Roses bring a unique beauty to gardens. Long believed to be difficult to care for, roses do require some regular mulching, pruning, fertilizing and watering. Organizing tasks by season, however, keeps your bushes healthy without massive effort. Make rose care part of your regular garden routine and enjoy the results.
Establishing Rose Bushes
Choose a hospitable site for your rose bushes. This means well-drained soil and a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of sun a day. Ideally, the area receives breezes but not high winds. Test soil drainage by digging a hole at least 6 inches deep and filling it with water. If it drains instantly, your soil might be too sandy to hold moisture and will need some composted organic material added. If the hole drains slowly (more than 5 minutes), adding sand, peat moss and pebbles will let water through faster so plant roots don't drown.
Dig a hole at least 6 inches deeper than the length of the rose bush roots. Soak bare-root plants for several hours before planting; keep potted rose roots damp. Add a handful of gravel or sand to the bottom of the hole to insure drainage for new small roots. Mix soil from the hole with composted organic matter and peat moss. Add a small handful of bone meal. (Do not add other fertilizers when planting because they can burn new roots.) Dampen soil in hole, plant rose bush, tamp down soil and water thoroughly. Exact planting depth (the position of the plant crown in relation to the dirt) might be depend on climate; check at the nursery for local advice.
Monitor your new rose regularly for signs of disease while it is getting established. Heavy leaf-drop, withering of leaves, chewed spots, chalky-looking dust, and yellowing or dark-marked leaves are all signs of attack, whether by insects or virus. Most rose problems can be successfully addressed with prompt action. Consult your local County Extension or nursery for advice on how to handle rose problems organically or chemically.
Setting Up a Routine
Schedule rose care tasks by the season. Spring chores include clearing old mulch and fertilizing. Remove and discard wood chips or other mulch piled around the main stems for winterizing. Clearing the root area makes water and nutrient absorbtion easier; discarding old mulch lessens the chance of disease. Cut off dead or diseased branches. Prune other branches to enhance the shape and balance of your bush. Remove suckers or offshoots that crisscross each other. Follow the general lines of the main branches, seeking, whenever in doubt, to encourage branches that broaden the plant's general shape rather than narrow it (this is nicknamed "open-heart" pruning). Cut pruned branches with a slanting downward cut, back to a bud or buds that will form a branch in the direction you want. Fertilize before blooming, following directions.
Prepare your roses for full bloom and the stresses of hot weather. Anchor waving branches to trellises or fences to prevent breakage with the weight of blooms. Maintain your fertilizing schedule, noting when fertilizing should stop. Cover roots with a layer of wood chips or shredded bark to keep roots cool. Water regularly, keeping spray low toward the roots (water on leaves can foster diseases). Inspect roses on muggy days for signs of mildew, black spot or insects. Take prompt action to deter the spread of disease or insect damage.
Use fall time to ready roses for winter. Cease fertilizing if you have not already. Trim back broken branches, out of control shoots, or suckers. This is also the best time of year to prune old, once-blooming roses. After the first frost, which signals your rose bush to shut down for cold weather, mulch heavily for winter, using wood chips or bark mulch. In very cold climates, rose growers build burlap shelters for roses and mulch them up to a foot or more in height.