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  • Writer's pictureDigger and Gina McLean

Really Rockin' Roses

Roses are a delightful flower. The wide variety of colors! The heavenly aroma! What Valentine's Day would be complete without that dozen roses? Roses are a favorite in the landscape, too. I lived in the Western U.S. for many years and roses are easy to grow there with no spraying. Yes, I said no spraying! I had a yard full of beautiful, carefree roses and cut flowers from May to November. So when I moved to the South, imagine my surprise when I planted my first rosebush and black spot immediately moved in. Numerous rose bushes have met their Maker in my Southern yard, so over time, I've learned to plant roses that require less maintenance because I am not consistent with a sprayer.

There are lots of rose experts out there who know way more about roses than I do, and if you love roses and want to try to have some in your yard, here are some things that may help you be successful.

1. Cultivate Knowledge. If you want to learn about roses, there is a lot of good information out there. K&M Nursery in Buckatunna, MS has a great website with a lot of good information just for Southern gardeners. Their owner, James Mills, has probably forgotten more about roses than most have ever known, so they are a good place to start. Mississippi State University also has many really good articles you can read online through their extension service and MSU Cares. Join the American Rose Society. I joined this year and they have a wealth of information for rose newbies. You can find out about them at

2. Plant Smart. Start with rose varieties that will do well in the Southern climate. So many people love the Knock Out roses and Drift roses and I have some of those, but the roses that really do great for me are the old rose varieties which are called heritage roses. Heritage roses are defined as roses that existed before 1867. I bought two of those little gems at a garden show a few years ago and they have consistently bloomed with very little maintenance. K&M Nursery suggests that roses grafted on the Fortuniana root stock grow larger and healthier in the Southern U.S. than most other roses. My experience is that the roses that are sold at the Big Box stores will not grow here without regular and consistent spraying. Forget those hybrid teas, floribundas, etc. because even if the tag says "Disease Resistant" you are still going to have to have a good spraying program in place. When planting roses, dig a hole twice as wide and deep as your container and amend the soil with a good compost and some pine bark soil conditioner. Make sure when planting in Zones 7 and higher that the bud union is above ground level, to prevent the rose from reverting back to it's root stock.

3. Water well. Roses need about 3" of water per week to thrive, so if rain isn't in the forecast, make sure you soak them. It is better to water in the morning, so the leaves can dry during the day, which helps prevent black spot and powdery mildew.

4. Spray Regularly. Okay, I know I lost about three quarters of you with that statement, but all of the rose experts say that if you want beautiful roses and lots of cut flowers, you are going to have to spray them every couple of weeks in the growing season. My experience is that if you select the right roses, they aren't going to be perfect cut rose specimens, but you can have roses to enjoy in your yard.

5. Fertilize Consistently. Roses are heavy feeders and need to be regularly fertilized during the growing season with a slow release fertilizer or compost spread around the base of the plant. For prolific blooms, select a fertilizer with a high middle number. The middle number is phosphorus, which promotes buds and blooms. Fertilizers high in the first number, nitrogen, will give you stem and leaf growth, but no blooms.

6. Mulch Deeply. Mulch with bark or wood mulch to a 2"-3" depth. This will keep the roots cool and will conserve moisture. The mulch will break down to provide organic matter to soil also. We make a nitrogen stabilized mulch called Flower & Garden Mulch that is great for mulching all types of flowers, and would be an excellent choice for your roses.

7. Prune Wisely. Prune in January or February, before new growth gets started. Get rid of any dead or diseased stems first, then try to cut the rose back by about 1/3. Cut out any twiggy interior stems or stems that cross others in the center of the plant for good air circulation. Remove all of last years leaves, too.

8. Enjoy Fully! Take time to enjoy your roses. Beautiful blooms and the heavenly smell bring peace and delight to even the most stressful day.

Dig It? It's Grow Time.

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