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How to Grow a Specialty Garden

Maintaining a Rose Garden

Roses can be difficult to maintain if you don't know how to care for them. With these tips, you'll be on your way to maintain a beautiful rose garden.


When you mix abundant organic material into the planting soil, you establish a good basis for healthy growth. Occasional applications of fertilizer rich in phosphate, however, can be useful if your soil is low in phosphorous. Wait until growth has begun in spring before fertilizing. A second application can be made in midsummer. Avoid fertilizing in the fall since it can promote late growth, which reduces hardiness.

Wait until growth has begun before fertilizing roses.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Wait until growth has begun before fertilizing.


Recently planted roses should be watered carefully to make sure they don't dry out. Keep the soil moist but not wet. Established roses are more resilient but still require watering during periods of drought. In dry climates, regular irrigation may be necessary. Apply water slowly over a period of several hours so it soaks deeply into the soil. Frequent, brief waterings will not moisten the plant's entire root system. An organic mulch, applied in early summer at the base of the plant, will help keep roots cool and moist, even during periods of moderate drought.

Pruning Roses
  1. Pruning is necessary to maintain healthy roses. If left entirely on their own, rose plants will produce dense, tangled growth, which opens a path to disease. Roses are best pruned at the end of the dormant season, just as buds are swelling but before new leaves appear. First prune out dead or diseased growth, then any branches that rub together. Young plants should be further pruned to about four stems, which are called canes, by removing weaker canes. Established plants can be allowed eight or more canes, especially in warmer climates. Prune the remaining canes back to about one-half (in cold climates) to one-third their original height. Pruning will open up the plant, letting in light and circulation, and it will also stimulate growth of young, healthy canes.

  2. Cut canes 1/4 inch above an outward-pointing bud at a 45% to 60% angle.

  3. During the rose's growing period, remove any weak or dead growth and any suckers growing from the base. To encourage maximum flower size, many rose enthusiasts disbud; that is, they pinch out all buds except one per stem. Deadhead (prune off flower stems when the blooms fade) to stimulate repeated flowering.
Pruning Shrub and Climbing Roses

Shrub and climbing roses require less pruning than bush roses. Their pruning needs are limited to pruning out any winter-damaged stems and weak growth. Occasionally, thick, older canes should be removed to allow room for younger, more vigorous ones. Climbing roses can be deadheaded in the same way as bush roses to encourage repeated flowering. Shrub roses, on the other hand, will produce colorful hips for added color in the fall and winter if their faded flowers are not removed.

This shrub rose produces great color in every season.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This shrub rose produces great color in every season.

Winter Protection

In climates where temperatures rarely drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, winter protection is not necessary. Where temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit but only rarely below zero, protection is optional, but soil-mounding is recommended. The further temperatures drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, the greater the protection needed.

Rose growers in the north often practice the "Minnesota tip" method for winter protection. Dig a trench the height of the rose, from the root zone outward. Tip or push the entire shrub into the trench and cover with soil. In spring-uncover the rose and set it upright for a new season of growth.
  1. Mound soil up around the plant to a depth of 12 inches. If necessary, surround the plant with a ring of wire mesh or a rose collar.

  2. Once the ground freezes, place a thick mulch of organic matter around the plant. This will help prevent the alternate freezing and thawing of the ground that does so much harm.

  3. In very cold climates, instead of mulch cover the shrubs with a basket or commercial rose cone, pruning just enough so the covering can be put in place. If you use plastic foam rose cones, punch a few air holes to allow some air circulation.

  4. All winter protections should be removed when the danger of severe frost is over. If possible, remove protections on a cloudy day so tender, new growing tips are not burned by sudden exposure to strong sun.
Protecting Climbers and Tree Roses
  1. Climbing roses need special winter protection in cold climates. Bend the stems over and hold them in place with stakes. Mound soil over the stems. In very cold climates, dig a trench next to the plants and bury the canes for the winter, mounding up even more soil.

  2. A tree rose, whose bud union is even more exposed to cold air than other roses, should be buried entirely in cold climates. Dig up the root ball and place the entire plant in a deep trench. In the spring, delicately remove the soil and place the plant back into its original position.
Pest Management

Roses have the reputation of suffering greatly from pests and diseases. However, a regular program of prevention backed up with prompt treatment of any incipient infestations will keep your roses healthy year-round.

A healthy rose.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A healthy rose.

Start by keeping your rose garden meticulously clean. Remove weak, diseased, or dead stems by pruning 1 inch below the damaged section into healthy tissue. Remove fallen petals and leaves without delay. Don't allow weeds to grow; they may harbor insects and disease. Cultivate the soil regularly to expose insect and diseases to the sun. Most insects can be removed with a spray of water or by shaking the bush over a basin of soapy water. Diseases that can't be eliminated by pruning can be controlled by applying appropriate pesticides.

Control black spot by planning ahead. Black spot, which marks leaves with black spots and then kills them, can spread up the plant and cause complete defoliation. Its damage is not pretty. But it can be avoided. Buy disease-resistant roses, including many of the landscape roses, polyantha roses such as The Fairy, and even disease-resistant hybrid tea roses like Olympiad.

Sprays with baking soda can prevent black spot infection. Simply mix 2 teaspooons baking soda in 2 quarts water with 1/2 teaspoon corn oil. Shake well, put in a sprayer, and go to work. Even disease-resistant shrub roses can benefit from this in extra-humid or wet weather. Rake up and destroy any leaves infested with black spot. This helps eliminate spores that would otherwise reinfect healthy leaves.

Disease-Resistant Roses

Until recently, bush roses such as hybrid teas and grandifloras were developed strictly for their flowers. As a result, they were often inherently susceptible to disease and required regular, year-long pesticide treatments to remain healthy. This situation is changing, and newer hybrids are often chosen specifically with disease resistance in mind.

It would be impossible to prepare a complete list of disease-resistant roses: Not only are new ones being developed all the time but the same rose can be disease resistant in one area but quite susceptible in another. Check with a garden center or a local rose society to learn which roses are best suited to your locality.

Take good care of your roses so they will stay relatively free of pests and diseases. Roses can be susceptible to a wide variety of problems, especially if they are growing weakly. Make sure they have well-drained, fertile soil. Water roses during dry weather and mulch them to conserve moisture. Prune to ensure each cane receives sun and good air circulation. With this kind of treatment, problems will be few and far between.

In our next section, we'll show you how to plan a water garden.