In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
June, 2003
Regional Report

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Fragrant floribunda roses are a delight in the garden.

Success with Roses

Growing roses here in the Pacific Northwest has got to be one of my greatest gardening challenges. Our summers are short, cool, and often wet. Roses like lots of sun, warmish temperatures, and dry foliage. Couple our dreary weather with a large population of browsing deer and you have a real recipe for disaster.

Knowing what roses want, and knowing what growing conditions my garden can provide, should convince me to forget growing roses altogether and concentrate on something simpler. But to me, roses are magical, and I don't think a garden is complete without at least one rose bush. Guess that's why I go to such great lengths to successfully grow roses.

Through trial and error I've discovered that pre-planning is absolutely essential if I want to grow beautiful, healthy roses. I begin by paring my list of desired roses down to those with the most natural resistance to the most common diseases -- rust and black spot. My next step is to thoroughly prepare the planting site prior to purchasing the roses. Planting correctly and providing almost obsessive aftercare assures success, which makes the extra effort worthwhile.

Dig Deep
Whether you're preparing a large bed for several roses or setting out a single plant, it pays to take time preparing the soil. For a new bed, I start by removing 4 to 5 inches of topsoil from the bed, and piling it up on a tarp. Then I loosen the next 8 to 10 inches of soil and mix in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Next, I broadcast about 1/2 cup of superphosphate and 1 cup of rose fertilizer over the area and mix it in. I then toss the topsoil back onto the bed, mix everything together and let the soil settle for a week or two before planting. For a single plant, I dig a hole 14 to 16 inches wide and 12 to 18 inches deep, amend the soil with organic matter and fertilizer as I do with a bed, then plant the rose.

Give them Air
Roses need plenty of space. Good air circulation reduces the risk of disease, and exposure to full sunshine increases bloom. To make sure mine remain healthy, I space shrub roses about 4 feet apart (which is two-thirds of their expected height), climbers get about 10 feet between plants, and miniature roses go into the ground about 12 inches apart.

Planting From Containers
Roses can be purchased bare root during the winter months, but I prefer to purchase established plants growing in containers. That way, I can inspect the plant for disease or insect problems, and see the size and color of the bloom.

The planting hole for a single rose bush should be the same depth as the container and about 18 inches wide. I loosen the soil all the way around the root ball to expose the roots, spread them out a bit, then set the plant in the hole at about the same depth it was growing in the pot. I fill the hole with soil that's been amended with compost, superphosphate, and rose fertilizer, and tamp gently to firm the soil down around the roots.

Whether you've planted a bare-root or a container rose, finish off your new rose bed with 2 to 3 inches of mulch to help slow water evaporation, suppress weeds, and keep the roots cool.

Feed and Water Often
The first few weeks after planting are critical for new roses. Flower production requires a constant source of energy so I feed my roses every four weeks with a rose-specific formula that's 38 percent organic and fortified with trace elements. The organic portion breaks down slowly over time, giving the plants a steady stream of nutrients. Most important is regular watering. Roses need about an inch of water per week. Building a basin beneath each rose bush and filling it once or twice at watering time will allow the moisture to trickle down slowly and wet the entire root mass.

Growing beautiful roses isn't a matter of luck, it requires advance planning and lots of follow-up care. But by giving them the right start, I know I'm well on my way to achieving success.


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