Tips for Success with Roses

As we’re now preparing our roses for a second flush, I thought I’d share a few favourites from our garden, along with some tips about caring for them which seem to work for us – the tests of success being an abundance of flowers and a lack of pests and disease!

I’m a great fan of the rose and can’t understand why not everyone loves them, but each to their own, it’d be a boring world if we were all the same. Personally, I have a preference for English shrub roses – they tend to be disease resistant, repeat flowering and have a strong fragrances so they’re pretty perfect.

I recently shared a picture of this gorgeous rose with some friends, to which one of them poetically replied in an adaption of the famous lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

‘A rose by any other name shall never smell as sweet as thee’ 

Of course, I totally disagree! Rosa ‘Summer Song’, an English shrub rose has it all (not surprising!) – deeply fragrant, disease resistant and a prolific repeater. I visited David Austin Roses in Albrighton a couple of years ago, with the express purpose of buying rosa ‘geranium’, to place in one of the gaps along our fence. I was too early for this particular specimen, which is only sold bare-rooted throughout autumn and winter. Well, you can’t go home empty handed, particularly from such a wonderful nursery, can you? I was so taken with ‘Summer Song’s’ vibrant colour I just couldn’t resist – it has settled nicely in a sunny spot next to the greenhouse and growing to a height and spread of 4 feet, produces an abundance of highly perfumed blooms throughout summer.

Rose Planting Tips

  • Select and plant bare root roses in autumn or at the latest, March – a summer planting of potted specimens will mean copious watering is required
  • Water the rose thoroughly before planting, for bare roots, soak for an hour in a bucket of water
  • Plant in a prepared hole with well rotted manure in the base, dust micorrhyzal fungi onto the roots and make sure the plant’s soil level stain is level with the surrounding soil (for bare rooted specimens, the graft union should be just below the soil surface)

If it’s a standard rose you’re looking for, rosa ‘Iceberg’ is a fantastic choice. We’ve planted three in a long border just outside the back door – when the door or windows are opened, the perfume is intoxicating, particularly in the presence of a light breeze.  This versatile floribunda rose can also be obtained as a bush or climbing rose.

Standard Rose Tip

  • Prune standards in October or when strong wind is forecast – this will help avoid wind rock which roses hate  – I learned this from bitter experience when the graft union detached itself from the stem one year!

Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’, an English shrub rose, is a consistent and highly desirable rose – a wonderful powerful scent, dark crimson velvety petals and at each stage of its opening, from small buds to fully open  flowers the blooms are exquisite. Growing to a height and spread of 3.5 feet, ‘Munstead Wood’ is a prolific repeater and for me a must in any garden.

Disease and Pest Tips

  • I don’t experience significant black spot and so just remove affected leaves as and when they appear. Selecting resistant specimens is a good plan!
  • Avoid powdery mildew by ensuring your roses are fed well and in dry hot weather, watered frequently.  Mulch to conserve moisture and ensure there is good airflow through the branches – see pruning tips below
  • Plant adjacent shrubs with an aphid ‘off putting’ aroma – we plant lavender or rosemary in close proximity and the roses don’t suffer with any significant green fly infestations (we never spray our roses with pesticides with anything other than very diluted washing up liquid)

We have a couple of ramblers in the garden, this particular rose is ‘Sanders White’, and it flowers prolifically in June, has a lovely fragrance, but unfortunately doesn’t repeat (there’s a minor flush in Autumn after a hot summer), as ramblers tend not to. It’s the first rose I planted in our garden, approximately 20 years ago when I knew very little about the habits of these roses! This one can grow to to a height in excess of 25 feet, so unless this is a desired height, it needs keeping in check….

Pruning Tips

  • Prune according to type of rose – I am guided by the comprehensive advice on the RHS website, making sure that as a rule of thumb, old/dead/diseased branches are removed promptly and remaining branches are not crossing and rubbing each other.
  • Always prune with clean sharp secateurs with a downward cut just above and slanting away from a bud
  • Deadhead regularly to encourage new blooms

I couldn’t possibly write about roses without including rosa ‘Albertine’, which we have in both our gardens. It is a relatively smaller rambler (20 feet!), an old rose and so it doesn’t repeat which is such a shame as it is stunningly beautiful in both form and colour and has a warm sweet scent.

Rose Feeding Tips

  • Plant in a prepared hole with well rotted manure in the base, dust micorrhyzal fungi onto the roots and make sure the plant’s soil level stain is level with the surrounding soil (for bare rooted specimens, the graft union should be just below the soil surface)
  • Feed in February and July (after the first flush), I use Vitax Q4, which was recommended at David Austin when I bought my first rose many years ago (I believe they sell their own brand now)
  • In March, after feeding, mulch with a soil improver

In our garden in Wales, we’ve planted the highly scented English shrub rose, rosa ‘The Poet’s Wife’. Growing to a height and spread of 3.5 feet, this lovely rose is a great repeater and grows well despite not receiving the same attention as the roses in our home garden.

Rose Watering Tips

  • During summer, even established roses will need watering once a week and more frequently in prolonged dry spells
  • Use a watering can rather than a hose in dry spells to conserve supplies

Rosa ‘Summer Wine’ is a lovely single flower climber, grows to approximately 8 feet, always performs well and has a strong fragrance. As a vigorous grower, the only problem is keeping up with it in summer!

Climbing Rose Tips

  • Ensure the structure you choose has the capacity to support the rose at it’s full height and spread
  • Tie in branches using a loose framework aiming to use the space available to good effect
  • Tie the branches in a horizontal direction to promote an even spread of flowers, otherwise there will be a proliferation at the top of a stem resulting from a natural inclination to grow vertically
  • Cut out any stems growing in the wrong direction

Last but certainly not least, but the newest acquisition in the garden is yet another fragrant English shrub rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ – we’ve added a group of these in the circular bed in our side garden to good effect. I had a particular height restriction and so at 3 feet, this rose is perfect. Lady Emma roses morph through a range of colours as the flower ages, and as can be seen in the photographs, has a distinctive dark foliage. The flowering period is amazing, the bottom right picture was taken in December!

Finally – “Of all the flowers, me thinks a rose is best.”

(‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ William Shakespeare)

6 thoughts on “Tips for Success with Roses

  1. Alexa Parker says:

    You grow the most beautiful roses. I have always wanted to plant a rose garden but I haven’t been brave enough to try it, yet. My mother had roses in her garden and they were just lovely. I learned quite a bit from your blog and I appreciate your sharing the details.


    • Phao Hewitson says:

      Thank you Alexa – I remember feeling exactly the same when I first starting gardening – I now plant roses in amongst companion perennials with satisfying results.


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