In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2003
Regional Report

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Gardeners often plant roses to commemorate special events. This lavender rose, 'Blue Girl', was introduced in 1964 -- a special year in my family's history.

Planning a Rosy Future

Often called the Queen of flowers, roses have played a starring role in gardens for centuries. And it's no wonder. What other plant can possibly compete with the fragrance and beauty of a rose?

Roses also have the reputation of being difficult to grow. Perhaps the challenge of growing healthy roses has been part of their attraction. But rose breeders have leveled the playing field by introducing new varieties that tolerate less-than-perfect growing conditions. And because they're more adaptable -- even in my sunshine-challenged garden -- I can be successful. Here's how you can be successful with roses, too:

Before You Start
When you're buying roses for your garden, don't forget to include fragrant varieties. Surprisingly, many beautiful roses have little fragrance. Make room for some scented varieties that will perfume your entire garden.

Rules of the Road
Roses need lots of sunlight – at least six hours a day – or they won't flower freely. Good air circulation also is essential if you want to keep your roses in top form. Find out how large your plants will be at maturity and space them accordingly.

Eliminate weed competition by spreading a 3- or 4-inch mulch of shredded bark or other material under your roses. Because roses have shallow root systems, it's best to tread lightly by using a long-handled cultivator when weeding around your plants.

During dry periods, water your roses in the morning so the plants have time to dry out before nightfall. A drip irrigation system is probably your best bet because it delivers water directly to the root zones of the plants and doesn't wet the foliage.

And finally, if space is at a premium, grow vertically. Climbers and ramblers trained on a trellis or arbor can add drama, color, and fragrance to any garden setting. Just remember that over time, climbing roses can get heavy, so be sure your supports are sturdy.

When to Plant
There are two traditional planting times for roses; late winter, and early fall. Bare-root roses, which are available in late winter, are dug from the field during their dormant stage. The roots are plunged into a box or bag filled with sawdust, and the canes are dipped in wax to prevent premature growth while in transit and storage. Purchasing bare-root roses is sometimes an act of faith. Their dormant stage belies their potential, and there's really nothing to go by except the picture on the package.

On the other hand, bare-root roses are convenient little packages. They're relatively inexpensive, and you can fit a lot of them into the trunk of your car!

Container-grown roses take a lot of the guesswork out of choosing roses for your garden. You can see the flower color and size and inspect the canes and foliage for pest problems prior to purchase. Container roses may be set out almost any time of the year, but early fall is usually the best time to buy them.

Planting Tips
Whatever your choice – bare-root roses to plant in late winter, or container roses to plant in early fall, here are some planting guidelines:

1. 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 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 bare-root 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. For a container rose, the planting hole 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.

2. Water Well
The first few weeks after planting are critical for new roses. 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 some follow-up care. But by giving them the right start, I know I'm well on my way to achieving success with my roses.


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