How to Grow Roses

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Roses (Rosa spp.) are one of the oldest types of flowers in cultivation, and they have totally won the hearts of gardeners as America's most popular flower. The rose is a perennial plant that cross-breeds easily, which explains the thousands of types of varieties available to gardeners in addition to species roses that have grown in the wild for centuries. Some roses are relatively easy to care for, and others are fussy. Every gardener needs to pick the flowers for their rose garden carefully, keeping the climate, level of sun exposure and soil in mind.


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Best Uses for Roses

Roses are ornamental. Their job is purely to add beauty to the world with their silky petals, their gorgeous colors and their unforgettably romantic fragrances. There are so many types from which to choose that you'll find roses that work in almost any landscape situation.


The choice won't be easy. Inspect your garden site carefully before you dive in. There are rose bushes that are less than a foot tall with wee flowers. There are others — climbers and ramblers — that mount some 30 feet up your house wall, over a fence or up a towering tree. Others are stand-alone upright shrub roses. Some roses bloom in early summer and some in fall, and the color range is astonishing. In addition to species roses, you can find old-fashioned roses, also known as heirloom roses, that are lush and fragrant, and there are modern hybrids that bloom longer and are cold hardy.


Given the different types of roses available, you can use them in any part of your landscape. You can grow roses well in beds, borders or containers on the deck or patio. They can spill out of window boxes or even form a flowering hedge.

How to Grow Roses

  • Common Name: Rose
  • Botanical Name: Rosa spp.
  • When to Plant: Plant bare-root roses in early spring and container roses by late spring
  • USDA Zones: 2-11
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun at least six hours a day
  • Soil Type: Moist, loamy, well-drained soil
  • When it's in Trouble: Weak plants, small blooms when grown in partial shade
  • When it's Thriving: Dark-green, lush foliage and abundant blossoms of exceptional beauty


Starting Roses From Seedlings

Although wild or species roses produce seeds in rose hips and these seeds can be used to grow new roses, very few gardeners grow roses from seeds. Most people buy young plants to install in the garden or elsewhere in the landscape. The two most common presentations are bare-root roses and container roses. The planting methods are slightly different.


For both bare-root and container roses, spacing is the same. If you are planting more than one in a location, you must give the rose bushes some elbow room. Leave a space on either side of a rose equal to 2/3 of the expected height. This spacing depends to some degree on the type of rose. Miniature roses can be planted closer, while heirlooms require a bit more space.


Bare-root roses look like dead sticks but don't be fooled. These are roses that are fully dormant. They are sold in spring before the plants leaf out. If you buy them early, keep them in a chilly, dark location until planting a month or so before the last spring frost. Soak the plant roots in water for at least eight hours and up to 24 hours before planting. When it is time to plant, be sure to wear gloves since the thorns are real. Trim each cane to leave only three to five buds. Before planting, prune off and dispose of any canes that are broken or pencil thin.


To plant a bare-root rose, dig a hole some 24 inches deep and wide, working in well-rotted manure or organic compost. Create a mound from the enriched soil in the base of the hole and position the bare-root plant on it, spreading its roots over the mound. Fill the planting hole halfway with the amended soil, tamp it down and water it thoroughly. After that, fill the rest of the hole and water again. Mound dirt or mulch around the rose bush to keep it moist, removing this little by little so that it is gone five weeks after planting.


Plant potted rose bushes later in spring after the last frost. Dig a hole about 24 inches deep and wide and then add amended soil so that the plant will be sitting at the same depth as it was in the container. Backfill the hole with more amended soil. In both bare-root and container rose plantings, dig out a saucer in the dirt, creating a circular wall around it to capture water.

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In What Zone Do Roses Grow Best?

Most roses thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 though 9. With thousands of rose species and many more cultivars, there is likely a rose for your climate. Before you select a rose, figure out your region's plant hardiness zone. They range from 1 through 11 and are based on the lowest winter temperatures. You'll find roses that grow in every zone other than zone 1.

Every garden store, both brick-and-mortar or online, should identify the hardiness zones in which each rose will grow. Often, the hardiness zones are listed on the rose label. If you buy from a store in your city or neighborhood, it is very likely that the rose will match your zone. If you buy online, you'll need to clarify this carefully.

Are there really roses that grow in icy zones like 2 and 3? Yes, there are. Rosa 'Adelaide Hoodless' is a Canadian rose that is hardy in USDA zone 2. This large red rose offers semidouble blooms from June until the first frost.

When Should You Plant Roses?

Bare-root roses are sold when they are fully dormant. They can be stored in a cool area until they are ready for planting. Ideally, they should go into the ground in early spring before the leaves are ready to emerge. This can be a month or more before the last frost in spring.

If you purchase them container-grown — that is, potted plants — then late spring is when you should be planting roses. This gives the plants a good start for the growing season, but the truth is you are transplanting them from one growing location to another, and you can do this successfully at nearly any time of the growing season.

Soil, Sunlight and Water Recommendations for Roses

Excellent drainage is one of the primary cultural requirements to grow roses. They will die quickly if they are planted in mud or wet soil and left there for any length of time. Ideally, roses should be planted in organically rich, moisture-retentive, loose loam. Blend organic compost into the soil before planting to increase drainage and fertility. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 7.0.

The second critical requirement for roses is sun, and the more sun they get, the more flowers you will have to enjoy. All roses should receive at least six to eight hours of direct sun every day. As usual, in extremely hot climates, all plants, including roses, appreciate a little afternoon sun protection. In colder regions, plant the roses near a wall that faces west or south for more flowers and better winter survival rates.

Nobody could call roses drought tolerant. They are among the most thirsty landscape plants, and frequent irrigation — some 2 inches a week — is essential during the rose's first year in your garden. It is during this period that it is establishing roots. This should be cut in half when the plant is established. Drip irrigation is the method of choice, allowing you to get water to the root area but avoiding getting the leaves wet, a factor in a variety of fungal diseases. Add organic mulch to help keep moisture in the soil.

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How to Winterize Roses

The colder the winters where you live, the more you should do to keep your roses safe and happy during the off season. First, be sure you select roses that are hardy in your growing zone. This is critical. Roses hardy to zone 6, for example, can survive zone 6 winters without any special measures taken to protect them.

However, it never hurts to make it a little easier on your plants. Stop deadheading roses a month before the first hard frost so that you don't encourage new growth. In fact, you shouldn't be pruning roses in the fall other than to remove broken or dead branches.

After a few weeks of frosts, pile a foot of soil or mulch on the base of your roses. If your winters include months of freezing weather, build a sturdy mesh cylinder around the plant and then fill the inside with straw, mulch, pine needles or compost. For extra protection, wrap the cylinder with protective garden fabric.

Common Pests and Other Problems for Roses

Japanese beetles are the beetles that pester roses the most. They are easy to spot thanks to their iridescent green bodies and copper-colored wing covers. They feed during the day using their chewing mouthparts to chow down on the roses themselves as well as the rose buds and leaves. Look for ragged edges and/or holes in the petals. Rose leaves are typically skeletonized or eaten completely. Handpicking is a great option for these beetles. Grab one at a time and drop them into soapy water.

The rose aphid is the predominant species of aphid that feeds on roses. All aphids are small, but these are truly tiny, not growing over 1/8 inch long. These aphids have soft, pear-shaped bodies in shades of pink or green and tend to cluster on the bottoms of leaves and around buds. Aphids pierce the rose leaves with their mouthparts and then suck out the juices. While a few rose aphids won't do much harm, an infestation reduces the number of flowers and the quality of the roses. Aphids also deposit a sticky waste called honeydew on the rose leaves. This draws other pests and can cause sooty mold fungi to develop. The easiest way to combat aphids is to bring in ladybugs as predators. You can buy live ladybugs in commerce.

Spider mites are not insects at all; they are in the spider family. They are even smaller than rose aphids at some 1/50 of an inch long, so don't expect them to stand out on a rose plant. If you suspect mites, hold a piece of printer paper under a branch, tap the branch and then run your hand over the paper. Red streaks means you have mites. Like aphids, they pierce foliage and suck out the plant sap. You will notice speckling on the top of the leaf and fine webbing on the underside. Beneficial predator insects are the way to go. Ladybugs like eating mites as well as aphids, or you could buy and release lacewings, which also devour mites.

Common Diseases for Roses

Fungal diseases are common among roses, including powdery mildew and leaf spot. It is far easier to prevent these diseases than to combat them. Prevention is based largely on two rules. Never water in a manner that gets the leaves wet, especially in the evening, and space the plants far enough apart to allow air circulation between them.