Since ancient times, roses have been symbols of love and passion. Valued for their visual beauty and alluring fragrances, they have been a perpetual source of inspiration for artists and poets, the main constituent of many perfumes and potpourri, and always a favorite for Valentine's Day.



Many gardeners are now making a final pilgrimage to their local garden centers seeking just a few plants to fill empty spots here and there or add splashes of color to their beds, borders and patios. Containers overflowing with multi-colored annuals may be all that is needed, but as you pass through the colorful displays, the sweet perfume and irresistible lure of roses in full bloom draws even the most reluctant homeowner to admire their beautiful flowers in every color of the rainbow.

Since ancient times, roses have been symbols of love and passion. Valued for their beauty and alluring fragrances, they have been a perpetual source of inspiration for artists and poets, the main constituent of many perfumes and potpourri, and always a favorite for Valentine's Day. Despite these glowing attributes, for those of us who may have tried to cultivate these thorny bushes, growing robust, disease-free roses may have been a constant source of consternation and frustration. With careful selection and proper care, however, nearly every gardener should be able to cultivate a few of these romantic beauties.


Roses require plentiful sunshine for healthy growth and flowering; six hours of morning sun is preferable to six hours of afternoon sun as this enables any moisture on the leaves to dry off early in the day while protecting the bushes from extreme heat later in the day. Good air circulation around the bushes is critical to reduce diseases.


Proper soil preparation is a key factor for the success of growing these handsome flowering shrubs. Roses prosper in slightly acidic, well-drained soils, high in humus content with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Add organic matter including compost, peat moss, shredded bark or decomposed cow manure. Mix superphosphate into the soil to promote strong root production and flowering.


When planting a potted rose bush, prepare a hole twice as wide as the container and to a depth that will allow the bud union to be about 1 to 2 inches below ground level. The bud union is a knob, often shaped like a fist, where the canes come together to join the main trunk. If this knob is not evident, plant the shrub at the same depth that it is growing in the pot, taking care to keep the soil intact around the root system as you transfer the bush into your prepared hole. Water deeply and apply a layer of mulch over the root system without allowing the mulch to come into contact with the woody stems.


Roses need about 1 inch of water per week to thrive. A deep watering at the base of the shrubs twice a week is preferred as this encourages roots to grow deeper into the soil, reducing stress during heat and drought. Overhead watering should be avoided to reduce diseases, especially powdery mildew and black spot, but if necessary, water early in the day to enable foliage to dry off before evening; soaker hoses are ideal.


During the active growing season, roses enjoy regular fertilization, ideally at least once a month. Aphids and beetles tend to be the most persistent insect pests while leaf diseases, especially prevalent during hot, humid weather, can be unsightly. Many systemic products are available which can be applied at the base of the plant and will be drawn into the plant tissue through the roots reducing the need for constant spraying. Consult your local garden center for products specifically formulated for feeding and treating roses.


There are innumerable varieties of roses available in the nursery trade, but none are more captivating than the beautiful hybrid teas and grandiflora roses. Long stems display perfectly formed, pointed buds and large elegant blooms in a dazzling array of rainbow colors. Grandiflora roses tend to be somewhat more vigorous and taller in habit than hybrid teas and their blooms are produced in clusters. Unfortunately, these types of roses are among the most demanding and should be grown more for the beauty of their flowers than for landscape value.

Floribunda roses produce clusters of smaller flowers on bushy, sturdy plants that require less spraying than their fancy cousins. Many new cultivars feature blooms up to 4 inches across with hybrid tea form on longer stems. Climbing roses produce especially long, flexible canes ideal for fences, arbors, or pergolas, but unlike true vines, their stems require that they be tied to their support system.

Shrub roses are a diverse, attractive group of hardy, lower-maintenance bushes developed from a wide array of rose species. While the flowers may lack the fragrance and picture-perfect flower form of the hybrid teas, they provide bountiful flowers and many potential uses. Many of the newer hybrids, especially the Knockout roses, are remarkably disease resistant with handsome foliage, consistent blooms, and some shade tolerance.

Perhaps the hardiest of all are the Rugosa roses. These suckering carefree roses with spiny stems prefer light, sandy soils. They are tolerant of salt and drought making them ideal candidates for seaside plantings and make a perfect hedge or ground cover in hard to grow locations. The crinkled foliage requires no spraying and fertilization is rarely needed. Large orange-red hips appear in autumn and provide fall and winter interest.


Roses are surprisingly durable and will survive with neglect, but given ample sunshine, moisture, nutrients, routine spraying and winter protection, these popular shrubs will produce magnificent blooms their first season and provide years of exquisite beauty.

Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover, Mass., for more than 30 years. Her weekly gardening column Green Thumbs Up has appeared in Community Newspapers for more than a decade. She is a member of two local garden clubs, past President of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at two garden centers.