A Rosy Picture

So close you can almost smell 'Don Juan' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

So close you can almost smell ‘Don Juan’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Roses can be temperamental little buggers, but if you have the right conditions; sun, good air flow and moist but well drained soil, a shrub rose can be one of the best garden companions you ever had, providing seasons of bloom, intoxicating fragrance and plump hips for fall interest.  All it takes is a little research to find a rose to meet your requirements, the commitment to perform a few maintenance procedures throughout the growing season, and the results will be well worth your efforts. 

The first step is finding a location where your rose bush will receive adequate vitamin D (sunshine), good soil and room for air to circulate around.  Sun exposure should be at least six hours, unless otherwise specified by the grower.  Your soil should be well drained, but able to retain moisture so that it doesn’t dry out completely during the hot summer months (except for rugosa types, most roses dislike dry soil).  Usually, amending the soil with some organic compost and putting a light layer of mulch will provide optimal growing conditions and keep your rose content during drought periods.

Incredibly fragrant Rosa 'Louise Odier' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Incredibly fragrant Rosa ‘Louise Odier’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Early spring pruning is a necessary task to promote health and vigor.  In a nutshell, you want to prune out unhealthy canes right down to the base, and cut back other branches to a point where there are healthy buds.  If I want to make my rose bush a little more compact, I will remove about half the canes and prune the remaining down to about 2 to 3 feet high.  Keep in mind that heavy pruning will result in later than usual blooming, as most of my roses start as early as late May when only lightly trimmed.  The second part of the maintenance process is fertilizing, which I do religiously every spring, usually early April.  There are many products available both organic and chemical, and although I don’t spray or use chemicals any other time, I do use a systemic fertilizer on all my roses once in spring.

Red flowering shrub rose in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Red flowering shrub rose (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

When all is said and done however, the most important part of successful rose ownership will be determined by the type of rose you select, and, of course a little luck.  If you don’t get any rain for the entire growing season, no matter what type of rose you plant, things aren’t going to be pretty.  Even if you manually water, the rose will conserve its resources and probably won’t bloom much, if at all.  A swarm of locusts or Japanese beetles could wipe out your plant overnight, or black spot could sprinkle its contagious fungus on the leaves, leaving in its wake nothing but bare branches.  And, lest we forget our four legged garden visitors, many of whom adore succulent rose bud morsels and are more than capable of decimating your prized specimen with just a few nibbles here and there.

Rosa 'William Baffin' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rosa ‘William Baffin’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

So, why oh why do I still try to grow roses?  Just take a whiff of an heirloom bourbon and once you’ve picked yourself up from the ground and put your socks back on, you’ll understand. Admire close-up a climbing rose draped over an archway, with bees joyously humming inside each blossom, or a shrub rose covered in masses of bright pink clusters illuminating the garden next door.  Well, you get the idea.  Sometimes special challenges are worth the effort, and as a grower of roses for more than two decades, I can confidently say although I’ve won some and lost some, the glass is definitely more than half full of rose petals.

Rich pink shrub rose in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rich pink shrub rose (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Once you’ve decided to travel down the risky road to rose growing, it’s time to choose a plant.  I recommend heirloom-own root-(not grafted) roses, most are naturally disease resistant and bloom continually (providing you have adequate rain fall) from spring to fall with minimal care.  Here are the different types of roses, many of which are available in hardy, ungrafted plants: Floribunda are dense shrubs that produce masses of flower clusters, Grandiflora is a cross between a floribunda and the hybrid tea, growing up to six feet tall and producing the classic hybrid tea flower, Climbers have long, arching canes capable of growing over ten feet tall and perfect for covering walls or climbing structures,  Hybrid Tea is known for its fragrant blossoms borne on upright branches, Shrub/Landscape roses come in a range of sizes, making them a perfect option for a variety of landscape situations, Rugosa roses are native to Asia, and known for their rugged good looks, cold and drought tolerance, and pest resistance (due to their vicious thorns), and Miniature roses, which grow anywhere from six inches to two feet tall, and are a great container option.  Visit: JacksonandPerkins.com , Antiqueroseemporium.com or Heirloomroses.com to view dozens of options, but please visit your local nursery to see if they have something you can actually put your hands on, sniff and take home first.

Gorgeous 'Don Juan' climbing the fence in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Gorgeous ‘Don Juan’ climbing the fence (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

My personal favorites are: Climber ‘Don Juan’, whose blossoms are gorgeous velvet red with black accents, possessing a sumptuous scent, and capable of growing up to 10 feet in zones 5-9 with full sun a must, heirloom shrub rose ‘Louise Odier’ (1851) a hardy bourbon with medium pink, intoxicatingly fragrant blooms (loved by Gertrude Jekyll) that grows 4 to 6 feet in sunny locations zoned 5-9, and the shorter hybrid rambler/climber, ‘William Baffin’ with showy reddish-pink, semi-double blooms that entirely cover the stems all season, growing to about 7 feet, perfect when paired with clematis, and incredibly hardy from zones 3- 8. All of these selections have been reliable, noteworthy companions that are relatively easy care, provide flowers from spring through fall, and are adorned with voluptuous hips through winter.  Check out a few with or without your rose colored glasses and see if you don’t agree~


  1. WOW!!! These are stunning! Maybe I can actually grow some next year….

  2. Next time you use your systemic fertilizer on you roses please remember that systemic means it is absorbed into the pant. That means all of the plant, including the nectar that is attracting those busy little bees your enjoying. Then remember that the bee population is declining rapidly. Hmm… could they be making chemical laden honey to survive off of all winter and do we not harvest some of that honey for ourselves. Organic all the way in my garden. Tank you very much!

    • Thank you for writing, Donna. First, I fully understand the way systemic fertilizers work. Like you, I am very concerned about our pollinators. My understanding is that the Imidacloprid molecule in the systemic is too large to fit through the sieve cells that lead to the flower and, therefore, would not be present in the pollen produced by roses. The ingredient harmful to butterflies, bees & hummingbirds is Clothianidin, which is not found in the product I use. That said, I agree that there are safe, organic options such as Rose Tone 4-3-2 by Espoma, a rose food designed to supply the necessary nutrients for growing roses, while providing a safe, long lasting food reservoir activated throughout the growing season. And for those that need to spray, Garden’s Alive offers Pyola, an all natural insecticide that can be used on fruits,vegetables, roses and flowers.

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