Now is the time to plant roses

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  1/30/2016 2:54:14 AM

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(02/05/16) Gardeners often wait until April or May to purchase blooming roses from nurseries and plant them. But planting earlier has advantages. If you’re thinking about adding roses to your garden, here is some advice that will help you get them off to a good start.

Roses are sold in containers or bare root, and they generally become available at nurseries around January. Buy the highest-quality bushes available. It is well worth the extra cost for a healthy, vigorous plant that will produce lots of flowers.

It is best to purchase and plant roses in late winter or early spring so they can get established before beginning to bloom. Avoid purchasing bare-root roses after February when they have already begun to sprout in the package. Container roses can be planted as late as May with acceptable results, but an earlier planting is much better.

The great advantage of early planting is that the rose bushes have a chance to make root growth in the bed where they will grow and begin to get established before they start to bloom. They also have more time to settle in before the intense heat of summer arrives. Both blooming and heat place stress on the plants and make establishment more difficult for them. So the more time they have to make root growth before blooming and the onset of high temperatures, the better.

When deciding what kind of roses to grow, first determine how you want to use roses in the landscape and why you intend to grow them. The trend these days is to incorporate roses into landscape plantings just like any other shrub. This works particularly well with the old garden roses, shrub or landscape roses, polyantha roses and floribunda roses.

If you want to grow roses with perfect flowers on long stems for cutting, you will probably choose the hybrid tea or grandiflora roses. These rose bushes often have rather awkward shapes that don’t combine easily with other plants. That, along with their exacting cultural requirements, is why these roses are often grown in separate beds.

If you want to train roses on a trellis, arbor or fence, you’ll want to choose rose varieties from among the climbers, ramblers and old garden roses that produce long, vigorous canes.

Don’t plant roses in partly shady or shady areas. They must have at least six to eight hours of sun to perform up to your expectations. Any shade they receive should, ideally, come in the afternoon. Morning sun helps dry the foliage early in the day, which can help reduce disease problems. Roses also need excellent drainage, so avoid low areas that stay wet.

Whether planting your roses into a bed devoted exclusively to them or including them in existing beds with other types of plants, prepare the area where they will be planted carefully.

– First remove unwanted vegetation (weeds, turf grass, etc.) from the area.

– Turn the soil at least 8 to 10 inches deep.

– Spread amendments over the turned soil. Add at least 2 inches of organic matter, such as compost, processed manure or composted ground pine bark. Next, sprinkle a general-purpose fertilizer appropriate to your area over the bed according to label directions.

– Thoroughly blend the amendments into the existing soil and rake it smooth.

You may choose to build a raised bed and fill it with a purchased topsoil or garden soil mix. This can work very well, especially if drainage needs to be improved and you want to grow your roses together in a bed. Choose a high-quality soil mix rich in decayed organic matter such as compost.

To plant roses

For bare-root roses, remove the roots from the wrapper and put them in a bucket of water. Dig a hole in a well-prepared bed as deep and wide as the root system. Build a cone of soil in the hole, place the plant over the cone, and spread out the roots over and around it. Hold the plant in place so the graft union (large knob on the lower part of the plant) is about 2 inches higher than the soil of the bed. Use your other hand to push and firm soil into the hole to cover the roots. Make sure the graft union is 2 inches above soil level when you finish.

For container roses, dig a hole in the prepared bed about the same size as the root ball in the container. Slide the plant out of the container and put the root ball in the hole. Its top should be level with or slightly above the top of the soil of the bed. Make sure the graft union is about 2 inches above the soil level. The graft union is the knobby structure from which the main canes of the rose bush grow. Fill in around the root ball and firm the soil with your hand. Sometimes roses have not been potted long enough for their roots to hold the soil together. If the soil falls away, that’s OK. Just follow the procedure for planting bare-root roses.

Whether planting bare-root or container roses, once they are in the ground, water the plants in thoroughly to finish settling the soil and mulch the area with your favorite mulch about 2 or 3 inches deep.

Pruning

Early February is also the time to prune repeat-flowering roses. Landscape roses, like Knock Out roses, are generally cut back about one-third to one-half their height. This also works well with old garden roses. Cut back hybrid tea roses and grandiflora roses to about 2 feet from the ground. Be sure to prune out any dead canes while you are pruning. Fertilize in March.

Rick Bogren

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