Here’s my advice for selecting, buying, and planting a new rose:
Step 1: Tea is for drinking.
If, like me, you are not interested in entering into a lifelong regimen of spraying from an arsenal of chemicals, then you’ll select rose plants known for disease resistance. In general, these will not be hybrid teas, but rose varieties that grow in old-fashioned bushy shapes – “shrub roses” -- nearly as wide as they are tall.
Also, you may find that some of the healthiest rose varieties only bloom once, which may affect your choice. There are also new rugged varieties from which to choose; these will clearly state their disease resistance on the label or catalog description.
Step 2: Choose a suitable place for your new roses.
For best results, the location should receive no less than six hours of direct sunlight. You can test a spot by placing stakes or flags in the ground where you hope to grow the roses and watch to see how much sunlight and shade actually passes over the flag during the day. Consider shade from trees above, and plants already growing nearby.
Step 3: Choose your vendor carefully.
That is, try to buy from a source that
• If possible, sell roses grown on their own roots, not grafted roses
• ship Bare-root roses: plants that have been washed of soil and shipped with naked roots, or
• roses potted in containers
Do Not purchase roses that
• are in a box (the roots are growing a plant-it-all degradable box) or
• plants with roots encased in sawdust in a plastic bag (often sold at drug, discount home-improvement stores and supermarkets. You get what you pay for).
If you are new to the concept of “bare-root” roses, you might be shocked when you open the shipping carton to find brown sticks wrapped in moist paper and in a plastic bag. Let me reassure you that this is a perfectly acceptable, if not preferred way to receive roses. Why? Because bare-root roses are dormant plants that have been held in cold storage and usually do not suffer from transplant shock (die-back of stems and/or delayed growth). They are ready and waiting to grow once they are exposed to spring temperatures.
The one drawback for those of us living hectic lives is that bare-root roses should be planted within a day or two after they arrive. If you cannot plant them right away, try and squeeze them into the refrigerator, or worst case scenario, soak the roots in a bucket of water. The roses should be placed in water in a deep container up to the spot where the roots meet the stems. In the case of grafted roses, which will be most of the bare-root ones, there will be a large gnarled growth at the spot where they were grafted, the bud union. Place the bucket in a shaded, cool spot in the basement if unheated, or outdoors if it is above 32 degrees F.
Step 3: To plant when the roses arrive, follow these instructions. Take the plants out of the box and place the roots in a bucket of water—for up to 24 hours—to re-hydrate them. Prepare the hole (step 4), and after the soak, plant immediately taking care to not let the roots dry out (cover with a moist towel if you have to plant many).
Step 4: Prepare the soil.
Roses need great (rich in organic matter) soil that is cool and moisture retentive. Dig a big hole and incorporate lots of humus (compost) into the excavated soil before planting. Excavate a hole large enough so that the bare-roots will not be bent in the hole. Create a cone of soil in the middle of the hole and spread the roots around the cone. Then fill in with the compost-amended soil, pressing down to remove any large air pockets-- but do not step on the soil or “muddy” the rose into place unless you have very sandy soil. You don’t want to fill in all the spaces in the soil, forcing out essential.
If the plants were grafted, bury the bud union two to four inches below the soil. In my Zone 6 garden, I plant them about two inches below grade. In colder climates I would recommend planting the bud union even deeper. Water when you plant, and be consistent about watering deeply and frequently, at least for the first two growing seasons. Mulch the surface of the soil after planting, being sure to not let the mulch touch the stem of any plant. Feed regularly with an organic rose food, following the manufacturers’ recommended rates and methods of application.
Step 5: Roses in the border.
I want to grow roses like other plants, as if they were shrubs or perennials to incorporate into mixed plantings. That is out of the question with the disease-prone hybrid teas, but shrub roses have a chance once established. When first planted, do not allow competition either above or below the ground – shade from taller plants, plants that block the breeze, or ones that will steel moisture form the rose’s roots. Once the roses have caught on, you can allow other, lower plants in front, taller plants in back, to move closer.
In other words, while the idea of adding roses to a mixed planting is an excellent way to use roses, wait a year or two before you plant perennials nearby. This notion will not be popular with those in need of instant results. I’m afraid to play off the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” roses can’t be grown in a day. But one thing people can do, is to plant three of a kind. Three rose plants near each other, so that in two years, the impact is substantial, and the triplets will have a better chance to stake their ground.
Pruning shrub roses is different than pruning the long-stemmed hybrids bred for cut flowers. Shape the plants -- first by removing dead wood and any crossed branches -- then by encouraging an open, vase shape for the plant. Cut roses back to spots just above buds that face away form the center of the plant.
To prune after blooming, cut down to the just above the first five-leaflet leaf with an outward facing bud.