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The Basics of Planting Roses

Whether container-grown or bare root, these heat-loving beauties are a must-have in the garden.

Roses are timeless flowers, renowned for their colorful blooms and alluring fragrance. However, they also have an undeserved reputation for being delicate and extremely high-maintenance, and many gardeners think it takes an expert to grow them. Fortunately, caring for roses is not complicated, and the beauty they’ll bring to your yard is well worth any extra attention they may need.

Making Your Purchase

Opportunities to buy roses abound. Local nurseries and garden centers usually stock roses, although their selections tend to be more generic and nonspecific to Arizona. Online catalogs offer a wider variety of cultivars from which to choose. For ideas and cultivar names, visit the Rose Garden at Mesa Community College or the Valley Garden Center in Phoenix, where you’ll also be able to see flowers that thrive in the Valley. Such plants have adapted to our hot climate, a characteristic that is much more important in the low desert than cold tolerance.

Roses are typically sold in containers or as bare-root plants. Whichever you choose, be sure to plant them in an area that receives at least six hours of sun per day, preferably with some afternoon shade. Roses prefer fertile, well-drained soil, and they like room to grow and not be crowded.

Container Roses

Roses purchased in plastic containers or peat pots should be planted by March or April so they can become established before the summer heat sets in. If you are looking for a specific flower color, choose plants that are in bloom to ensure that what you have is what you want. As with any purchase, make sure that the plant looks healthy and appears to be thriving with no dead leaves or stems. New growth should be strong with no blackened areas or signs of dieback. Do not buy plants with roots coming out of the pot’s drainage holes. You don’t want a rose bush that has been in its container too long because it can become root bound. Generally, it is better to buy a plant in a larger five-gallon container than in a smaller one, as it is less apt to have overgrown the pot.

Fig. A

To plant, dig a hole as deep and twice as wide as the container. Mix original soil with compost or forest mulch and perlite or pumice on a 1:1:1 ratio, or create a 50-50 mix of original soil and compost or mulch. Add one-half to one cup of soil sulfur and one-half to one cup of triple superphosphate to the soil mixture and set aside.

Remove the plant from the container and place it in the hole, keeping the bud union just above the soil line if you have a plant that has been grafted (see Fig. A). Backfill half of the hole with the prepared mix, firming the soil around the root ball with your hands. Add water, then fill the rest of the hole with soil up to the bud union, watering again when finished. Apply several inches of mulch on the surface around the bush. Water at least once every other day for one to two weeks, then weekly thereafter until the plant is established.

Bare-Root Roses

Bare-root roses are usually available at nurseries and garden centers in late winter and early spring. Bare root means exactly that: the plants are dormant and have no soil on the roots. While this may seem perplexing to a new gardener, it is a very common method of shipping and planting roses. Again, assess the plant’s health. Choose bushes with a robust root system and at least three strong canes (stems); avoid those that have started to leaf out. Bare-root roses are measured by a set of industry standards and are graded by numbers: 1, 1½ or 2, with No. 1 as the top grade.

Once you get your rose bush home, soak the entire plant in water for one to two days to rehydrate it. Cut the canes to a length of 8 to 12 inches with the top buds facing outward. As you look at a cane, there will be buds that face inwards and some that face outwards. When you prune a plant, it is important that the buds are facing outwards so that new growth will grow outwards rather than towards the center of the plant.

Fig. B

Dig a hole 18 to 30 inches wide and deep enough to accommodate the root ball. Create a soil mixture as specified above and place a mound of it in the bottom of the hole in the shape of an upside-down cone (see Fig. B). Spread the roots over the cone, again making sure the bud union is above the soil line. Fill the hole halfway with the soil mix and water. Continue filling in the hole to just below the bud union, and water when done. Add mulch on the soil surface, and water as directed above.

Once the new rose bushes are established, water two or three times a week in spring and fall and three to four times a week in the summer. Cut back watering in winter to once a week or less.


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