Rose garden glory

Written by katherine spiers
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The plant's finicky reputation is mostly a myth

Rose garden glory
Growing roses reaps generous rewards---even for beginners. (Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

With six hours of sunlight and well-drained soil, they’re just as easy as any other plant.

— Anthony Hosek, nursery professional

Roses, gorgeous in their many colours, are widely regarded as the most beautiful flowers in the world. They have a reputation as demanding plants, too difficult for a beginner gardener. Rose professionals across the United States, however, say roses are as easy to grow as any other plant for the backyard or patio green fingers.

Avoiding thorny rose-growing problems

“It’s a common misconception that roses need to be pampered,” says Anthony Hosek, a certified nursery professional, which has the largest selection of roses in the United States. “With six hours of sunlight and well-drained soil, they’re just as easy as any other plant.”

Jan Brider, a master gardener and consulting rosarian for the American Rose Society, keeps her 225 rosebushes happy with “sun, water and food,” using very little manpower to keep them thriving. After all, she said, “I work full time.”

The most difficult part of growing roses is the actual planting. Cuttings may be used, but Jeff Wyckoff, president of the American Rose Society in the US, warns that starting with cuttings is relatively difficult. “My advice for people who want to root cuttings is to make about two dozen from the desired plant; that way their odds of getting one or two to take are better. Old garden roses and many shrubs are much easier to root than are hybrid teas.” If that’s too daunting, buying a plant eases the work considerably.

Modern hybrid roses are recommended for first-time rose gardeners because, as Brider explained, “They have been bred to be disease-resistant and easier to grow. Some are self-cleaning, meaning the blooms fall off after they are done.” Often the name of the rose can help with the decision: Carefree, Easy Elegance and Living Easy are recommended varieties for beginning rose gardeners. Hosek also recommends Iceberg, the white rose seen “everywhere, even at industrial centres and grocery stores. Just water it twice a week and it’s happy.”

After buying the bushes, it’s time to decide where to plant them. The “six hours of sunlight” rule for roses is self-explanatory, but what exactly is “well-drained” soil?

Hosek, who’s been a “rose pro” at Armstrong for 11 years, has an easy method for testing soil. “Dig a 10-inch hole, and about as wide. Fill it with water, and if it drains in 10 to 20 minutes, it’s well-drained." If the water takes longer, he says, you must add different amendments to the soil, such as sand or silt. "Try different ratios," Hosek advises. "Add compost to lighten heavy soil. Actually, add to good soil, even.”

All is not lost if your garden conditions are not ideal. Too much or not enough sunlight can be fixed by planting in containers. “The containers can be moved around as the sun pattern changes,” Brider explained. And among the thousands of strong hybrid roses that have been developed are those that can thrive even in less-than-ideal situations and climates. Try miniature roses in a balcony garden, for example, or an elevated bed if you have plenty of space but poor soil.

“If you live in a very cold area, winter hardiness will probably be your top priority, in which case you should consider shrub roses and modern roses—hybrid teas and floribundas—on their own roots. If you live in a moist or humid area, your top priority would likely be disease resistance. Seek out roses of this type.”

Once your garden bed is made, focus on garden design. Wyckoff, the rose society president, recommends alternating light and dark colours, with tall roses in the back and shorter roses in the front for greater visual effect. If there is enough space, position the bushes about 3 feet apart, mostly to make pruning and watering easier.

Some rosebushes, such as Queen Elizabeth, grow more than 8 feet tall, while others top out at 12 inches. The tallest rosebush on record is more than 18 feet tall. The height of the smallest is only a tiny 5 inches. Floribunda, the rosebush that produces the most flowers, is the best when space is an issue, according to Hosek, because the blooms are closer together.

“These aren’t long stems for vases," he said, "but they have a lot of blossoms and are very rewarding for a grower.” Hosek recommends the orange-red Trumpeter, which grows only to 2 or 3 feet, and the pink Sexy Rexy, which is slightly smaller.

Once the roses are in the ground or containers, remember to be patient. Hosek notes that professionals sometimes take 10 years to get new varieties to market. Your rose journey will be much more immediately gratifying, since you’re starting with one of the hundreds of thousands of varieties deemed strong enough to sell.

When the planting is done, remember to follow the saying: Stop and smell your roses.

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