Expert Advice: Roses

Planting Bareroot Roses

Q. How do I plant roses and care for them so that they are healthy and beautiful? Normally, I do well with plants, but not roses. Maybe I don't "understand" them. The roses I have are in the original plastic bags that they were purchased in, and each is covered with some type of wax. Now what? I've heard that you need to soak them in plant food/water mixture for a week before you plant them. Is that true? When is the best planting time for them? Some are climbers, some are tea roses -- different colors, different types. Help!

A. First, you want to plant roses as soon as you can. Soak the roots in warm water for only about 8 hours. If you leave them in water for a week, you will kill them. The goal is to rehydrate them a bit without drowning them. Dig holes slightly larger than the root ball and set the roots into the ground. You did not say where you live but if you live in the North, set them so the graft -- the knob between roots and stem -- sits an inch or two above ground. In the South, make sure the graft is just underground. Firm the soil so there are no air pockets around the roots, and water well. Keep the soil around the bushes moist but not soggy. If you live in a warm, windy area, you may want to provide protection until the plants break dormancy. Eventually, your plants should develop leaves and begin growing. When that happens, give them a slow-release granular fertilizer (ask for it at any garden center) and mulch to keep soil moisture even and weeds at bay. That's it. Roses are really quite easy if you plant them in a sunny spot with well-drained soil and feed them. We have a special issue called Simply Perfect Roses and Old-Fashioned Flowers. You can order a copy by calling 800-867-8628.

Black Spot

Q. We have a problem with black spot on our roses. Can you help?

A. To combat black spot, you need to spray with a rose fungicide every seven to 10 days, especially during periods of damp weather. You don't have to spray in midsummer when it's hot and dry. Also, do not water from overhead or in the evening. Black spot is transmitted from plant to plant by rain or irrigation on the leaves. Rake up and destroy any dead or dying foliage around the plants.

Pruning Roses

Q. When is the best time to cut back bareroot roses? What is the correct way to prune rose bushes? What can be done to help promote healthy blooms for next summer?

A. The best time to prune is in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. The amount you prune depends on the type, but with shrub roses I generally cut back the plants by about a third of their height. With hybrid teas and floribundas, I only take out the dead wood, thin wood, or crossed branches. To keep roses healthy, I suggest feeding them a slow-release fertilizer after they break dormancy. Choose a slow-release specially designed for roses. Mulch your plants thoroughly to preserve soil moisture and eliminate weeds. Always water from below. Overhead watering, especially in the evening, can cause all sorts of problems.

Queen Elizabeth Climbing Roses

Q. I purchased and planted six Queen Elizabeth climbing rose bushes about four years ago. I planted them in a mixture of peat, top soil, manure, and bone meal, in raised spots along the fence. They grew 15 feet tall and blossomed profusely. The next year they got black spot. They still grew 15 feet tall and flowered, but not as profusely. The next year was a better year as far as controlling the black spot. However, they still grew 15 feet tall even after cutting them down to 22 inches. I didn't fertilize them last year and they still grew as tall but didn't flower at all. How do I keep these climbing "small trees" bush size, or at least a size that is more easily manageable and attractive?

A. First of all, let me congratulate you on such large plants. Growing up in New Jersey, I'd watch my grandmother grow giant Queen Elizabeth roses and I dearly loved them. But sadly, here in Iowa, where I garden now, Queen Elizabeth doesn't do that well.

It sounds like you are doing everything right. My guess is that your soil has lots of nitrogen in it, which promotes lots of growth, but little flowering. If you do fertilize, choose a product specifically recommended for roses.

I would prune them to the height you want them as they develop. Don't be shy, prune back stems as they grow too tall and you may also promote better branching and more flowers. Keep in mind, though, that these are climbers, so don't try to keep them 4 feet tall.