Roses aren’t as fickle as everyone thinks they are, especially not the more modern varieties that have been bred to be more biddable. But there are things that a gardener can do to make their rose bushes the most beautiful and productive they can be. Here are some tips from the pros:

Analyze the Soil

Fresh Soil
Fresh Soil

After the gardener has decided where they’re going to put their roses, they should have the soil in the area analyzed by a county agent or a state agricultural college. The resulting report lets the gardener know the type and amount of nutrients found in the soil and the soil’s pH. The pH shows whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. Roses prefer their soil to be just slightly acidic or between pH 6.5 and 6.8. If the soil needs amending to reach the pH that roses like, the gardener can add materials such as lime to make it more alkaline or sulfur to make it more acidic.

Consider the Rose Bed

Rose Garden
Rose Garden

A bed of roses can be any size and shape the gardener wants, though most gardeners find rectangular beds easier to manage. Of course, other gardeners simply plant a bush here and there on the property. It’s important not to crowd the plants if they are going into a bed, for crowding invites diseases and pests. In warm climates, the rose bushes are planted a bit farther apart, as they grow bigger due to the longer growing season. Another tip from the pros is to stagger the bushes, which can create a mass of roses without gaps between them.

Prepare the Soil

The best time to prepare the rose bed is in the fall. This way, the materials placed in the bed have time to break down, and the rose bushes don’t have to deal with the stress of summer until they are fairly well established. How the bed is prepared depends on the soil.

Clay is the most common type of soil and roses do well in it. But the clay needs to be kept loose, for some clay soils are so dense that they don’t allow nutrients or even the proper amount of water or oxygen to get to the roots. Manures and composts should be added to sandy soil. If the soil is really sandy, it can be as much as 50 percent compost but no more than this. Loamy soil, which is a good mix of humus, clay and sand is ideal.


All soil should have good drainage. If the place where the gardener wants to put the roses bush does not drain well, they should either consider not putting the plant there or installing a drainage system. Poor drainage will simply kill the plant.

One way to test how well soil drains is to dig a hole a foot wide and a foot deep and fill it with water. Let it stand overnight then fill it again. Place a ruler in the hole and check to see how fast it drains. Good drainage is about 2 inches an hour. If less than an inch of water drains per hour, the soil drains too slowly. If more than 4 inches drain per hour, the drainage is too fast for roses.

If there’s grass in the area where the roses will go, it should be removed to a depth of 2 inches. Loosen the soil beneath with a spade to a depth of 18 to 20 inches. Then, work some manure into the soil. If the soil is clayey, add gypsum. Gypsum keeps clay soil friable but shouldn’t be used as a top dressing or placed in an older bed that has alkaline soil, because it will lower the pH. However, it won’t lower the pH of acidic soil. Pros recommend about 15 to 20 pounds of gypsum per 100 square feet and one shovelful of compost to three shovelfuls of soil.

Buying the Plants

Avoid buying rose bushes that are in bloom, attractive as they might be. Putting forth flowers takes a lot out of a plant and transplanting it is yet another trauma. It is best to buy a plant that’s dormant.


Most plants bought from catalogs have bare roots. When they arrive, the gardener should check that the roots are still damp. If they have dried out for some reason, soak the roots overnight before planting. If the bush can’t be planted right away, rewrap it in its shipping container, put it in a cool, dark place, and check it every two or three days to make sure that the roots are still damp.


Dig a hole that is at least 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep unless the bush is very large. If the roots are a bit too long, don’t hesitate to snip them to make them fit. Examine the canes one more time, and cut off any that are broken or look diseased.

Shovel most of the soil back into the hole, though some people buy bags of garden soil and pour it in, and use the soil from the property for something else. Form a mound, place the plant on it, and spread the roots evenly. Some pros plant the bush so the side of the crown that has the most canes face north. This stimulates the plant to produce more canes on its south side and become fuller. The crown is the knot where the canes meet the roots.

Fill the hole about three-quarters of the way up, tamping it down until the soil is firmly packed around the roots. This should be done with hands instead of feet, for feet packs the soil so tightly that nutrients and water will have trouble finding the roots. Water the soil to the top, and let the water soak into the soil. When it’s completely soaked, fill the rest of the hole with soil, make a moat around the hole, and water again.

Watering Roses

Roses need about an inch of water every week during the growing season, though if they are growing in sandy soil, they may need a bit more than if they’re growing in clay. Water the roses in the morning so the bush can dry out before dusk. A plant that is wet when the sun sets is often prey to diseases and pests. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to use soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems.


Start fertilizing roses in the spring by making a ring of compost around the bushes and adding Epsom salts and rose food. Fertilize the rose bushes every two weeks when they start to bloom. Some pros swear by fish emulsion or liquid seaweed, and sprinkle old coffee grounds around the plant to encourage growth. In the fall, refresh the compost.


Prune the rosebush in the spring, which means snip off everything that is diseased, damage or dead. But the gardener shouldn’t restrict pruning for the pruning season. Deadhead flowers that are fading, and wear leather gloves and long sleeves to guard against thorns. Make sure to disinfect the secateurs by dipping them in a bowl of one part bleach and ten parts water. If the roses are the kind that bloom in spring and summer, don’t prune them until after they’ve finish blooming for the season.

Kylie (Author Bio)

Outside of writing for EverythingBackyard I love to spend all the time I can outdoors and find every excuse to leave my house. I write about everything from backyard DIY projects to gardening. If you can’t get a hold of me I am probably on a trail or a boat.