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Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean

Growing and caring for Heritage Roses

Choose a sunny area of the garden that gets at least 4 to 5 hours of sun. Do not crowd your rose with other trees and plants. Some roses, such as climbers and shrubs, don’t mind company, but most like to mix with other roses or other non-invasive plants. If you’re replacing an older rose bush, it is important to remove an 18 cubic inch area of soil and replace it with fresh soil; a newly planted rose doesn’t like to grow in the same soil that an older rose bush has been in. Late winter is the best time to plant bare-root roses. A container rose already has plenty of leaves and maybe some blooms, so early spring is the best time to plant these.

  1. If you have a bare root plant, soak it in a bucket of water before planting. For roses that are potted, you can water the pot thoroughly and let it sit until ready to plant.
  2. Dig a hole approximately 15 inches deep and 18 inches wide. If planting bare root roses, form a small mound of soil in the center of the planting hole. If you live in a colder area, plant a bit deeper.
  3. Add a small handful of bonemeal to the planting hole. Spade in some compost to loosen the soil. Mix the soil you took out of the hole with more compost.
  4. Remove the rose from the pot. Carefully place in the hole and shovel the extra soil around the new plant. Plant the rose with the crown slightly deeper than the original soil. The crown or bud union should be about 1 inch under the soil
  5. Gently firm the rose into its new home and water well.

Roses prefer well-drained soil. You may need to supply the necessary amendments such as compost, mulch to make the final mixture ½ garden soil and ½ organic material. Well-aged manure may be added as a portion of the organic materials. For most roses, a soil pH anywhere between 5.5 (moderately acidic) and 7.0 (neutral) will produce good results.

Roses like at least 2 inches of water per week, more in hot weather, but the actual frequency of watering will depend on your soil and climate as well as the age of the plant. Try watering the soil around your rose a few mornings a week - water slowly, until the soil is thoroughly soaked 12 to 18 inches deep. Try to keep water from splashing onto foliage as this can spread diseases.

Most roses appreciate an occasional feeding. The first feeding should be done when the bush first leafs out. For the remainder of the growing season, you may fertilize after each flush of blooms, stopping about 2 months before the first frost. You can use any commercial rose food or general-purpose fertilizer applied according to manufacturer instructions. Scratch dry fertilizers into the soil beneath the leaves -avoid touching the canes or bud union - and water well. Heritage roses don’t need as much fertilizer as many of the modern roses.

Pests and Diseases
Many species of spider mites attack roses. Found on the undersides of leaves, they feed by piercing leaf tissue and sucking out the juices. Signs of mite infestation include yellowed, dry looking leaves with white feeding marks. Sometimes you'll notice silvery webbing on the leaves and stems. Mites are tiny (1/50 inch) so you probably won't see them -- just the damage that they are causing. In extreme cases, your rose bushes will lose their leaves. Use dormant oil or lime sulfur to eradicate the mites, but be careful to apply only during the roses' dormant stage. During the growing season, spray insecticidal soap mixed with pyrethrin, if needed. Leafcutter bees (smaller and darker than a honey bee) cut precise round or oval holes from the sides of plant leaves, which are used to form nest cells. In roses, more serious problems can occur when they bore into recently pruned stems and canes, causing wilt. To reduce damage caused by leafcutter bees, prune out the injured tips several inches below the damaged area and seal the cut with grating wax or putty.

Most of the common rose diseases are fungal in nature. Ensuring good air flow for your plants by providing plenty of room between roses will help prevent disease. Botrytis is a fungal disease that attacks leaves and canes, and often prevents blooms from opening. Buds and flowers infected with botrytis will appear grayish-brown and shriveled. Prune and destroy diseased plant parts. Apply micronized sulfur to prevent further damage, and provide plenty of air circulation. Also, be sure to keep the area under the plant clean to prevent reoccurrence. If the leaves of your rose plants look like they've been doused with talcum powder, chances are they've fallen prey to powdery mildew. Severe infection will cause leaves to yellow or brown and can disfigure shoots and flowers. To reduce the chances of powdery mildew, be sure to keep the ground under rose bushes clean and try to increase air circulation. Water only in the morning hours to avoid moisture build up. To treat powdery mildew, mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon oil and one quart of warm water. Shake well and then apply by spray bottle. Sulfur dusts will also control powdery mildew.

Black spot is a fungal disease that will cover your rose plants in black spots. One of the most common plant diseases affecting roses, black spot can be difficult to control and may also increase the likelihood of winter injury. Spores lay dormant under rose plants throughout the winter and are spread to healthy leaves by splashing water. Infection most often occurs in areas of high humidity and rainfall. Like most fungal diseases, the key to getting rid of black spot is to keep the area under your roses as clean as possible. Remove and destroy any fallen debris or foliage and mulch often. Make sure your roses have proper air circulation and water from below, if at all possible. Apply organic fungicides, like sulfur on a weekly basis.

Canker appears as dead or discolored areas on rose canes. This fungal disease enters healthy plants through pruning wounds and is spread by splashing water, insects and even dirty tools. If you suspect that your plants are infected with rose canker, do not fertilize or prune as this will stimulate new growth, which is most susceptible to this disease. As with other fungal diseases, keep your plants and the area around them clean and raked up. Get rid of infected plant parts as soon as possible. If necessary, apply copper-based fungicides to establish control.

Pruning and Maintenance
Pruning roses controls the size and shape of rose plants. Generous pruning creates bigger plants and eventually more flowers per plant. Selective pruning of top growth can produce bigger, but fewer, blooms. For modern rose varieties, pruning keeps them blooming repeatedly all summer long. Well-established hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras should be pruned early each spring just as the buds begin to swell. Old-fashioned roses and climbers that bloom only once a year should be pruned immediately after flowering since they bloom on wood from the previous year's growth.

Mulching will minimize weeds, keeps the soil moist and loose, and adds essential nutrients. Organic mulch is best. Apply mulches in the spring just as the soil warms and before weeds start to grow. It can also be applied anytime during the growing season provided weeds are removed and soil surface is lightly cultivated. Spread 2 to 4 inches over the rose bed, leaving some space open around the base of each rose. Replace mulch as it deteriorates during the year.

Additional Information
For more information on roses, see the website for the Heritage Rose Foundation at or the American Rose Society at