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Perhaps because of how gorgeous and delicate-looking they are, most people are intimidated by even the thought of growing roses. But these lovely flowers are surprisingly hardy and beginner-friendly. Our bush rose growing guide will tell you everything you need to start your very own rose garden, from planting saplings to fighting disease to pruning your shrubs.

Getting Started

Types of Rose Saplings You Can Purchase

Potted Roses

Since these roses have already been planted in a container, they are very easy to plant and grow. So, they are perfect for novices. You can buy and plant them at any point in the growing season, but it is best to do so in the early spring. You don’t have to plant container roses immediately after you receive them so you can wait for a suitably mild, cloudy day to do so. Make sure to loosen the roots of these plants before you transfer them to the ground.

Bare-root Roses

In contrast, bare root roses are supplied without any soil around their roots and must be planted soon after they are purchased. They are usually sold in the early spring when they are dormant and have not even produced leaves yet. These plants are better suited to the experienced gardener as they are harder to establish and must be soaked in water overnight before they are put into the soil.

Picking a Spot

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Choose a site that gets at least 6 hours of sun every day. Some varieties of rose are best suited to the shade but most will only fully bloom if they get plenty of sun every day. If you live in an area with extremely hot and dry summers, though, a shadier spot would be more suitable. Your bushes will appreciate the relief from the blistering afternoon sun.

Bush rose doesn’t require a very specific kind of soil, but it does need to be extremely fertile. If your soil isn’t of the highest quality, make sure it is well-fertilized with good quantities of organic fertilizer. The soil can be slightly acidic or neutral, between a pH of 6 and 6.5. It must also have good drainage, since rose roots can rot if left to sit in wet soil for too long.

Space your bushes out so that they don’t end up competing with each other for soil resources. This will also help mitigate the spread of diseases.

Planting the Bush

To prepare the soil for your bush, dig a hole that is wide enough and deep enough to fit your sapling’s roots with plenty of space to spare. Mix some organic fertilizer like manure or peat moss with some of the soil that was dug out and place some of this mixture at the bottom of the pit you have dug. Then, place the bush on top of it.

Partially fill the pit back up with soil, adding in a slow-release fertilizer if necessary. Water this layer of soil liberally and fill up the rest of the pit.

Caring for a Growing Plant

Water Needs

Roses require about an inch of water per week throughout their growing season, which begins in the spring. In the summer, the soil around the roots should be thoroughly soaked at least twice a week, while in the fall this can be significantly reduced. Roses growing in sandy soil will require more water, and so will those in hot, dry and windy conditions.

How you water your roses is just as important as how much you water them. Avoid getting too much water on the shoots of the plant or frequently sprinkling the soil with small amounts of water. Neither of these will allow the water to penetrate down to the thirsty roots and are likely to instead cause fungal infections. Instead, use a pressure hose or other such tool to water the plants directly at the soil line.

Fertilizer Needs

Fertilizer for roses should be applied once a month during the spring and early summer.

Synthetic liquid fertilizers lead to the growth of delicate and soft plants which are easy targets for pests. Instead, use organic fertilizers like compost, composted manure and organic fish emulsions. Composted or “well-rotted” manure should be preferred to fresh manure as composting reduces many of the safety and environmental risks of using fresh manure. In the summer, a small amount of Epsom salt i.e. magnesium sulfate can also be added in with the regular fertilizer to promote new growth from the bottom of the bush.

Kitchen scraps like vegetable cooking water and banana peels are also good fertilizers. The water can be cooled and then poured into the soil around the bush rose and banana peels can be laid at the bottom of each bush.

Pruning Roses

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You will probably need to prune your bush once leaf buds appear on it. A bypass pruner, long rose pruning gloves and safety goggles are the three most essential tools. But to make your work easier, you can use pruning shears for smaller growths, loppers for larger ones and a small pruning saw for particularly tough and woody stems.

Begin by cutting off any dead, damaged or diseased plant material. Large bushes may need to be trimmed back by as much as two-thirds to expose young healthy shoots. Some varieties may also need to be deadheaded i.e. have withered flowers removed to encourage new blooms and fresh growth.

Many modern varieties of roses require little to no pruning, so you may not have to put in too much work here. You can lightly prune your bushes throughout the year, but it is best to save most of it for the spring. Over-pruning in the fall before new leaf buds have emerged can irreparably damage your plant. In the summer, on the other hand, it is difficult for the plant to deal with excessive pruning because of the harsh weather.

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If you live in an area where winters are extremely cold and the ground is frozen solid for several months, you will need to winterize your roses. In mid-autumn, cut off any dead shoots and clean up the rose bed. About 6 weeks before the first frost, stop fertilizing the soil, but keep watering the plants regularly to keep them going through the dry winter to come.

Dealing with Disease

Diseases in a bush rose are primarily caused by fungi, bacteria and plant viruses. Fungal pathogens are responsible for diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew and anthracnose. . Plant viruses cause diseases such as rose mosaic and rose rosette disease while crown gall is caused by a bacterium.

Fungal diseases are the most common. Other than the strategies discussed in the other sections, you can take a variety of measures to avoid them:

  • Pruning tools must be sterilized regularly with hot water and a strong household disinfectant.
  • The plants must be watered early in the day so that excess water evaporates in the sun instead of collecting and water-logging the soil.
  • Dispose of pruned shoots instead of composting them. Any pathogens on these shoots will spread to the rest of the garden if they are placed in a compost pit and then used as fertilizer.
  • Exercise caution even if the rose breed you purchase is labeled as resistant to common fungi. Studies have shown that only about 10% of such plants actually display adequate levels of resistance.

Tips and Tricks to Make Your Roses Grow Even Better

Mulch them

Mulching is the addition of a protective layer of compost, composted straw, bark and manure and similar materials round the base of your bush rose. This helps the plant retain moisture, suppress weeds and provides much-needed nutrients.

Grow garlic

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Growing garlic in your rose garden is a fantastic way to deter pests and pathogens. The garlic bulbs accumulate sulphur which is a natural fungicide and pesticide. Your garden may start to smell like garlic rather than roses if you plant too much of it, though, so find a balance that works for you.

Tea Time

Place old or used tea bags at the base of your plant so that some of the tea seems into the soil each time you water it. Rose bushes love the tannic acid in tea, it gives their growth a great boost.

Soda Solution

At the first sign of fungus-induced blackspot disease on the leaves, pluck off the infected leaves and spray the rest with a very weak baking soda solution. Reapply this every week until the spots disappear completely.

Support is Essential

Rose blossoms, especially the largest ones, can get quite heavy. Your bush rose may get bent out of shape and twigs may even snap under their weight. Use wooden or plastic stakes to keep them standing upright.

But most important of all…

Use Your Intuition!

A bush rose is, after all, a temperamental living thing. You may realise that yours blooms better with slightly less water or sun than usual, or needs a remarkably large amount of fertilizer to stay healthy. If your five senses and intuition tell you that something is working for your roses, go with it!

You might not be able to grow roses that could win the Chelsea Flower Show at the very first try, but keep practicing and you’ll get there soon enough!