Rose Care tips to help you get started growing nice roses in Spokane, WA or in zone 5 areas.

When should I prune?

Do not prune for the sake of pruning. The leaves are factories that use sunlight to produce food for plant growth. Removing too much foliage in the growing season will slow plant growth and flowers.

Remove dead material and old flowers [called deadheading]. Prune out spindly growth from near the ground, and keep the center of the rose bush open for air to circulate, preventing moisture from evaporating. [morning and evening dew that cannot evaporate may cause mold and mildew problems]

Cut dead canes in early spring after heavy freeze is over for the year. Consult a rosarian or reference book on proper pruning techniques. (We have more detailed information here.)


Will I kill my roses by pruning them wrong?

Roses are very forgiving. Unless you cut out all the basal breaks and cut the canes completely to the bud graft (and even this may not be enough), the rose will begin to grow again. Pruning is done for two reasons: To shape the bush, and (surprise!) to strengthen the bush. By removing twiggy, dead, or crossing growth that will encourage disease and decay, you are actually making a stronger, healthier bush.

So grab those pruners and tackle the job with confidence. Technically, you are pruning every time you cut a bloom, so you should cut down to a leaf on the stem where a strong branch can break from the bud, cutting at an approximate 45-degree angle away from the leaf and about a quarter inch above the leaf. (We have illustrations here.)


How much water do roses require?

Generally, roses need deep watering down into the roots one to two feet deep. In warmer weather more water is required. Avoid watering the foliage to prevent mold and mildews. Good mulching of the soil at planting time will help keep water in the soil around the roots.

If you are in doubt, dig down three inches and see if the soil is moist. If the soil is dry the plant needs water. Deep watering by filling a reservoir around the root zone is better than surface watering.

Sandy soils require more water than soil with a lot of organic matter. Clay soils may make it difficult for water to move deep into the lower root zone so soil amending is required. (See the University of Illinois Extenson here.)


When should I fertilize my roses?

Roses are “big eaters.” Yes, they can survive in adverse conditions with little or no fertilizer provided, but you will find they will reward you for a little extra care. A rule of thumb is soil temperatures need to be around 40 F for fertilizer to begin to be taken up by the plant. Therefore, late April or early May is a good time to begin fertilizing for the season.
The easiest way to fertilize is to just use a commercial balanced granular fertilizer. Some of these, however, do not contain trace elements which are needed in much smaller amounts but still play an important part in the health and vigor of your roses. Check the label.

You may need to supplement with other types of fertilizers. Some are even slow-release fertilizers. The use of the pelletized slow-release fertilizer should be considered on an individual basis. If you have heavy soil that is slow to warm in the spring, the kind that is dependent on soil temperature may not begin releasing until mid-summer and will continue to release into the fall when you want to hold off fertilizing.

There is another type that is dependent on moisture, so this would be a better choice for slow-release in our climate. Other options include the “instant” kinds that dissolve in water. They can be applied to the soil and also can be included in the mix if you spray for fungus disease or insects.
Organic fertilizers help build up the soil. They can be added over winter or any time during the year. These would include manures, fish by-products, alfalfa pellets or meal, seaweed, fish emulsion, bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal and compost. They need to break down into a chemical to be used by the roses, so they do not become useful to the roses as quickly as chemical fertilizers but are good additions to make throughout the year for the health of the soil.

One word of caution: Some of the bagged manures contain high amounts of salts. If you have contacts with a local stable and can transport the manure, aged horse manure is an excellent addition worked into your rose beds.(For more complete discussions of rose fertilization see the ARS page on fertilizing here.)


What is a sucker?

Don’t mistake this problem child with a basal break. A basal break is new growth coming from the bud graft. It is sometimes reddish, depending on the variety of the rose, it is soft and succulent with no thorns. It is to be prized, as this is the next generation of blooms for your rose bush. A sucker, on the other hand, is growth coming from beneath the bud graft or bud union, that knob above the root structure of a grafted rose.

The reason for it is that one or more of the buds on the rootstock was not cut completely out, so this bud keeps wanting to send out its own growth, often with 5- or 7-leaflet leaf clusters. You need to dig down in the soil and cut this growth off as close to the roots as possible, as it will just take strength from the grafted rose. It also may grow each season if not cut completely out.



Why should I hill up my roses in the winter?

It depends on the type of rose you have. Those that are grafted need the bud graft, that knob above the roots, protected from freezing. If not your rose may come to life the next year, but it will get long lax canes and the dark red bloom of the most common rootstock, Dr. Huey. This rose only blooms one time, so when you see a rose bush in someone’s yard with lots of dark red blooms, you may be looking at a former modern rose that froze out. (The Spokane County Extension has a handy two page brochure here. 68kb)



When should I prepare my roses for winter?

Near Thanksgiving time is a good time to winterize your roses in Spokane. Do not prune. If you have a grafted rose you may prepare it by making newspaper collars out of four sheets of newsprint folded in half from top to bottom. Repeat this and then staple the two together, wrapping this around the rose bush and stapling the other ends together to form a circle. Fill this “collar” with compost and you will find that next spring the canes will be green under this protective covering.

You may mound the grafted roses with compost, soil, straw, pine needles, whatever will keep the bud graft from freezing. I find in my harsher climate I need more than just pine needles, so compost is my choice. It is easy to move away in the spring without damaging any new shoots that are starting and can be just spread around the rose beds to further improve the soil. You should mound six to eight inches or more. Pack the material tight so there are no air pockets.