Anne O'Neill fell in love with roses in her native Ireland and for the past five years has been the curator of the Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Anne thanks Jason Brown of Conard-Pyle/Star Roses, Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses, Pat Henry of Roses Unlimited, and Gene Waring of the Manhattan Rose Society for their input with this article.
Roses grow gloriously in the wild and have been thriving in older gardens for centuries, often with absolutely no care. So why do gardeners, especially organic gardeners, believe roses require so much attention and regular spraying with toxic chemicals that they are not worth growing?
If you love the beauty and fine fragrance of roses, you'll be glad to know that when you give them what they need--plentiful sunshine and air circulation, along with well-drained, fertile soil--and follow the steps I've outlined for you on the following pages, you'll discover how easy and rewarding they are to grow.
Success with roses begins with planting varieties suited to your conditions. To start you off, I've listed some of the roses that perform well in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where I work, as well as recommendations from experts around the country.
When shopping for roses, you'll see that they are sold either with bare roots (with the soil washed off) or growing in a pot. Bareroot plants are dormant--they have no leaves or flowers. Plant them in early spring, before they start growing. Look for plants labeled "#1" grade--that indicates the highest quality--with at least three thick canes.
Roses in pots are actively growing and can be planted anytime in spring or fall. Whether you choose container or bareroot plants, be sure they have strong, green canes with white pith. The roots should be plentiful and almost as long as the topgrowth.
Roses are often sold "grafted"--that is, the top part with the flowers you want is attached to a stem and roots from a different variety. Grafted roses flower sooner than "own-root" roses, and they can be more vigorous; however, I prefer roses that are grown on their own roots. They come through harsh winters better than grafted plants because they are able to sprout from below the soil surface if they die back. Own-root roses are typically smaller at time of purchase and take longer to get to full size.
Rose Care Calendar
Since March weather is quite different in Atlanta than it is in Brooklyn (or Denver or San Diego), I've organized this calendar by season rather than by month.