University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring, Summer News Article
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

The rose, one of the most elegant of all flowers, is often called the "queen of the flowers." It is a title richly deserved, both for its long reign as a cultivated plant and for its beauty, versatility in the landscape, and ability to survive...with just a little pampering.

Roses also owe their continued popularity in part to royalty. The French Empress Josephine made roses fashionable for everyone in the 19th century by planting a beautiful palace rose garden of all the varieties available at the time.

Roses do best in full sun and well-drained, slightly acidic (6 to 6.5 pH) soil. The key is to keep them well watered and in well-drained soil as they don't like waterlogged soils. This is essential for healthy growth. However, once planted, they will survive, and continue to thrive, in the same bed, providing you add fertilizer on a regular basis. The latter is especially critical to the health of the plants.

Adding organic matter to the soil is always beneficial, but in the case of roses it may not be enough. Unless the soil is very fertile, you will need to add rose fertilizer (check your local garden center for this product) per directions on the label. You also may combine organic products such as seaweed or fish emulsion with a controlled release fertilizer (usually non-organic). Hybrid tea roses usually require higher soil fertility than shrub types.

Although early spring is generally the best time to plant roses in cold climates, roses may be successfully planted in late summer or early autumn as long as they are protected over winter. Do not plant roses after the first few weeks of fall as there won't be enough time for most to get rooted.

Spring, not fall, is the time to plant bare-root roses, just as or before buds are beginning to break. Spring is, in fact, the only time you usually can get them either through mail order from specialty rose catalogs or on-line ordering on the Internet.

For best results, choose hardy varieties. "Modern" hybrids (those developed after 1867) generally aren't hardy except in warm microclimates in Vermont, but ask your local garden center experts what they would recommend for your location.

In research trials at the University of Vermont Research Center in S. Burlington (U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 4b), conducted over a three-year period (1998-2000), I took a look at several types of shrub roses. This class of roses is generally more hardy than most hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, miniature, and climbing roses, and thus, more practical for Vermont.

The period of my study included both wet weather and a drought (summer 1999). For a complete listing of cultivars tested and their ratings, visit <>

To plant roses, dig as large a hole as possible, but at least two times as wide and across as the roots. Amend the backfill with up to half compost, peat moss, or similar organic matter. Add a tablespoon or two of phosphorus depending on the size of the hole at planting. Set the plant in the hole and spread out the roots evenly. Make sure the bud graft (the lower, swollen area on most roses) is covered with at least two inches of soil.

If planting bare root, mound the soil over most of the canes to help prevent buds and canes from drying out and suckers from forming below the bud graft. Staking is generally not needed, but climbing types will need to be trained to travel up a wall or trellis.

To encourage vigor, roses need to be pruned, but wait until spring as pruning in fall may cause dieback or allow diseases to enter wounds with slow, or no, healing of the wounds. Diseased or dead wood should be removed, however. Adding fresh horse manure at this time is a good way to add nutrients to the soil, but the main purpose in fall is to mound over canes to protect overwinter. Mice won't live in this!

Fall-planted roses will need winter protection their first year, as do less hardy varieties every year. Use rose cones, mounding one foot or more of mulch, such as straw, around the base if rodents aren't a problem. Otherwise, use soil. Apply late in the season, usually around hanksgiving. Climbing roses, if not hardy, will need to be removed from the supports and laid on the ground and covered as recommended above. Mulches should be removed in the spring as soon as the snow has melted.

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