I’ve struggled with keeping its shape. No matter how I prune it, the shape hasn’t quite stayed as round as you see in the demonstration photos. While I am not in love with its growth habit in my garden, the color (crimson-pink), smell and vigor makes it a really pretty addition to my mixed border garden that I already have. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get the shape to work out right.
Want an insanely resilient, beautiful, and prolific blooming rose? Then you’ll love my Eden Climber. This rose is creamy with hints of blush. It never fails to have the most glossy, healthy foliage and I love it. I currently have it growing with a purple clematis and Oh. My. Goodness. It’s so dreamy!
Red Eden Climber. This rose was an impulse buy after it became obvious that the original Eden climber was a winner for our Southern CA climate. It’s a lovely shade of deep red, romantic, fragrant and just easy to maintain. Much less fussy than most of my other roses.
My newest rose is a Shropshire Lad. I fell in love with the color and shape in the catalogue, but the first year was a doozy for this rose. It was pretty stressed because I planted it late and the color is not right. It is possible that due to the stress it will take another year or two for the color to show correctly. It did grow an astounding 4 feet in the small season it grew, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with it this season.
Deadheading Roses During the Growing Season
The process of deadheading just means to remove expired flower heads from the plant. This can be easily done using a pair of garden clippers. Most of the time, I keep up on cutting the flowers for bouquets, but the ones I leave behind eventually shrivel and I cut them off. By deadheading your roses throughout the season you let the plant know it’s not time to go to seed (and also prevent energy from going into the seed production). Now, by the time Fall comes, I leave expired blooms on the plant to turn into rosehips which can serve as a food source for wildlife. This encourages a natural life cycle. I just let the roses do their thing at the end of the year.
Are you growing roses?
I’d love to hear all about your rose plans this year! Are there any rose varieties that you are obsessed with and want to share with everyone? Hope you enjoyed these simple tips for growing roses. Leave any questions, stories/experiences, or comments below!♥