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Making a Rose Happy
Most roses need decent soil, a lot of sunlight, and at least some water and fertilizer. Some roses also need some spraying to stay healthy. That said, the first rose I planted at our old home in southern NJ in clay soil so thick it sticks to your shovel was going great guns after being totally ignored for more than a year. (The rose is the floribunda Apricot Nectar). Many modern varieties will do just fine and produce roses for you with minimal care. But like so many other things in life, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out.Select a site
You'll want a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably morning sun. The area should be well-drained - roses do not like soggy roots. Do not plant too close to trees or other large shrubs with invasive surface roots which will compete with your rose for water and nutrients. (Maples are particularly bad in this regard).Dig a BIG hole
The number one mistake most people make is not digging a BIG enough hole when planting a rose. By this I mean a hole that is about two feet (60 cm) wide AND deep. There's an old saying that goes something like "50 cent plant, 5 dollar hole." Remember this! Unless you are blessed with (incredibly unusual) perfect and uncompacted soil, anything you plant will not grow as well or as fast in a small hole.Amend your soil
Most soil is less than optimum for growing shrubs. Depending on where you live, it may be clay or sandy, acidic or alkaline. For example, the northeastern U.S. tends to have acidic clay soil, while the southwest tends to have alkaline soil. Your best bet is to consult a local expert who knows your the soil in your area and which amendments are appropriate. The ideal soil consists of humus (decomposed plant materials) for nutrients and 'lightness', clay (to hold the nutrients and give the soil 'substance'), and sand for good drainage. The idea is to take some of the soil that came from the hole, add the things it is lacking, and mix it up to form a better hybrid. My soil is rocky clay with sand underneath, so I typically just need to remove large rocks and add humus.
Throw a couple of handfuls of triple super phosphate or bone meal in the bottom of the hole - phosphorus moves very slowly through the soil.
A neat trick suggested by Lloyd Brace is if you're removing lawn to plant your rose, save the sod off to the side, and when you're done digging the hole, put the sod grass-side-down in the bottom of the hole. By the time the rose roots get down there, the grass and topsoil will have composted to form a nice meal for the plant, plus it gives you something to do with the sod!What I Do
The remainder of this planting section explains what I do in my yard with my soil and my USDA zone 6 climate. Your milage will certainly vary - please consult a local rose grower for advice that is specific to your area. Bits that are very locale-specific are noted below with a symbol.
All planting instructions are similar, but there are some differences depending on how your roses are packaged. Specifics are provided for all the common retail rose flavors below:Bare-root roses
This is the best way to buy roses. Most mail-order roses come bare-root, that is, with no bag, box, pot or soil. When your bare-root roses arrive, dunk them in water and then leave them to soak in a bucket of water with the roots submerged for at least 12 hours. This will help re-hydrate the plants, that have been ripped from the ground, roots anc canes cut, and then put in the fridge for a month or more.Cheapo bag roses
Many department store and home center roses come in bags packed with sawdust, with pitiful little root systems. These will often not do well, and may end up wasting your time, but if you get them the week they arrive at the retailer, before they've had a chance to be neglected and lay around for a while, you may have some success. Try to get #1 grade roses, as higher numbers are even less likely to be healthy, vigorous growers.
Remove the bag and sawdust, dunk them in water and then leave them to soak in a bucket of water with the roots submerged for at least 12 hours. This will help re-hydrate the poor things, that have been ripped from the ground, had most of their roots cut off, and then been put in a bag full of soggy sawdust for a month or more.For both bare root and bag
Now take a good look at the plant and cut off any diseased or damaged canes and root tips. Some folks advocate cutting a bit off all the root tips.
Using your amended soil, fill up your hole to the point where the ends of the rose roots rest on the bottom, while the bud union (the 'knot' between the roots and the top canes) is about 2 inches () below ground level. Remove the plant and build a cone of soil on the bottom, so that the roots will rest on the cone when placed back in the hole. Put the plant back in - double check the depth and adjust if necessary.
Put a couple of shovelfuls of soil on top of the roots and press down firmly with the hands (not the foot!). Fill the hole with your amended soil until the level in the hole is about even with the top of the cone you built, and press again firmly with the hands.
Now get the hose and water in well, until there's an inch or two of water puddled in the hole. Wait for this to drain, then use your amended soil to fill the hole up to the level of the bud union on the plant. Water in again well.Cheapo and not-so-cheapo Box roses
At the very beginning of the season, you'll often see roses packed in cardboard boxes at most of the nurseries. These also have pitiful little root systems, but at least have some good soil and may start to grow some roots before you get them. Don't follow the directions on the box, which direct you to plant the whole thing box and all.
If it's early and the plant is completely dormant, just remove the plant from the box and treat like a bare-root (see above).
If there's some top growth, there's probably some root growth as well, and we'd like to preserve this as much as possible. Instead of building the soil cone mentioned above, add soil to the hole until the bud union of the rose in the box is about an two inches () below the ground level. Next, carefully remove the cardboard, trying to disturb the soil inside as little as possible, and put the little box-shaped block of soil with the plant inside in the center of the hole. Fill the hole to the top of the soil block, and press the new soil in around the block with your hands.
Now get the hose and water in well, until there's an inch or two of water puddled in the hole. Wait for this to drain, then fill the hole up with your amended soil to the level of the bud union on the plant. Water in again well.
Now apply mulch to the top, filling in the hole and mounding up over the bud union. The mulch should be at least two inches deep at the edge of the hole, and deeper in the middle. Water in again. Now loosely pile mulch in a cone on top of the canes, until only an inch or two of cane is showing. This will delay the onset of cane/leaf growth, which the roots are not yet ready for.
In a couple of weeks when growth starts to appear, it's time to start removing the loose mulch you piled over the canes. It is incredibly easy to break off tender new shoots growing under the much, so be very careful and try to not break any while removing the mulch. Remove a bit more each day, until the permanent mound level (just covering the bud union () is reached. Water your new plant every couple of days while it gets established.
Do NOT apply any other fertilizer until the first blooms appear. Many folks recommend pinching off the flower buds in the first year when they get to pea size, to allow the new plant to concentrate on growing. This is hard to do (We want to see the flowers!) but often results in a much larger plant at the end of the first year.Potted, growing roses
Add soil to the hole until the bud union of the rose in the pot is about an inch () below the ground level when placed in the hole. Next, carefully remove the pot, trying to disturb the soil inside as little as possible. The best way is to use a utility knife and cut the pot off - if you try to just pop the rose out of the pot, the root ball will probably crumble. If the roots are pot-bound (lots of roots covering the outside of the ball), use a knife to cut vertical slits in the ball to encourage the roots to grow outward. Put the root ball in the center of the hole. Fill the hole to the top of the root ball, using your amended soil, and press the new soil in around the block with your hands.
Now get the hose and water in well, until there's an inch or two of water puddled in the hole. Wait for this to drain, then use your amended soil to fill the hole up to the level of the bud union on the plant . Water in again well.
Now apply mulch to the top, filling in the hole and mounding up over the bud union. Water in again.
Note: The symbol "" marks a depth or other detail that is specific to my USDA Zone 6 location.