Many gardeners refuse to grow roses because they are prone to diseases and pests, often won't flower or will only flower sporadically and may frequently look bedraggled or even half dead. Spring care will prevent all of these problems, and done correctly it will give you a rose bush that will make your neighbors and friends green with envy.
When to do your spring rose care depends on where you live. Most experts agree home gardeners should time their rose spring care to coincide with the blooming of forsythia shrubs.
Unwrap your winterized rose bushes or remove any mulch or straw you piled around them for the cold season. Expose the soil around your rose bush by removing mulch to a width of 18 inches from the base of the plant. Sharpen your pruning shears before you begin pruning as sharp cuts heal faster than ragged cuts.
Proper pruning is the most important part of spring rose care. Make each cut on a 45 degree angle 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud. Buds are the slightly raised, reddish scales on the rose cane.
Remove damaged and dead canes first. Damaged and dead canes appear withered or shriveled and are black to dark brown. Make your cuts 2 to 3 inches into the healthy (dark green to light brown) growth.
Remove weak and thin canes. Thin canes are defined as rose canes smaller than the diameter of a pencil. Shorten the overall height of the rose bush by 1/2 to 2/3. A properly pruned rose will have three to five healthy, stout canes per bush. The center should be open and none of the canes should touch, cross or grow in toward the center.
There are many types of roses: modern shrub roses, floribundas, miniature, hybrid teas, old fashioned and grandifloras. While the pruning technique remains the same for each type of rose, some types need a little extra pruning to thrive.
Roses that bloom once a year, like most old-fashioned or grandifloras, bloom on old wood. This means you should wait until the rose finishes blooming in late spring before you prune. Remove dead canes in early spring, but wait on all other pruning.
Hybrid tea and other grafted roses will need to have suckers (growths emanating from the rootstock) removed. Dig down until you expose the root that is producing the sucker. Cut the sucker off at the root and recover with soil.
Modern shrub roses prefer the 1/3 method of pruning: remove 1/3 of the oldest (2 or more years old) canes and leave the rest of those canes. Leave 1/3 of the youngest (1 year old) canes and remove the rest of those canes. Shorten the height of the rose by 1/3.
Fertilize your rose with a balanced 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 organic or chemical fertilizer. Give each rose shrub 1/2 to 1 cup of fertilizer. Circle the rose with the fertilizer, starting it 6 inches from the base of the rose spreading it to 18 inches from the base. Gently work the fertilizer into the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. Use a hand trowel or rake to do this. Give your rose 1 to 2 inches of water to settle the fertilizer into the soil.
After you have pruned and fertilized your rose bush, reapply the mulch. You can use the mulch you pulled from around the base from the previous year or use new mulch. Wood chips, compost, well-rotted manure, straw and shredded bark are all excellent mulches for rose bushes. Spread the mulch from the base of the rose bush to 6 inches outward from the plant. Mulch should not exceed 2 inches deep.
Always disinfect your pruning shears between rose bushes. If you are removing diseased canes disinfect your shears between cuts. Use 1 part bleach and 10 parts water mixed in a large plastic container as your disinfectant.
Always burn or throw away pruned rose canes. Do not compost rose canes; they can introduce disease into your compost pile.