how to plant, grow & care for roses
complete growing guide
We have the most beautiful rose garden at Perch Hill, with more than sixty varieties ranging from climbers to hedge roses, huge species shrubs to heavily perfumed bush roses. They are show-stoppingly beautiful as only roses can be.
Very often glamorous, long-flowering and scented roses are wonderful plants to grow in the garden and cut for vases. They come in some fantastically diverse colours, too, from hot pink and rich purple to milky coffee and pale coral. Whether you decide on a shrub, rambler or a climber, you'll treasure the day you planted a rose. Take a look at our selection of outstanding rose plants chosen for their disease resistance and lovely scent.
- Common name: Rose
- Latin name: Rosa
- Type: Woody Perennial
- Height: 50cm (1.5ft) to 1.5m (5ft), ramblers can reach 7.5m (24.5ft)
- TLC rating: Moderately difficult
- Aspect: Full Sun
- Planting position: Borders
- Suitable for pots: Yes
- Good for pollinators: Yes
- Good for cut flowers: Yes
how to grow roses
where to grow roses
Soil type: Fertile, well-drained soil is key to growing roses. If you have poor soil, improve it first by incorporating compost or well-rotted manure to the planting position.
Aspect & position: Most roses need a position in full sun to flower well – the site needs to spend at least 50% of the day in the sun. Some varieties of rose can tolerate partial shade.
when to plant roses
Bare root roses should be planted November to March. Containerised roses can be planted all year round.
how to plant roses
planting bare root roses
Bare root is the best way to buy roses and winter is the ideal time to plant them as they are in their dormant period.
After buying them, try to get them in the ground as soon as possible (if the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged). If you need to wait a few days, put them in a big pot and cover the roots with compost.
To plant the rose, dig a hole that is deep and wide enough to take the rose roots and mix a spade of well-rotted organic matter into the base.
Soak the root of the rose in a bucket of water for an hour or so and also water the hole – you want the roots to be in contact with wet soil when planted.
It’s important to make sure that the ‘union’ of the rose (the point at which the rootstock meets the graft, which looks like a knee) is slightly below soil level. Lay a bamboo cane across the top of the hole to ensure it is, if it isn’t, dig the hole more deeply. This is crucial. If the union is above soil level, you promote the formation of suckers from the root material. These may then outgrow the grafted rose on top.
Hold the rose (with wet roots) over the hole and scatter a couple of tablespoons of mycorrhizal fungi over the roots, this should help to establish the rose more quickly.
Fill in the hole and firm down the soil with your heel. Then mulch the area well.
Allow the rose to settle in for a few months before planting anything else close by, as you don’t want plants competing for water and nutrients.
growing roses in a pot
Roses have a really deep root run, so many aren’t suitable for growing in containers. English shrub roses are ideal for growing in large pots. For smaller pots look for patio roses.
how to care for roses
Water newly planted roses throughout summer to ensure that they establish well, particularly if the weather is dry.
You can feed your roses using an organic rose food that’s potash-rich and can be mixed into the soil – for best results, apply at the start of the season in spring, with a repeat application in mid-summer after the first flush of flowers. Or use a liquid fertiliser such as a rose tonic, which can be applied weekly or fortnightly during the growing season.
Mulch roses annually with manure or other rich organic matter, but keep it clear of the rose stems.
In January or February, prune climbing and shrub roses (rambling roses can mostly take care of themselves but you can tidy them up straight after flowering). Pruning is essential to keep roses in good shape and encourage healthy growth. Use secateurs to cut out any old, damaged or diseased wood.
For climbing roses, cut some of the older stems growth down to the base to encourage new growth and reduce congestion. Prune any laterals coming off the main stem down to 3 or 4 buds (unless they are needed to replace an old stem and/or fill a gap in your framework).
For shrub roses, you can also remove one or two of the oldest stems once they are well-established and shorten other stems by a third or more. Always cut back to an outward facing bud to encourage the rose to develop a nice open shape.
training climbing roses
As a general rule, climbers should be grown on walls, fences, pillars and pergolas, while the larger rambling roses are best grown into hedges and trees where they can ramble about without being constrained.
Train roses while pruning in January and February.
To train climbing roses to grow horizontally (i.e. to fan out), you need to create a wire ladder on the wall or fence.
Attach wires securely along the wall/fence, and bend the rose over, attaching it to the wire with string, raffia or flexi-tie. The first wire should be around 60cm (2ft) above soil level and further wires at 60cm (2ft) intervals.
In subsequent years, the stems trained horizontally will throw up vertical stems. Use the strongest verticals arising from the base and/or the middle of the plant to train along higher wires to create another tier if required. Cut back verticals arising from the horizontally trained stem to about 10cm (6in).
By following this procedure you will avoid an unsightly tall plant with a few flowers at the top and nothing below.
Deadheading roses will depend on the type of rose you have. For roses producing hips, don’t deadhead if you want hips in autumn and winter.
For repeat-flowering shrub roses or roses that don’t produce hips, deadhead faded flowers to encourage further flowering or to keep the rose looking tidy.
Look for new growth below the faded flower and cut the stem above the new growth.
Roses can be propagated through cuttings taken from the current year’s growth. Do this in early summer and choose a long, healthy stem. Take the cutting below a bud, then snip off the top bud and remove the lower leaves. Insert the cuttings into a pot filled with fertile, gritty compost and leave to root – once the cuttings have rooted, pot them on into their own pots to establish before planting out.
Propagating is also possible with hardwood cuttings taken in autumn. Prepare a sand-filled slit trench in the garden. Take a 30cm (1ft) length of stem, remove all leaves and strip thorns. Sink two thirds of the stem in the ground, firm soil around it and leave until the following October when it will have developed roots. Not every stem will root so take more cuttings than you need. The resulting roses will be growing on their own roots, as opposed to being grafted onto different roots, like most bought roses, but this rarely presents any problems.
Roses rarely need special treatment over winter and are able to withstand cold temperatures in dormancy before returning to growth in spring. But do check that your roses haven’t become loose in the soil with a collar of soil forming around the stem that can fill with water. Firm the soil around the stem and reduce the height of the rose to stop excessive wind rock.
- Feed your roses at the start of the growing season in spring.
- Deadhead and pick roses.
- Water newly planted roses throughout summer to help them establish.
- Improve poor soil with manure or compost a few weeks before planting new roses.
- Plant new bare root roses.
- Prune your existing shrub and climbing roses in January and February.
pests, diseases & common issues
Black spot is a fungal disease causing black/purple spots on leaves, a loss of vigour, leaf loss and leaf yellowing.
Make sure to prune roses annually and collect any dead leaves below the plant, as well as remove any affected leaves or stems. Disinfect secateurs between plants when pruning to reduce the transfer of spores.
Dieback is exactly as it sounds – the browning dieback of stems and shoots on the rose. It can be down to poor pruning, where the stub of a stem suffers dieback, or from stress, such as underwatering or waterlogged soil, or frost damage.
Prune any stems affected by dieback as soon as you notice them. To help prevent dieback make sure any old or damaged stems are removed when pruning.
Also known as bloom balling, this is a problem that can occur in periods of wet weather followed by sunshine. Flower heads fail to fully open and turn brown and soft – this is because the petals have become stuck or ‘balled’ together after becoming wet or damp and then being dried by the sun.
Remove these failed flowers as soon as you see them. Good air circulation around the plant helps (don’t crowd roses when planting).
Rose rust is another fungal disease brought on by warm, damp conditions and it shows up as bright orange and then black pustules on the underside of the leaf.
If you notice it early enough you can remove the affected leaves and dispose of them (but not on the compost heap). If the plant is severely affected with lots of die back, it may be too late to save the rose and it will need to be dug up and disposed of.
The spores can lie dormant on dead leaves, so collect any leaves below the plant, as well as remove any affected leaves.
rose replant disease
Replant disease occurs when you replace a rose in soil where another rose was previously grown. The new rose can fail to establish or put on growth and the roots may rot.
To reduce the risk of this you can swap the soil for fresh soil (by digging it out and replacing it) from elsewhere in your garden. Using mycorrhizal fungi is also thought to help.
This is a fungal disease that shows up as a powdery coating on the foliage, starting with the young rose leaves before spreading to older leaves and then the flowers.
You can remove any affected leaves and try an organic solution such as homemade comfrey tonic to keep mildew at bay.
The best way to avoid powdery mildew in the first place is to ensure good air circulation around the roses, a good watering regime and a preventative spray of comfrey tonic.
Aphids, also known as greenfly or blackfly, can be found on a range of plants, including roses. They cluster on shoot tips and new buds, and suck the sap of the plant, leading to a loss of vigour and distorted growth. You may also spot ants, which protect the aphids and deter their predators.
A solution of a drop of washing up liquid in water in a spray bottle can help with minor infestations. And you can also encourage predators, such as birds and ladybirds, to the garden to help control aphids. You can also wipe them off using your fingers.
how to get rid of greenfly on roses?
Aphids can be a common problem for roses and you can see them clustered on flower buds or young growth. You can clean them off using your fingers to keep the numbers down. A garden with diverse insects should help too, as ladybirds love to feast on them.
why do roses droop and wilt?
Roses thrive in a sunny position with regular watering. Drought or waterlogged soil can cause roses to wilt.
why have my roses stopped blooming?
Many roses are not repeat-flowering – most ramblers, for example, flower just once. A rose in a shade will also struggle to flower.
why are my roses turning yellow?
It could be that it’s not getting enough sun or is affected by black spot. If there is no evidence of fungal disease or pest attack then there may be a lack of nutrients in the soil – use rose tonic to improve the situation.
why are my roses losing their leaves?
This could be due to fungal diseases. But roses are mostly deciduous and will lose their leaves in winter.
frequently asked questions
how do you take cuttings from roses?
Cuttings can be taken from the current year’s growth. For more on this, see the propagating section above.
when should I cut back roses?
January and February is the best time to prune roses.
why do roses have thorns?
The prickles on rose stems are to protect the plant from being eaten by animals.
what soil do roses like?
Roses thrive in rich, well-drained soil.
where do roses come from?
Most rose species are native to Asia and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
how often should I water roses?
Roses like moist soil so water regularly. Pay particular attention to newly planted roses and water them throughout the growing season to help them establish. Do not allow the soil around rose to become waterlogged.
how do I make roses last longer?
Deadheading and picking repeat-flowering roses will encourage them to continue flowering. You can also condition cut roses to make them last longer in a vase, see my tips on this in the ‘how to cut & arrange roses’ section below.
how to cut & arrange roses
Pick roses early in the morning and then sear the stem ends in boiling water for 20 seconds – this extends the vase life more effectively than cutting at a steep angle. Then plunge them up to their necks in a bucket of cold water, ideally overnight. When they’re ready to arrange, add a mini slosh of clear vinegar or a pinch of bicarbonate of soda into the vase water to make them last even longer.
Get more inspiration for displaying your flowers with our flower arranging videos: