Experienced gardeners often wax philosophical about rose pruning and maintenance; leaving prospective gardeners to wonder if they could ever master such a complicated system. But let me let you in on a little secret - caring for your roses isn't that difficult! There are a few things to keep in mind, but rose care is something that even mere gardening mortals can master. Read on for a few tips on keeping your rose bushes in top shape throughout the year.
Almost all roses should be pruned in early spring. To help you remember this, just repeat to yourself, “When the forsythia blooms, it's time to prune!" Using sharp pruning shears, cut about a quarter of an inch above an outward facing bud. Be sure to cut down and way from the bud at a 45 degree angle. If you cut too far above the bud, the remaining dead tissue could develop disease. But if you cut too close, there might not be enough stem left to support the bud.
The goal of pruning is to remove dead wood and give the plant a good foundation of growth for the upcoming season. If you have a healthy, established plant, you'll want to choose three or four of the strongest looking canes that will form the frame of your bush. Choose healthy looking canes that are spaced well and prune them back to about 6" in height. If you're working with a new plant - or one that's been neglected - cut back to 12" in height.
While you're pruning the plant, remove any suckers that have grown up from the root stock and clean up any dead or diseased leaves that have fallen around the plant base. One of the most common rose diseases is black spot disease - a malady that will cause rose leaves to become spotted, die and fall off the plant. These decomposing leaves can be a breeding ground for the disease, so be sure to clean them up to prevent them from infecting your plant in the future.
Roses need extra fertilization to grow big and strong. That's why it's so important to have your soil tested by a county extension agency or farm supply/feed store before you plant your roses. If your soil has any kind of nutrient deficiencies, you'll want to address with fertilizers and soil additives before starting your garden. In particular, look for rose-specific fertilizers that are high in phosphorus and products that add rich organic matter to the soil.
In most areas, your roses will be fine over winter with a little mulch or straw around the base to keep the plant and its roots protected. However, if you live in a colder climate - typically Zone 6 on the USDA Plant Hardiness Chart or below - you'll need to take a few extra precautions. To protect your plant from harsh weather, construct a shelter out of garden stakes and burlap fabric then stuff the tent full of straw. You can also use pine boughs or other similar material to construct the tent.
Rose care and maintenance doesn't have to be that complicated - despite what so called “experts" want you to believe. If these steps sound complicated, don't worry - as time goes by and you learn more about your roses, you'll become more comfortable caring for them. With a few simple steps and adequate precautions, you'll be well on your way to building a strong, thriving rose garden.
Jessica writes for a lawn care tips website as well as a website that helps home owners with yard work.