Care & Cultivation
27. Care and Cultivation of Roses
What to do First
After unpacking, inspect the roots and, if dry, stand the plants in a bucket of water for up to an hour to moisten the root system thoroughly.
Plant as soon as possible but, if ground is not ready or too wet, temporarily ‘heel’ the plants into a shallow trench on a spare patch of ground, covering the roots with moist soil.
If there’s no ground available in a workable condition stand the plants in a cool shed or garage until conditions improve. To ensure the roots don’t dry out, keep them in their poly-wrapper or wrap them in damp hessian or newspaper.
Soil Preparation and Planting
As the bushes will remain in the same patch of soil for a number of years, careful siting and good ground preparation are important. Given this, they are easily grown and will succeed on a wide range of soils.
If possible choose a part of the garden that is not too exposed and where the bushes will be in full sun or partial shade. Although very adaptable, roses are unlikely to do well in very exposed positions and will not thrive in full shade or under trees.
For best results, a humus-rich, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil is needed, so dig thoroughly and deeply, incorporating plenty of well-rotted organic matter like compost, leaf mould or manure. Be sure to remove all perennial weeds as you dig and, before planting, rake in a dressing of a balanced rose fertiliser. Do not lime unless the soil is very acid and do not plant roses immediately after other roses unless you first replace the soil.
Dig a hole of sufficient depth and diameter to comfortably accommodate the roots when spread out. On shallow, chalky soils dig the hole out to 60cm (2ft) deep. Plant each bush so that the bud union finishes up at or slightly below soil level. When planting a climbing rose against a wall, dig the hole at least 35cm (14in) away from the base of the wall.
Plant bush roses 60-75cm (2-2½ft) and climbers 2.1m (7ft) apart. After trimming any damaged ends, spread the roots out carefully in each planting hole and, refill with good topsoil. After refilling each hole, tread the soil gently to firm the plant in.
Your bushes will benefit from an annual spring mulch of organic matter, like well-rotted manure or good quality, weed-free garden compost, to suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture. Spread it thickly every spring on the surface of the ground while the soil is still moist from winter rain but keep it away from the immediate base of each plant. Gradually over the years it will improve the soil’s structure, drainage qualities and ability to hold plant nutrients in the root zone.
Each year in April, at the same time as you mulch, top-dress the plants with some balanced compound rose fertiliser. Hoe regularly to keep down weeds but be careful not to hoe too deeply, as shallow roots are easily damaged by an over-enthusiastic hand.
In dry weather give plants a generous watering every one to two weeks. Recently planted bushes, climbers against walls and plants on sandy soils need most frequent watering. When the flowers fade on a branch, dead-head by cutting back to the second or third leaf below the bottom flower.
Pruning and Training
The best time to prune is in spring when new growth is just starting; in most areas and most years this will be sometime in March. Bush varieties need hard pruning in their first year to stimulate strong new shoots from the base of the bush. Remove any very thin stems completely and cut back the remainder to 3 or 4 buds. This should leave them about 5in long. As far as possible all pruning cuts should be sloping and made above a good, outward-facing bud. Cut cleanly with a sharp pair of secateurs.
In subsequent years cut back strong shoots by about half and weaker shoots by two thirds. Remove any dead or damaged wood and any suckers arising from the rootstock.
Climbing varieties need little pruning in their first year; simply trim back any dead tips or damaged shoots. In subsequent years pruning consists of removing dead, very old and damaged wood, any unwanted growths and any suckers.
Bush roses rarely require support but climbing types require training and support from the outset. On a wall, fence or trellis train the main shoots as near to the horizontal as possible. From these main shoots upward growing laterals will develop and these will bear the flowers. On a pillar wind the stems in an ascending spiral around the post.