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updated: 5/22/2014 6:08 AM

Don't be afraid to grow roses

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  • Double Knockout is a beautiful shrub rose that's easy to grow.

    Double Knockout is a beautiful shrub rose that's easy to grow.

  • Plant roses in borders where they can mingle with perennials.

    Plant roses in borders where they can mingle with perennials.

By Diana Stoll, The Planter's Palette

The thought of growing roses strikes fear in the hearts of many gardeners. Why? Maybe it's because of their place in history. Cleopatra used the power of roses in her seduction of Mark Antony. Roman armies were showered with rose petals upon their victorious returns from battle. The War of the Roses was so named for the badges used by the Yorkists and Lancastrians in England's civil war in 1455 to 1487 -- a red rose for the House of Lancaster, a white rose for the House of York.

Maybe it's because they have inspired poets and playwrights like this famous quote by William Shakespeare. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Maybe it's because they are often seen in large collections, gardens dedicated to the genus Rosa, too intimidating for gardeners to grow in their own landscape.

Roses are plants like any others. Give them the conditions they prefer, plant them correctly, give them proper care, and they will thrive. Follow these basic guidelines and you'll be richly rewarded with blooms like no other.

Choose the right site

Roses need sunshine. At least six hours is required. A little shade in the afternoon is acceptable and will actually delay the fading of luscious blooms.

Roses need well-drained soil that has been abundantly amended with organic matter. They cannot tolerate heavy, wet soils. Adding organic matter is essential to growing roses. If you are unsure about the drainage of your soil, dig an 18-inch hole, fill with water, and walk away. Check it in 5 or 6 hours. If the water is gone, your drainage is adequate.

Plant them correctly

It is easiest to plant container-grown roses. These plants, actively growing with strong roots, establish into your soil quickly. They can also be planted at any time during the growing season.

When planting your new rose, gently remove it from its pot. If the roots were circling around the pot, untangle them with your hands, or score the roots in three or four places with a garden knife.

Planting depth is determined by the type of rose. Hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses are sensitive to our cold Midwestern winters. When planting these types, the bud union (the swollen area near the base of the plant where the rose was grafted on the roots) should be positioned 2 to 3 inches below the soil where it will be protected from winter damage.

Shrub and ground cover roses are not grafted and should be planted at the same depth as they were in their pots.

Dig a wide hole and add that very important organic matter. Mix in bonemeal or superphosphate according to packaged directions. Place your new rose in the hole, fill in with soil/organic matter mix, gently firm the soil, and water in well. Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to help conserve the moisture.

Give them appropriate care

Roses need water and fertilizer. They prefer consistent moisture and need an inch of water per week through the growing season. If you need to water because Mother Nature isn't cooperating, try to keep water off the foliage to reduce the chance of fungal diseases.

Roses are hungry. It's hard work producing all those beautiful and bountiful blooms! Most varieties benefit from two feedings -- one in spring and another around the 4th of July. Use a balanced fertilized (10-10-10) or a specially blended rose fertilizer. Stop feeding after August 15. New growth after this point is easily damaged in winter.

Protect your roses in winter. After some hard frosts, pile on 10 to 12 inches of well-drained soil or loose mulch over the base of the plant. I open a bag of mulch and dump it right over the top of the rose. Gently jiggling the stems of the rose encourages the mulch downward over the base. Do not prune roses in fall -- wait until spring to perform this task.

Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit

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