How to Grow and Care for All the Roses in Your Garden

Ensure beautiful, fragrant blooms all season long with these expert tips.

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Roses are nature's quintessential flower: They're a timeless bloom, available in hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors, that can add a custom element to any garden. But they also have a reputation for being finicky, hard to grow, and difficult to perfect for beginner and expert gardeners alike.

However, with the right care and maintenance—from soil and sun to pruning and transplanting—any at-home gardener can get a rose bush to thrive. "Roses are notorious for being high maintenance," says Brianna Reid, horticulturist at Longwood Gardens outside Philadelphia, Pa. "While roses typically do require more time and attention than your average small shrub or perennial, they can be a delight to tend to, and the results are often rewarding. For some gardeners, it's that exact challenge that keeps them coming back to care for these garden divas year after year!"

Related:How to Grow and Care for Hydrangeas, the Summer Showstoppers Every Gardener Should Plant

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How to Choose the Right Rose Variety for Your Garden

With more than 100 species of roses—and thousands more cultivars and hybrids—you can find a rose for any climate, experience level, or garden type. Before choosing a variety (or several) for your garden, consider your growing zone and weather. “Climate can be a huge concern, with some varieties being better suited for warm, sunnier temps associated with the American south,” says Dee Hall of Mermaid City Flowers in Norfolk, Va. "Visit your local botanical garden, if you can, and see what roses are planted and do well there during the season. Then contact your local extension/master gardeners, who, in addition to telling you which roses do well, may be able to tell you which to avoid."

If you want a few easy, popular varieties to plant right now? Consider these three expert-recommended rose bushes.

Knock Out Roses

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ChamilleWhite / GETTY IMAGES

Reid recommends Knock Out roses for beginners who want a lower-maintenance rose type ("No deadheading required!" she says).

Hybrid Tea Roses

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Catherine McQueen / GETTY IMAGES

If you're will to do a little more work, try hybrid tea roses. "If you're looking for a little bit of a challenge and don't mind some deadheading, a hybrid tea rose is also great option, she says. Hybrid teas will deliver that classic long stem rose bloom that we have all come to know and love.

Floribunda Roses

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Nadya So / GETTY IMAGES

Gracielinda Poulson of Grace Rose Farm in Santa Ynez, Calif, points at-home growers toward floribundas. "They are modern shrub roses that bloom continuously throughout the growing season, from spring through fall," she says. "They have constant buds or blooms, so they are a constant reward for gardeners."

How to Care for Roses Planted in the Ground

Roses can thrive as in-ground bushes, in containers, or in raised beds. To allow them to thrive in the ground, make sure they have plenty of space. "Rose roots grow deep, so make sure you have adequate room for the roots to spread," says Reid.

Light

Plant roses in a bright spot in your yard, allowing them to get at least six hours of sun daily. "They will happily accept more," says Reid. "If your rose is not getting enough sun, it may produce less blooms and become tall and spindly. Plants that do not receive adequate sun may also be more susceptible to pests and disease."

Soil

Roses grow best in a slightly acidic soil with efficient drainage. "A loose, loamy soil will promote good drainage, but still hold enough moisture for your rose's roots," says Reid. Testing your soil before planting can indicate any nutrients or amendments your garden may need.

Water

Overwatered roses are more susceptible to disease; healthy plants should get 1 to 2 inches of water every week, says Reid. "Play it safe and water at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry, preferably in the morning before daytime temperatures climb," she says.

Fertilizer

Keep roses well-fed with a springtime application of fertilizer designed for your specific variety, or with a 15-9-12 slow release formula. "Roses are heavy feeders and can often benefit from routine fertilization," says Reid. "Organic fertilizers often have a lower nutrient content and may need to be applied more frequently than a synthetic fertilizer."

How to Care for Roses Planted in Containers

If you don't have the space to plant roses in the ground, many varieties can thrive in a container. "Like any other plants that are contained when they are meant to be in the ground, the sizes of the roses will be restricted by the size of the container, but will vary," says Hall. "My potted roses in years two and three are easily 3 feet high; I have successfully grown roses in 5-gallon pots and they have done splendidly.”

Soil

For roses planted in pots, Hall creates a blend of 1 part soil with 1/2 part compost and 1/4 part Perlite, which improves drainage. She also adds “a sprinkle of worm castings and mycorrhizal fungi, which helps create better root systems.” (Mycorrhizal fungi can also be added to the soil where bushes are planted in the ground to improve the roots.)

Water

While roses planted in a garden benefit from underground moisture and regular rainfall, those in containers dry out more quickly. "Roses are notoriously heavy drinkers, and in containers, I would give them some special watering attention, especially in the summertime," says Hall, who suggests "something to the tune of 3 to 4 gallons of water per week."

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How to Prune Roses

The specific pruning needs of a rose plant vary by type, but Reid offers a simple guideline: "A general rule of thumb is that most roses actually love to be pruned!" she says. "Any time you prune a rose, it promotes new growth on the plant." Aim for a bush shape that mimics a goblet, "with the center of the plant clear and open to encourage optimal airflow," she says.

Check the Pith

Any dead or diseased canes should be removed immediately; check for a white or light-colored pith in the center of the canes to check the health of the cane. "If you uncover a dark or browning pith while pruning, continue cutting back in small increments until you reach an area with a healthy-looking pith," says Reid. "If you are deadheading or removing dead tips, always cut back to a healthy set of leaves that is facing outward on your plant. Outward facing growth helps to keep your plant's center open and airy."

When to Prune Roses

While deciding when to prune can be a challenge for new rose gardeners, you don't need to stick too closely to a specific timeline, says Hall. "Old wisdom says to prune your roses when forsythia is in bloom and the plants are just starting to wake up," she says. "One of the best things about roses is their easy-going nature in the garden; I have successfully pruned a bit later and still had success."

Pruning in March allows you to cut canes that help direct new growth outward and improve air flow; a light prune will give you larger spring blooms, while cutting a plant back to half its size with a hard prune will give you a larger number of blooms.

How to Transplant Roses

Whether you want your rose bushes to get more sun, thrive in different soil, or add color to a new part of your yard, transplanting them is a common technique. Poulson, who transplanted thousands of rose bushes when her company farm moved its headquarters in 2018, offers these instructions:

  • Transplant only when the plant is dormant during the winter; this will minimize disruption to the root system.

  • Prune the bush back to 12 inches from the ground, cutting off the previous season's new growth.

  • Clear loose dirt, dry leaves, and other organic matter from around the bottom of the plant.

  • Use a shovel to cut around the plant, about 1 foot out from the bud union, to loosen the roots before lifting the plant.

  • When the roots are loose, gently lift the plant to remove without damaging the roots.

  • Leave the dirt around the root ball, and replant in a new hole 2 feet in diameter by 2 feet deep; if the roots are significantly shorter than the canes, you can trim the canes back further to promote faster growth once the bush is replanted.

How to Cut Roses Off a Bush

Roses are some of the most famous and beloved flowers for any-occasion arrangements, from red roses on Valetine's Day to white in a bridal bouquet; growing your own rose bush allows for frequent harvesting of flowers with an added sentimental quality.

When to Harvest Roses

"Roses can be cut in early bud stage, when the flower has just barely started to open," says Hall. Harvest blooms in the early morning or evening—instead of during the hottest part of the day—using a clean, sharp tool to cut individual flowers back to a main stem. (Don't forget leather-palmed rose gloves to keep your hands safe from thorns.)

How Long Cut Roses Last in Arrangements

"Roses are among the longest-lasting flowers in an arrangement; they will last up to a week in a vase," says Hall. "I would change water every day or two and keep away from direct sunlight—no additional care is needed!"

How to Winterize Roses

To prepare your rose plants for cold weather, stop pruning rose bushes during September and October so that new growth has time to harden before the temperature drops (you can continue to deadhead). For winter protection, "younger rose bushes (less then two years old) should overwinter with mulch or hay around them," says Poulson.

Common Rose Problems

Roses suffering from dampness and humidity may show signs of powdery mildew, says Hall. "Two pieces of advice: Water the soil, not the leaves, and make sure your plants have enough air flow." If you plant bushes too close together or in too-small pots, the overcrowding can lead to excess moisture. "You may be putting a small, bareroot plant into the ground or pot, but with success, you'll have a leafy beauty that will spread a little in a relatively short window, so plan ahead," she says.

A preventative spray can help with leaf spot during the plant's growing season, from April through August, and a jar of soapy water can trap summertime pests trying to make a meal of your blooms. Both are easy ways to encourage pristine, beautiful blooms. "With some basic care, roses give back more than they require," says Poulson.