Grow perfect roses!

Grow perfect roses!

I am sure I am not alone in thinking that summer hasn’t really begun until the first rose is in bloom and that a garden is not complete without at least one rose. People get very nostalgic about roses and often want to grow the variety that their mother grew or they dig up old roses when they move house.

Of course, some people dislike roses because they are a lot of work or because they are prickly. But I always counter this argument with the fact that no other shrub blooms for as long for so little work. And of course many are deliciously fragrant. But they are not without a few issues, including the ever-present problem of blackspot and aphids.


Here are my tips for healthy roses.


Roses are greedy. They grow all summer, producing new flowers and leaves and they need lots of nutrients. But they are also lazy and don’t have huge root systems so you have to bring the food to them. If growing in rose beds it is best to give a good quality rose fertiliser, sprinkled around the bushes, in March or April, after pruning. Then repeat this in July, after the main flush of flowers. If growing in pots you need to feed once a week with a high-potash fertiliser such as tomato feed.


Mulching – covering the soil – will keep down weeds, improve the soil and may add nutrients too. Ideally apply a mulch in spring or autumn before the soil dries out. A mulch will also cover up blackspot spores on the soil surface and help reduce the disease. Well-rotted manure is best. Avoid using bark which will deplete the soil of nutrients.


Roses need to be pruned. This is usually done in March, when the worst of frosts are over. The key points to remember is that the aim is to remove old, diseased and badly placed shoots. Old, woody stems do not produce flowers so aim to remove most of it. Old, gnarled plants with thick, grey branches are rarely healthy. Never be afraid to prune roses hard. As long as you feed them afterwards they will quickly burst into fresh growth. It is a bit late for spring pruning but if you have an old rose you want to prune hard then there is just time. Flowering will be delayed but the bush will thank you. Always prune to just above a bud on the stem.

Old-fashioned roses, that only bloom once, in June/July, and rambling roses (not climbing roses) that only bloom once, should not be pruned in spring – prune after flowering.

Choose carefully

It is tempting to buy an old, familiar variety but unfortunately these are often prone to disease. It is not the fault of the roses; many were bred when we had filthy air full of sulphur, which prevents blackspot. They were also popular in the days when we would regularly spray our roses – something not so popular today. If planting new roses, look for those that claim to be resistant to disease. Many of the ‘Rose of the Year’ winners are very resistant to disease and great garden plants. Not all roses are heavily fragrant but even so, they are colourful summer shrubs.


Roses frequently get attacked by aphids (greenfly) in spring as the new shoots start to grow. If you must spray these use an organic spray but bear in mind that even these will kill beneficial insects. I rub off the worst of them and then let the ladybirds mop up the rest. Ladybirds spend the winter in sheltered places in the garden including the dense foliage of conifers and evergreens such as box hedging.


It is good practice to remove dead flowers as they fade. This not only makes the bushes look tidy but it encourages more flowers. As soon as the last petal drops, prune back the stem to just above the topmost full-sized leaf. You can just snap them off but proper deadheading results in a better second flush.

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