Planting roses


Rosa Treasure trove © Ita McCobb

Roses for containers

While most roses have long roots, so while technically most can be grown in deep containers, the fact is that few large roses make successful pot plants. But, as the demand for terrace plants has grown so has the creativity of rose growers to produce smaller roses that can successfully survive in containers. 

Most of these roses come under the Miniature rose category, although any small hardy rose with a limited root spread also stands a good chance of survival in a container, if correctly cared for and planted in a deep enough pot – check maximum root spread diameter and depth then plant in a pot just a bit larger and repot as the plant grows.

Suitable roses for containers are all the Miniature roses, the Patio/Dwarf cluster-flowered rose bushes, several Groundcover roses and the more formal Half-standard roses.

To plant in a pot of at least 40 cm diameter consider the Rosa Red ace (Rosa Amruda) with its double, dark-red, rosette flowers or the bright orange-red Rosa Orange sunblaze (Rosa Meijikitar/Rosa sunblaze) or even the delicate Rosa Sweet dreams

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Roses as features

The majority of people looking to plant a rose envisage one that will become a feature in their garden – either a rose planted in a central position or a rose that will automatically draw your eye.

There are many impactful roses that could achieve this effect – of the Old garden roses, the Alba rose category make excellent feature roses. Suitable roses are perhaps the fragrant, fully double, pink Rosa Great Maiden’s blush (Rosa Cuisse de nymphe/Rosa la séduissante) or, if you plan to make a feature of a pergola or trellis try a Bourbon rose such as the sweetly scented, rosette flowering Rosa Reine Victoria. Both of these should be available from your local garden centre.

Of the Modern roses consider one of the many Shrub roses, perhaps the upright, cluster-flowered bush Rosa Anne Harkness (Rosa Harkaramel) with its urn-shaped amber flowers or the thornless, climbing (if tied) Rosa Zépherine Drouhin. Standard and Weeping standard roses were once regularly used as features but their shape has recently become considered rather forced and outdated.

Always remember, most roses do not flower in the Winter and so your “feature” could look quite bare during the Winter months if your plant is ill chosen – it may even be worth considering mixing your planting with a simple Species/Wild rose that will produce colourful decorative rosehips to tide you over the Winter months. As long as the roses are planted at a reasonable distance apart (usually 0.75 metres) they should work well together – check with your local garden centre for your best local options. 

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Roses for fragrance

Many people choose a rose simply because of its fragrance. There is nothing nicer than wandering through a garden and catching the occasional waft of a heady-perfumed rose. If you are looking for a heavily scented rose try the open, warm-pink, quarter-rosette Rosa Königin von Dänemark (Rosa bella courtisanne). For a lighter perfume you could consider the cream, edged with pinkish-red, Rosa Handel.

As for climbing roses, take a look at the very fragrant Rosa Mme Alfred Carrière with its slender smooth stems and creamy-white pink-tinged flowers. 

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Roses for colour

For true colour you cannot beat the rich colours of the Modern roses, always bearing in mind that if your rose does not have lots of leaves to present a solid backdrop to its blooms, then you should also consider its see-through effect on surrounding plants before buying it.

A good choice here would be the bush rose Rosa Just Joey with its large flowers of copper-pink with wavy-edged petals, which are well presented against dark green leaves. Alternatively, consider any of the large-flowered Hybrid Tea roses with colours ranging from rich reds through purples and yellows to pure white. 

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Beach rose rosehips (Rosa rugosa) © Ita McCobb

Roses for rosehips

During the Winter months, when soft-stemmed plants have disappeared from the garden and the woody-stemmed plants have lost their flowers, the fruits of Autumn and Winter come into their own – especially rosehips. One thing that the simple flower forms of the Species/Wild roses have over other roses is their wonderful array of rich-coloured Autumn rosehips. They add colour to a drab garden and make excellent floral decorations.

While most pollinated roses are capable of forming hips, many Modern roses are so dense with petals that insects are often not able to pollinate them. The best way to encourage hips to form is to encourage insects to your garden and not to prune your roses once Autumn has set in.

The most well-known species of Species/Wild rose that makes lots of hips is the Dog-rose (Rosa canina) and the climbing Kiftsgate rose (Rosa filipes) with its clusters of hips. Of the Old garden roses the Beach rose (Rosa rugosa) is a must with its impressive large Autumnal tomato-shaped brick-red hips.

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Roses for space-fillers

Because many rose varieties form rather open-branched shrubs, choosing a rose as a space-filler can be fraught with risks unless you are planning to fill a space with some sort of structure or trellis, in which case most Climbing rose or Rambling rose will work nicely to embellish the structure.

Of those roses that grow in other forms, try to choose one that creates a dense growth and has an abundance of leaves. Consider the low-maintenance, disease-resistant Polyantha roses such as Rosa Cécile Brünner (Rosa Mignon) or the fragrant pompom-flowered Rosa Fairy changeling (Rosa Harnumerous). Or take one of the multi-flowered Floribundas such as the pink Rosa Ainsley Dickson (Rosa Dicky/Rosa Müncher kindl) or the reddish-leaved Rosa Iced ginger with its pale copper-tinged pink flowers.

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Roses for groundcover

Small, low rose plants create excellent and decorative groundcover infill for rockeries and flowerbeds and even work well in outdoor containers and window boxes. As we have seen, there are several varieties of rose that have been specially cultivated for their ground-covering abilities. There are now quite a variety of Ground cover/Landscape roses available to choose from.

Suitable varieties are Rosa Nozomi (Rosa Heideröslein) with its blush-pink and white flowers set off by small dark leaves, the dense, cushion-forming Dwarf rose, Rosa Peek-a-boo (Rosa Brass ring/Rosa Dicgrow) and even the compact, creeping Miniature rose bush with pompom white roses Rosa Snowball (Rosa Angelita/Rosa Macangel).

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Planting roses in containers

Patio, Miniature and small Shrub roses can be grown in containers (of at least 25 cm diameter) and a depth depending on your roses initial root size. While this smallish container should be adequate for up to two years, they will ultimately need replanting in a larger pot – preferably at least two sizes larger – alternatively, plant them directly in the ground.

Roses growing in containers have limited access to quality soil so they need regular feeding and watering. A good check is to feel about 2 cm down into the soil. If it is totally dry your rose needs watering.

When preparing a container for a rose plant, place a 2cm deep layer of gravel in the bottom of the container (this helps to ensure good drainage and prevents the soil from becoming too solid at the bottom).

For potting compost you can use either special rose-potting compost from your local garden centre or, ideally, combine a mixture of one-third good quality commercial potting compost with one-third garden compost, one-third manure and a handful of bone meal.

Fill the container about one-third full and create a small mound in the centre of the pot with some more potting compost.

Spread the rose roots over this mound before filling the pot with the remainder of the earth – to just below the top of the pot – so that the green stem emerging from the brown rootstock is 2 cm below the level of the surrounding earth. Press down gently and firmly around the plant.

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Planting garden roses

There are very few places in the garden that roses cannot be planted. Although most garden roses prefer rich, well-watered, well-drained soil and at least a few hours of sunshine per day, some Climbing, Wild/Species and most Hybrid Musk roses will tolerate moderate shade.

When planting your rose there are a few rules to follow, these are:

  • Plant roses as early in March as possible in beds prepared the previous October.
  • Make each planting hole wide enough to take the spread-out roots and deep enough that the point where the green stem emerges from the brown rootstock is 2 cm below the level of the surrounding earth.
  • Rose beds should be dug to incorporate garden compost, peat (or other mulch) and a handful of bone meal. Alternatively, use a branded mixture from your local garden centre.
  • Prune bush and standard roses before planting and cut back any damaged roots.
  • Remember that all Standard roses need staking otherwise their “top-heaviness” will cause them to snap.

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Old rose plants

Most garden roses generally don’t last for more than a few years.

Once they start to deteriorate they will flower erratically and their roots decay, so be prepared to replace your rose bushes when they start to fail and avoid planting a new rose in exactly the same spot as that of any diseased rose that you may have previously uprooted and burned.

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