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How to grow roses for beginners.

Updated: Mar 27

If you’ve been afraid to start a rose garden, the truth is, roses are no more difficult to care for than other flowering shrubs. Follow these ten essential rules to learn how to grow roses:

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Start with the roots

You can purchase roses already potted in soil or as dormant bare-root plants. Each type has its benefits:

  • Container roses: Container roses are great for novice gardeners because they’re easy to plant and establish quickly. They can also be purchased at local nurseries throughout the growing season. This allows you to plant them when climate conditions are ideal, preferably a cool and cloudy day.

  • Bare-root roses: One of the advantages of bare-root roses is the greater selection of varieties available. Plus, they are economical and can be ordered online. However, unlike container roses, bare-root plants need to have their roots soaked overnight in water before planting. Also, the roots should be kept moist for the first few months after planting.

Choose your roses wisely

There are numerous classes of roses, ranging from micro-miniatures to grandifloras, and from groundcovers to climbing roses, with some classes containing hundreds of varieties. While it may be tempting to fill your rose garden with a wide assortment, you are likely to end up with a disorderly array and too many plants for the space. A few well-chosen varieties will give you more satisfaction than dozens of mismatched plants that don’t work in harmony.

If you want lower-maintenance roses, try shrub or landscape roses, like the Oso Easy line, for a more care-free rose garden.

Find the right site

For the best show of flowers and the healthiest plants, rose bushes should receive six to eight hours of sunlight daily. They should also be planted in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. In especially hot climates, roses do best when they are protected from the hot afternoon sun. In cold climates, planting a rose bush next to a south- or west-facing fence or wall can help minimize winter freeze damage.

Get the timing right

Roses are best planted in the spring (after the last frost) or in fall (at least six weeks before your average first frost). Planting early enough in fall gives the roots enough time to get established before the plants go dormant over the winter.

Bare-root roses are typically available only in early spring and should be planted soon after you bring them home. Roses purchased in containers give you more flexibility in planting time.

Plant properly

Planting your bare-root or container roses properly will ensure they get off to a good start.

  • The planting hole needs to be deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s roots. The area needs to have good drainage, since roses don’t like wet feet.

  • Mix a generous amount of garden compost, peat moss, or other organic matter with the soil that was removed from the planting hole. Use some of this mixture at the bottom of the planting hole and place the rose bush in the hole.

  • The plant’s crown should be at ground level in mild climates and 2 to 3 inches below ground level for cold climates.

  • Fill the hole partially with the soil mixture and add a slow-release fertilizer.

  • Water thoroughly, and then finish filling the hole with the remaining soil.

  • Water again, then mound loose soil around the canes to protect the rose while it acclimates to its new site.

  • If you’re planting several rose bushes together, space them at least 3 feet apart to allow ample growing room as they mature.

Fertilize regularly

For an impressive show of flowers, a rose bush needs to be fertilized regularly. Organic methods provide a slow, steady supply of nutrients. Monthly applications of compost, composted manure, and other organic and natural fertilizers, such as this organic fish emulsion, work well. Organic amendments also help to encourage beneficial soil microbes and a well-balanced soil pH.

Slow-release fertilizers, like Jobe's Organic Fertilizer Spikes, supply the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other minor nutrients. They also give rose bushes the nourishment they need for optimum growth.

For newly planted bare-root plants: Apply organic amendments to the soil at planting time. Wait until after the plant produces its first blooms to apply full-strength fertilizers so you don’t burn the new roots.

Water wisely

Soil should be kept evenly moist throughout the growing season. The amount and frequency of watering will depend on your soil type and climate. Roses do best with the equivalent of 1” of rainfall per week during the growing season. Roses growing in sandy soils will need more watering than those in heavier clay soils. Hot, dry, and windy conditions will also parch roses quickly.

How you water is as important as the frequency. To keep roses healthy, avoid wetting the foliage. Use a soaker hose, watering can with a long spout, or a watering wand pointed directly at the soil.

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Tips for fertilizing your roses.

To perform their best, roses need a continuous source of nutrients throughout the growing season. Healthy roses not only bloom better, they are better able to withstand insect and disease problems.

There are many different kinds of fertilizers, so it can be confusing to know how and when to fertilize your roses. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your roses.


The primary nutrients (macronutrients) that all plants need are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).

Nitrogen encourages healthy, vigorous leaf growth. Since a rose’s ability to make flowers resides in its leaves, healthy foliage results in more flowers. Too much nitrogen will result in too much foliage and fewer blooms, while not enough nitrogen results in yellow leaves, stunted growth, and smaller blooms.

Phosphorus promotes healthy root development and abundant flower production. A shortage of phosphorous can result in leaf drop, weak flower stems, and buds that won’t open.

Potassium, also referred to as potash, helps roses recover when stressed by insect and disease damage, or by extreme weather conditions. Lack of potassium can result in yellow leaf margins, weak flower stems, and poorly developed buds.

Other nutrients: In order to thrive, roses also need micronutrients including calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc.


For Newly Planted Roses:

  1. Amend the planting hole with rich organic matter.

  2. Work in a slow-release fertilizer according to package instructions along with a handful of bone meal for healthy root development.

  3. Sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Epsom salts around the base of the plant to promote foliar and cane development.

Continue to fertilize every 3 to 4 weeks with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion. If a new plant dries out at all, full-strength fertilizers can cause leaf margins and root tips to burn.

For Established Roses:

Early to mid-spring: Begin fertilizing when new leaves emerge. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer or top-dress with alfalfa meal (5-1-2) for the first application to jump-start leaf development, along with epsom salts to encourage new cane development and lusher growth. Add a slow-release fertilizer when shoots are 4 to 5 inches long.

Throughout the season: Continue to feed every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season depending on the type of fertilizer used.

Late summer to early fall: Apply a slow-release fertilizer with low nitrogen content such as bone meal to promote root growth and next year’s blooms. Stop fertilizing 6 to 8 weeks before your average first frost date to prevent new growth from being damaged by frost.

For Container Roses:

Because nutrients leach out more quickly due to more frequent watering, container roses may need fertilizing more often than those planted in the ground.

More Ways to Keep Your Roses Healthy

  • Prune them correctly

  • Get rid of aphids

  • Treat powdery mildew

  • Control Japanese beetle infestations

  • Improve your soil


Organic fertilizers, which are derived from plant or animal matter, are better for the environment. These have different nutritional advantages and can be used alone or in combination as part of your rose-feeding regimen. Some also improve soil texture and support beneficial microbes.

Inorganic fertilizers (synthetic, chemical, or man-made) are ready-to-use and convenient, more concentrated and often less expensive than organic. However, these products don’t improve soil and have no positive residual effect. Some also contain insecticides and should be avoided all together, as they can harm wildlife.


There are many pre-packaged organic fertilizers specially formulated for roses that take the guesswork out of fertilizing. While all have a balanced blend of nutrients, some also contain essential trace minerals and beneficial microbes.


  • Compost promotes overall plant health, helping roses to be more resilient to pests and diseases. Mix into the soil at planting time, or apply a 1- to 2-inch layer each spring around the base of established rose plants. Learn how to make your own compost at home.

  • Manure can be worked into the soil at the time of planting or mulch established rose plants with a one-inch layer in spring. Make sure manure is well-aged so it doesn’t burn plants. Manure teas also work well.

  • Bone meal can be applied in spring for a slow-release effect through the growing season and again in fall to promote root growth and next year’s flowers.

  • Cottonseed meal boosts overall plant health. Apply once or twice a year for a slow-release effect throughout the growing season. Since it is somewhat acidic, soil pH may need to be adjusted with lime or another alkaline source.

  • Kelp meal or seaweed extract promotes root development and boosts immunity to pests and diseases and can be part of a regular fertilizing program throughout the growing season.

  • Fish fertilizer can be used as an all-purpose fertilizer and promotes lush growth. To use as the primary fertilizer, apply every 3 weeks during the growing season; often used in combination with kelp.

  • Alfalfa is one of the best overall organic amendments, resulting in more vigorous growth and increased bloom production.

  • Coffee grounds can be sprinkled around the base of rose bushes at any time during the growing season for a boost of nitrogen. Coffee is acidic, so soil pH may need to be adjusted with lime or another alkaline source.

  • Epsom salts promote bloom color, greener foliage, and more vigorous cane growth. Apply in spring or at the time of planting.

"Organics make for the most beautiful roses and gardens," says Denise Kelly of Variegata Studios in Santa Rosa, CA. "But there can be a downside in that some products attract wildlife and pets. Bone meal and alfalfa pellets are especially attractive to dogs and raccoons, so I use alfalfa meal instead, which waters in more easily."

  • Soil pH affects the absorption of nutrients and should be between 6.0-7.0. Test your soil’s pH with a soil testing meter or complete soil analysis kit to determine if it needs adjustment; then you’ll be able to choose the best amendment to regulate the pH level.

  • Water roses before and after fertilizing. This will deliver nutrients more efficiently to the root zone and prevent root burn or shock.

  • Avoid fertilizing in extreme heat to prevent stress. Keep rose plants well-watered and wait until it cools off to re-fertilize.

  • Apply foliar sprays to roses early in the day to allow leaves to dry out to help prevent disease.

  • To stay organized and on track, keep a gardening calendar handy where you can write down when and how you fertilize so that you don’t forget.

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