(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 26, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
You've got lots of excuses for not buying that first rose bush. Then when early summer comes around and the June bloomers are putting on their spectacular show, you wished you had taken the plunge. When the garden talk turns to fragrant flowers, roses are at the top of the list. What comes in almost all the colors of the spectrum (no true blue yet)...roses! What can you plant on that trellis with your prize clematis? A rose would be perfect. There are tons of gorgeous climbing roses of all types. Now it's autumn and you're comparing notes on what is still blooming through that first frost. Do you wish you had some roses now?
Top 10 reasons why you can't grow a rose
10. I don't know enough about gardening or roses
That's what Dave's Garden is all about. You can easily learn enough here to get started. Try some of the 'beginner' forums. They are listed right at the top under Forums on the Communities tab of the Home page. It's a place for beginners to ask all the questions they are embarassed to ask. There are volunteers from DG there to help with answers. And you know the old adage, but it's true...the only dumb question is the one that is never asked. No one here at DG will ever turn you away with a question either. There is lots of information in the Rose Resources 'sticky' at the top of the Rose Forum. And a series of articles on 'Growing Roses A-Z' by Paul Rodman (*links are listed at the end of the article) has all the basics laid out for you. I can also recommend 'Roses for Dummies' as a great beginner's reference book. Check the Garden Bookworm here at DG to find other resource books.
9. Roses are too much work
Nobody's lazier than me. If I can grow them you can, too. Period. End of discussion.
8. Roses are too delicate
The fact is, they're really tough. They can be completely defoliated (lose all of their leaves) by an attack of blackspot (a fungal disease) and keep on blooming. They can die back to the ground in a bad winter and come back from their roots. Their buds can freeze and in 2 or 3 days of warmer weather they'll be blooming again. Some are tougher than others...you just have to do your homework.
7. I heard they are disease-prone
Some of them are. But the hybridizers are working hard on eliminating or at least minimizing the disease suseptibilities. Many of the modern varieties are very resistant. The Knock Out™ series is extremely popular right now and supposed to be very resistant to a number of rose diseases, especially blackspot. The hybrid rugosa class as a whole is almost disease-free and is actually harmed by spraying. 'Polareis', pictured at left, is a hybrid rugosa with reblooming properties (i.e. it blooms more than once in a season).
6. They won't grow in my zone
I can't speak to the very coldest zones (1-3), but I know there are gardeners here at DG who grow roses in all of the others. Yes, it is harder to find the cold-hardy roses, but there are sources. Developed by Agriculture Canada in Ontario, the "Explorer Series" and the "Parkland Series" were both bred for hardiness. Also, the roses developed by Dr. Griffith Buck at the University of Iowa were intended for both hardiness and disease resistence. 'Distant Drums' (pictured at left) is a Buck rose in my garden that is hardy to zone 5. The hybrid tea pictured at the right on June 12, 2007, died down to the roots the first winter because I did nothing to protect it (I am in zone 6a, but get some brutally cold winds). It came back from the rootstock that year, and again this past winter died down to the ground and came back from the roots. The blooms are more beautiful than ever. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a publication that you can order or view online, 'Roses for the North', that looks at cold-hardy roses in depth.
5. They are too expensive
They can be, but there are ways around this for a frugal gardener. End of the season sales at the big box stores have yielded surprisingly good bargains for as little as $2 for a number of folks. You can try trading for plants or cuttings. Go organic for maintenance on your plant and feed it coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels. Skim milk makes a great spray for black spot. You can buy alfalfa pellets in bulk cheap at a feed store and it's the greatest thing since sliced bread...forget the expensive chemical fertilizers. Check the links I mentioned above for details.
4. I have a brown thumb
That's not even an excuse. I consider myself a fairly accomplished gardener and I have killed so many plants I've lost count. Give yourself a break. There are a lot of elements out of your control. And you will make mistakes. There's an old adage that says you can't count a plant yours until you've killed at least 3 of them.
3. I don't have the time
I'll just give you an example here. It's the rose in the thumbnail...Rosa 'Red Sunblaze', a miniature. It is classified as a mini because of the size of the blooms, but the plant is 3' tall by about 2' wide. It was the first thing I planted right after we moved into our newly built home. All the yard consisted of was the soil the builder filled with; clay, rocks and assorted debris from the build. I planted it right next to the foundation where the worst of the 'junk' is. The soil wasn't amended at all. I just dug a hole and plopped it into the clay. For 5 years I have given it a shot of an all-in-one rose fertilizer/pesticide/fungicide once a year in the spring. I have pruned it haphazardly probably 3 years out of the 5. That's a total of about 30 minutes for planting, 50 minutes for the all-in-one chemical, 45 minutes for pruning; an average of 25 minutes a year. You don't have 25 minutes a year for a plant that covers itself with blooms for 3 seasons, is self-cleaning (meaning you don't have to dead-head/cut off the spent blooms), is an amazing color, makes lovely little arrangements and great boutonierres? Shame on you! Of course, once you get hooked on roses and they begin to take up more of your garden real estate, you may have to spend a little more time on maintenance, but that's up to you
2. I'm too tired after working all day
After reading what I said in #3, you'll know that all you really have to do after work most days is enjoy the flowers. If you have only been a gardener for a short time, I think you will find that growing roses is rejuvenating. Get one with a wonderful fragrance and just sit by it. It's aroma therapy at it's best. Here is 'Sheila's Perfume' and the name says it all! If you have an extremely 'brain-taxing' job, even pulling weeds can be surprisingly satisfying. My rose garden is my sanctuary.
And the #1 reason why you can't grow roses...I don't like roses!!!
You have GOT to be kidding me!!! Have you ever looked at a rose close up...and gotten lost in the intricate swirls of petals?? Ever seen one with the morning dew on it? Ever smelled one in the summer sun? Ever reached out to touch the petals of one that looked just like velvet only to find that it felt like velvet, too? Or brushed one of those petals against your cheek? If you have done these things and you still don't like roses, I will leave you in peace. More for the rest of us.
Author's note: all of the roses pictured here are from my garden and are my own photography.
Last 5 photos (left to right): 'Moondance', 'Hot Cocoa', 'Sunsprite', 'Basye's Purple', 'Pink Peace'
* here are links to Paul's excellent articles on rose-growing basics