Buying Roses

Roses are classified in three grades. Look on the rose tag for one of the following numbers. A #1 plant is usually 2 years old. It was budded (grafted to the under stalk) two years prior to being dug. The plant was regularly pinched and pruned, producing two or more very strong canes.  A #1½ plant is also 2 years old but has one strong and one smaller cane. A #2 plant has several small canes.  But, take heart! A #2 plant can be grown into #1 quality with patience and care.

Planting Roses

The most appropriate time to plant roses is early spring, when the plants are not leafed out and the ground is not frozen. Follow these planting steps. Dig the planting hole to accommodate roots and keep budded area at the soil line. This is usually 15 to 18 inches deep.

  • Incorporate super phosphate into your soil (to provide slowly available phosphorus) at a rate of three to four pounds per 100 square feet or one heaping tablespoon per plant.

  • Spread out the roots of the rose plant over a cone of soil located in the center of the planting hole. This will prevent air pockets from forming around the roots.

  • Make sure the budded area is at the soil line.  This prevents undesirable suckering from the rootstock (the plant portion below the grafted bud). Also, if the budded area is buried in the soil, roots will form on the scion (the grafted portion), and the desirable characteristics of the rootstock (e.g., hardiness and disease resistance) will be lost.

  • Add half the soil backfill and gently firm soil around roots with hands to ensure root-to-soil contact. Water as you add backfill.

  • Fill the planting hole to within 1 to 1½ inches of the original soil surface.

Rose Care After Planting

Adequate rose care includes watering, pruning, mulching, and disbudding.

Watering and Fertilizing

Roses perform best when they are well-watered. Rainfall often does not meet the plants’ needs. Add water when the upper 1 to 2 inches of soil is dry.  Thorough, deep watering is best. Overhead sprinkling is the most convenient, but wet foliage may promote disease. Drip irrigation systems that are on the market are easy to install, use water efficiently, and do not cause wet foliage. If you use overhead watering, water in the morning or early afternoon so foliage will be dry by evening.

Fertilizers with an analysis such as 5-10-5 or 4-12-4 are commonly packaged as rose fertilizers; however, 8-8-8, 10-10-10, 12-12-12, or other garden fertilizers may be used. High-nitrogen turf materials, such as 25-10-10 or 33-0-0, should be used sparingly. In a rose bed, apply about ¼ cup of 12-12-12 (or correct amount of other fertilizer analyses) per bush. Spread fertilizer evenly and scratch it into the soil surface.  Application should be made to wet soils, before rain or watering.

Fertilize first in spring after danger of frost is past and pruning is completed. Then fertilize every four to six weeks until early August. Shrubs that bloom once should be fed only in mid April. 


Spring Pruning

Remove all dead wood and any canes that are diseased, broken, or injured in any way. Prune to improve the shape of the plant and to permit air movement through it by removing branches that cross through the center of the plant or rub other branches. Also remove suckers from the rootstock and thin, weak growth. Generally, pruning back to one or two outwardfacing buds or branches per cane encourages growth to the outside and creates an open, vase-shaped bush. It also allows good air circulation to reduce fungal diseases. Remember; do not prune healthy shoots of climbers until after flowering.  All cuts should be clean and smooth, so make sure the pruning shears are sharp. Place a drop of white glue (e.g., Elmer’s) on top of each cut stem that is larger than ¼ inch. Glue helps reduce borer infestation into the cane.

Additional Summer Pruning

Continue pruning during the growing season to remove spindly shoots, suckers, diseased stems, insect-ridden areas, and other types of worthless wood. Summer pruning is as important as initial spring pruning.  Prune climbers after bloom. Remove one or two old canes, thin dense growth, and cut back remaining canes to keep the plant within bounds.


Mulches help control weeds, keep roots cool, reduce the need for watering, and make the planting more attractive. Apply 2 to 3 inches of aged sawdust, wood bark, or other organic materials. Placing a few sheets of newspaper under the mulch increases the effects of mulching. Don’t place mulch against the stem; keep it about 6 inches away.

Cutting and Disbudding


Remove axil buds on hybrid teas to increase the vigor of one main flower stem. Axil buds of floribundas and grandifloras generally are not disbudded.

Dead Heading

Try to dead head twice a week. Carefully cut to an outside-facing, five-leaflet leaf from the top of the plant. You want to keep the bush at a height where flowers can be appreciated. Discontinue dead heading in mid-September to allow bushes to store energy for winter.  Some shrubs, old-fashioned roses, and climbing roses bloom only once. Since flower removal will not encourage new flowers to form, spent blooms need not be removed. Red to orange rose hips form after flowers fade, and these can be harvested for jams, teas, etc., or left for birds.

Cutting Rose Flowers

Allow at least two five-leaflet leaves to remain on the new shoot when you cut a rose. Future stems will arise from buds in axils of remaining leaves.

Source:  Metcalfe County Homemakers Newsletter - Cooperative Extension Service - April 2006.