Planting and Aftercare of Roses

Rose planting differs little from the planting of shrubs and the season is the same as that for deciduous shrubs, namely from autumn to spring. This is for plants lifted from the open ground. If, however, plants are obtained in containers from which they can be moved without disturbing the soil around the roots, they can be planted at any time. Roses planted for massed display in beds or borders are spaced 1 \ to 2 ft (45 to 60cm) apart, but vigorous shrub roses may be as much as 4 or 5 ft apart and climbers against a wall or frame can easily fill 8 or 10 ft (2.5 to 3 m) each.

How roses are bought

Nurserymen nearly always sell year-old plants, known as maidens. These will have from two to five stems all coming from about the same point close to the roots. This is because the plant has been produced by joining a growth bud of the variety required to a rootstock of a quite different rose, chosen for its vigour and ease of increase. The root, known as the stock, is subsequently prevented from making any shoots of its own but passes all its sap through the bud grafted upon it. The point where bud (or scion) and root (or stock) were joined, known as the union, can always be detected because this is the place from which the top growth starts. When planting it is desirable to keep this point of union just below the surface of the soil. The particular form of grafting used to join bud and stock is known as budding.

Pruning roses

The pruning of roses can be made to appear complicated but is in reality very simple. When roses are first planted all stems are pruned severely, which means that all are cut to a length of 3 or 4 in (8 or 10cm) at most. This can be done when the rose is put in but as a rule is left until early spring as a precaution in case there is some dying back or withering after planting.

In subsequent years pruning can be done at any time between mid-autumn and early spring, or for ramblers in late summer or early autumn as soon as the flowers have faded. The object, as I have already explained, is to keep up a supply of strong young growth and to get rid of worn-out old growth. With the most vigorous ramblers such as American Pillar, Dorothy Perkins and Excelsa, this can be reduced to a simple formula. Each year, as soon as the flowers fade, cut out all the stems that have just flowered and train the young non-flowering stems in their place.

With less vigorous climbers a little more inspection of growth is needed. A lot of the old flowering stems can be cut out but not all because some will be carrying good new shoots as well. Cut these back to the best of the new shoots and shorten some of them by a foot or so especially if thin or weak.

With bedding roses, whether large flowered or cluster flowered, start by cutting out all old stems that are carrying little or no new growth and also any that look diseased. Then shorten the young stems that are left, the longest and strongest on the cluster-flowered varieties, by about one-third their length, the weaker ones by a half or two-thirds.

This final pruning can be a little more severe for large-flowered varieties, especially if exhibition quality blooms are required. Then the best stems can be shortened by half or even two-thirds, the thinner ones cut back to 3 or 4 in (8 or 10 cm) or even removed altogether.

Shrub roses are simply thinned out, some of the older stems being removed and some of the younger ones shortened if the bushes are getting too big.


When roses are budded only the top growth will produce the required flowers. If shoots are allowed to grow from the roots, or even from the main stem of the plant below the point of budding (visible as a distinct swelling) they will be from the root-stock and will produce wild rose flowers instead of garden rose flowers. All such suckers must, therefore, be cut out directly they are seen and right back to the root from which they grow. Any growth from the main stem of a standard rose will be a sucker and should be removed.

Feeding roses

Roses repay regular and generous feeding. Every winter or early spring some manure or rotted vegetable compost should be spread over the beds. In early spring they should have a top-dressing of peat and bonemeal.

Rose blackspot is best controlled by applying benomyl or triforine fish manure or bonemeal and dried blood. These will supply the basic food but, even so, more is almost certain to be needed and can be given as a compound fertilizer two or three times in late spring and summer. National Growmore will do at 2oz (55 g) per square yard each time, or a proprietary rose fertilizer may be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Keeping roses healthy

Roses also benefit from routine spraying to keep down pests and diseases which can weaken or disfigure them. A systemic insecticide (i.e. one that enters the sap) such as menazon, dimethoate or formothion will take care of most of the pests if applied once a month during the growing season. Thiram or maneb applied once a fortnight from late spring until early autumn will look after most of the diseases. But it is important to get the first spray on before black spot, the most troublesome of rose diseases, starts to spread. Alternatively, a systemic fungicide such as benomyl or triforine can be used monthly.

Really that is all there is to rose growing except to cut off all the faded flowers, with a few inches of stem, regularly in summer to keep the plants growing and flowering.

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