Also see our Rose FAQ page.
Roses grow best in a sunny location, preferably away from tall trees and invasive roots, where they will get at least half a day of sun. The soil composition should be about 1/3 top soil, 1/3 sand and 1/3 organic matter such as peat most or compost. Roses do best in a fine-textured but well-drained soil.
Bare root roses can be planted either in the late fall or early spring, and potted roses can be planted any time during the growing season, but most people prefer planting in the spring in our climate.
Packaged roses should be purchased early in the season to avoid the risk of their drying out on the store shelves.
Bare root roses should be soaked for several hours or overnight before planting. Dig a hole about 18 inches square. Place a half cup of super phosphate in the bottom of the hole and mound the soil over it to the height that the roots will hold the bud union at ground level.
Most Spokane rose growers recommend a 2ft. by 2ft. hole two feet deep.
Mix mulch with your soil to retain moisture during our dry summers and to promote root growth. Because of our cold winters, many plant the graph bud three to four inches below ground level to prevent winter damage to the graft. If the graft is at or above ground then you must cover the graft in winter.
Trim any roots that won’t fit in the hole without wrapping. Fill the hole about 2/3 full of soil. Fill the remainder of the hole with water, and after it soaks in, finish filling the hole with soil. Press it gently around the rose.
Then mound the canes with sawdust or soil or place a paper grocery bag over the rose canes making a couple of dollar-sized holes for air circulation. After two or three weeks the canes can gradually be introduced to the air over a couple of days.
For potted roses, avoid disturbing the roots. Prepare the hole the same as for bare root roses above. If possible, make a cut down the side of the fiber pots so that you can peel it away from the roots. If the rose hasn’t been in the pot a long time, you may lose a lot of the soil around the roots anyway, but keep them as undisturbed as possible.
Fill the prepared hole with amended soil and prepare a hole just a little larger, or the same size as the pot. Gently remove the rose from the pot and place it into the prepared hole so as not to disturb the roots. Potted roses are actively growing already, so you don’t hill the canes of them but it is a good idea to shelter them from hot drying winds for a few days to acclimate them to their new home.
The American Rose Society (ARS) recommends that you use your own soil and mix it 50:50 with amendments. Use organic material such as compost, aged manures, and forest mulch to amend your native soil. Ask your nursery or a consulting rosarian for the best amendments to use with your soil.
Use care not to have high nitrogen from fertilizers or manures that may kill budding roots.
The best soil pH for roses is between 6.4 and 7.0. This slightly acid soil allows the roots to get most soil nutrients.
Roses should be carefully planted into a prepared 18 to 24 inch deep hole. The surface should be covered with a mulch to prevent water evaporation and too much reflection of the sun on the underside of leaves. Roses require thorough and deep watering about every two to three days in the summer.
The ARS advice is to feed roses once a month with a balanced rose food. High amounts of calcium in the soil can render magnesium useless, so addition of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) two or three times a year is a wise practice. The pH level [between 6.4 and 7.0] is important for the rose to get iron and phosphorus from the soil and into the plant. Addition of a chelated form of iron every six weeks will ensure healthy, green foliage. When in doubt, have your soil chemistry checked at a nursery.
Newly-planted bushes should not be fertilized until after the first bloom cycle. Established bushes should be fed every spring, after the ground temperatures have warmed to about 40 degrees. Then you will probably want to apply more fertilizer in early July.
We don’t recommend fertilizing after the middle of July, so that the roses will use up the nutrients and think about shutting down for the winter. The point is to avoid encouraging lush new growth as temperatures cool to freezing.
A good balanced garden fertilizer will work very well, but there are special rose formulas if you wish. You can also use instant fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro, Schultz, or Peters in the summer, and this can be applied up to August, as it is available immediately for the plant, not having to be broken down first.
A gallon of water per bush is a good rule of thumb when applying instant fertilizer. Miniature Roses are the only exception to the rule, and they should be fertilized at about half the rate of the big roses or they will grow as tall as their cousins, the Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. (See our discussion on fertilization here.).
Pruning Established Roses
After the risk of hard frost is past, usually from about the first to the middle of April, you should prune modern roses for the new year. Some gardeners wait until the buds begin to swell, or look for the forsythia to bloom. The reason not to prune until the danger of killing frost is over is that new growth is quickly killed by a freeze. If you prune too early, you may have to cover your pruned roses on freeze nights. (There is danger a hard freeze might permanently damage the rose plant.)
Your goal should be first for blooms and a beautifully balanced bush. Remove dead/diseased wood, suckers, and unproductive weak canes. Remove crossing canes and open up the center of the bush. Open rose bushes have less mold, mildew and pest problems.
Remove the hilling material you applied for winter and determine the shape you want for the bush. Cut out dead wood and twiggy growth, then cut back the 3 to 6 canes you wish to keep to an outward facing bud where you find light green or white pith in the center of the cane. (See illustration on left.) This may be down close to the bud union, depending on the severity of the winter.
Cut approximately 1/4 inch above the bud eye on a downward slant to even with the top of the bud eye, slanting away from the bud at a 45 degree angle. Do not cut too close to the bud which can damage it. Cutting too far away will allow dead wood that can promote disease. (See illustration on right.)
Use sharp pruners to avoid tearing the bark. After you have cut the good canes, then remove any remaining ones that would fill in the center of the bush and restrict air circulation. By cutting the good canes back first you will be assured of having backup if they don’t turn out to be healthy.
Remember to dead head [removing old flowers and hips] throughout the season. The plant will produce more blooms if the dead flowers and hips are promptly removed. Occasionally as needed prune back growth that may promote mildew or black spot, allowing air to circulate freely and water to evaporate.
Shape the plant to give it a balanced look. Try not cutting too much leaf material in summer, since this is the factory that changes sunlight into sugars that feed the roots and flowers. Late summer or early fall only remove dead flowers, so the root system can strengthen to winter over. (You might enjoy this four minute University of Main Video. )