Ten Rose Care Myths. My personal experience in growing roses for the past 30 years has been eye opening. There is so much misinformation out there concerning roses that I felt compelled to write this article.
I once read an article on what flowers to grow in a cottage garden. I agreed with most of it but when the author stated that you should leave roses out because they are difficult to grow he lost all credibility for me.
No cottage garden is complete, in my humble opinion, without roses. That article spurred me to write this post on Ten Rose Care Myths!
Rose myths and wive tales are even repeated by trusted authorities on gardening. Ask a variety of rosarians and you will get many answers, even some that conflict.
My best advice…
Try it for yourself and throw out the rule book. Personal experience trumps conventional advice that doesn’t fit your area. If you read or someone tells you some garden tasks need to be done at a particular time, find out why. If you know the why then you can calculate what may work best for your climate and location.
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Rose Care Myth 1: Roses are difficult, time consuming or fussy to grow.
Total bunk! Roses are not at all hard to grow. If you have the right plant in the right place, good soil, and a modicum of good sense you can grow fabulous roses.
I think this idea that roses are hard to grow or take a lot of work comes from people growing the wrong roses or expecting perfection in blooms rather than overall beauty.
For example, I don’t grow Hybrid Teas as they are not hardy here. But there are loads of others that thrive in my location, are just as beautiful as hybrid teas, much more fragrant, and just about take care of themselves.
A good place to start is asking for recommendations from people who grow roses around your neighborhood, local garden groups, etc. Not all roses do well in every part of the country.
Seek out good garden roses that are tough, disease-resistant, and reliable. Good disease resistance starts with the type of rose.
The next is a healthy plant. Healthy plants develop good immunity systems as we do. The key to healthy plants is well-fed soil and organics. See the post How to Build your Soil for information on how to accomplish that.
Rose Care Myth 2: Pruning is only done at certain times of the year.
Pruning varies according to your location and what you are trying to accomplish so it varies dramatically. Conventional pruning advice widely tossed about is meant primarily for Hybrid Teas and is passed down from when the roses were grown for show.
It was not meant for old roses, climbers, etc. Here in California pruning is often done in January. It is the coldest month of the year and though in many areas of California the roses do not go fully dormant because of the mild climate it is the best time since the problem pests are not active.
I actually must prune late Fall after a couple of good frosts to prevent breakage from snows and since it is already cold enough I have no issues with new growth that can be damaged by the onset of cold in winter. It is not pruning alone that can encourage new growth, you also need the right temps and even day length can play a part.
I am not alone in this, here is a quote from a rosarian in Colorado that does the same: Once a couple of hard frosts or freezes have hit the garden, the rose bushes will start to go dormant and you can start on the next step in preparing roses for winter. This is the time to prune the canes on all the rose bushes, except the climbing roses, down to about half their height. This helps keep the canes from being broken over badly by heavy winter snows or those nasty whipping winter winds.
I have an entire post on pruning my climbing roses which you may find helpful.
Feel free to shape your garden roses anytime like you would any other shrub in your garden. Trust your instincts and experiences with your plants.
Don’t worry about making a mistake, it will grow back! Plus you don’t even have to prune if you don’t want to, the rose will survive without you. At the David Austin rose gardens in England they use hedge cutters to prune their hedging roses just like you would a boxwood or yew hedge!
The only thing you do want to make sure and cut out is dead or diseased wood. It just makes it look nicer but even if you did not, it would not kill the plant if you left it alone.
Why do I know that? I have seen plenty of roses in abandoned cemeteries, farmsteads, or fields that are growing and blooming away with total neglect.
Rose Care Myth 3: You need to seal the canes after pruning.
Most rose growers I have spoken with tossed this out a while back. They found it unnecessary as it really did not work any better than letting well enough alone.
If you prune in late winter the bugs that cause a problem boring into canes are dormant. I never have sealed canes and I have never had much issue with borers. Raspberry cane borers are one of the main insects that bore into rose canes and they are not active until late Spring. Most do not prune in late Spring so there is no real need to seal canes and it has been found that it can cause more harm than good.
Rose Care Myth 4: Roses Take a Lot of Water
This is one myth I clung to for a long time. Everyone says they are water hogs. I found this one to be not accurate the past 5 years.
In California, we have been in a severe drought. Water restrictions have been imposed. I thought my roses were doomed.
Because I have followed the water deeply rule rather than frequently my roses must have developed deep roots. I have a rose on a hillside behind my home and it only got watered twice during the past two summers. It bloomed like a champ the entire time. It is a David Austin Rose called Sceptre d’Isle.
My other roses received minimal water as well. I started to research it a bit and found that roses do bloom more prolifically if given ample water but the amount is far less than most people think. I do mulch deeply to keep as much moisture as I can from evaporating out of the soil so I know that helps as well.
Rose Care Myth 5: They need a big planting hole.
No, they don’t. Just dig it big enough to fit the roots in without bunching. I usually dig two shovel fulls deep and 3 or 4 wide. Water in, don’t stomp, air pockets will be removed by the soil washing down with the water.
It is not necessary nor advisable to add starter fertilizers or other amendments to the planting hole. Topdressing with some compost and mulch is sufficient. Nutrients will filter down when you water. The reasoning that researchers have found is that if you put the nutrients in the planting hole the roots have no need of branching out to find some thus curtailing the growth for a healthier plant.
We want the roses to send out long roots, it is what is best for a healthier plant!
Rose Care Myth 6: Roses are heavy feeders.
I grow more roses than I can count and I don’t feed them anymore than I do my other flowers. I spread my well-composted chicken manure liberally in the Fall and I use Agrothrive during the Summer.
Agrothrive is organic and has another benefit, it feeds the microorganisms in your soil along with your plants. See my post on building your soil and you will see ah
I will always go back to good soil as the main ingredient to successful gardening. A super gentle top dressing that works great is Worm Castings. They are fabulous on roses as well as other plants but if you have built your soil you will have plenty of worms already but in the meantime, if you want to top dress with something Worm Castings are the ticket.
Rose Care Myth 7: Roses take a lot of space
Roses come in all shapes and sizes. They can be used as ground cover, allowed to ramble up into trees, along walls, fences, and made into hedges. There is a rose that fits just about any situation! Many will even grow in pots.
I love how David Austin roses website lists different roses for different situations, they tell you if a rose is suitable for pots, creating a hedge or if it can become a climber. (many of their shrub roses are so hardy in the US that they get much taller than in the UK so you can treat them as a climber)
The Tess rose I showed how to Pillar is one and you can see from the photo in that post that it gets very, very tall. click here to view that post How to Pillar a Rose
Rose Care Myth 8: Roses need to be sprayed frequently for pests and fungus.
I garden organically. When you let nature balance itself then good bugs will help keep bad bugs in check. In early Spring I get a needled nose beetle that makes holes in my rosebuds, I handpick them early each morning or tap them off of my plants into a cup of soapy water. Once the initial outbreak is over then I have no more trouble the rest of the season.
Did you know that roses can build an immunity to the local fungus if you let them? They carry natural fungi on their leaves that is beneficial, it helps to curb diseases. But if you spray you will kill those good fungi and make the plant more susceptible to blackspot and other problems.
If you start with disease-resistant roses you can avoid many problems. Only spray with an organic solution if the problem is killing the plant and not just so the rose plant looks better.
Never, and I mean NEVER use systemic products. These rely on neonaticide that kills not only Bee populations but now it has been found that wild birds are being harmed. See ‘Huge Decline in Songbirds Linked to Common Insecticides‘.
Rose Care Myth 9: You have to cut at a 45 degree angle when pruning.
There are varying reasons given why this myth was even started. One is about sap seeping out of the cane causing issues (never seen any come from my roses ever and I have been growing them for 30+ years) and another is water sitting on a cane causing rot. Both have been proven false.
Rose Care Myth 10: Adding Epsom Salts to your soil will increase bloom and health of your Roses
Nope! I have tested this one and it did not change a thing. It is the magnesium in the Epsom Salts that is supposed to be the ticket here and unless you have magnesium deficient soil the chances of creating problems with Epsom salts are greater than it helps.
If you feed your soil with good organic practices there is no need for this additive though many are adamant about using it. Truth be told it is not the panacea you are seeking. Also, be aware that overuse can actually pollute waterways and harm beneficial organisms in our soil.
I wrote an entire article with scientific references here on the use of Epsom Salts in the Garden
For me it is better for the Epsom Salts to go in my hot bath water to ease my aching muscles from all that gardening than on my roses.
One more time……Good soil is always the best starting point. If you are new to gardening that should be your first priority.
If you have really bad soil roses can grow in pots too. Some perform better than others in pots so look for ones noted to do so.
Happy Rose Growing.