How to grow roses: expert advice on caring for these beautiful blooms

Learn how to grow roses with our top tips and you can tumble them from an arch, frame a doorway or display them in a patio pot for stunning summer displays

how to grow roses: 'Princess Anne' David Austin Roses
(Image credit: David Austin Roses)

You don’t need an English country garden to want to learn how to grow roses. There is a type of rose for every kind of space, from miniature roses that will grow in a pot on a balcony or patio, shrub roses which are ideal for cultivating in borders, rambling roses which will romp over a porch in a mass of colour, and the more restrained climbing rose which is the perfect choice for cloaking a trellis. 

Roses come in a palette of soft colours, from pure white to blush pink, peach, gold, scarlet, lemon, plum and deep, velvety cerise. Many varieties are deliciously fragranced. Although they will need pruning and feeding, caring for roses is straightforward and it should not put anyone off growing them, whether you want to add them to your garden borders or your patio pots. 

Roses can fit happily into so many different garden styles, as part of prettily jumbled country cottage garden borders to creating a dramatic stand out solo feature, trained across a modern painted trellis. 

Ready to add these classic, lush looking blooms to your space? Keep reading for our expert tips...

how to grow roses: cottage garden

(Image credit: Flower Council of Holland )

How to grow roses: follow our top tips

Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director at Dobbies Garden Centres, which has just launched an own-brand rose collection, says: 'As one of the UK’s best loved flowers, roses will add a charming country feel to your garden and these glorious blooms are much easier to grow than you think. You don’t need a huge garden with space for rose beds or a climbing arch, as they will happily grow in containers, making them perfect for patio ideas and balconies.' 

Roses may look exotic and fragile, but the majority of plants are toughened up by a process called ‘grafting.’ Because the flowering part of the rose at the top of the plant is not as robust with its own root system, expert growers swap them on to the bottom part of a hardier variety. Look for a knobbly area at the base of the plant and you can see where they have been fused together. Roses are tolerant of many types of soil. According to Marcus Eyles of Dobbies: 'they are easy to grow in any fertile well-drained soil, they will even grow well in heavier clay soils.' 

Most roses prefer a sunny spot, with at least four hours of sunshine a day, although, says Marcus Eyles, 'some tolerate light shade,' so pick your type carefully. Give them plenty of space. They need to be planted at least one metre away from other plants so that air can circulate around them. This reduces the risk of certain fungal diseases. 

Exposed, windy spots should also be avoided as this can cause the roots to loosen and the rose may die. 

Climbing and rambling roses will need a structure to grow against, whether that is a trellis, shed, wall or pergola. Tie in the stems horizontally, as it makes the rose produce side shoots, which produce the flowers. Keep tying them in as the rose grows. 

how to grow roses: floribunda rose


(Image credit: Jacky Parker/Getty Images)

What are the main types of roses? 

It's easy to get confused when it comes to all the different types of roses; after all, there are over 150 species with thousands of cultivars and hybrids.

However, most rose specialists would agree that there are three broad groups: wild roses, old garden roses, and modern garden roses. Old garden roses and modern garden roses can then be divided into further groups, such as damasks and albas (old) or hybrid teas and floribundas (modern).

  • Old garden roses, otherwise known as 'heritage' roses, date right back to before 1867. They tend to only flower once per year and sport double blooms with a strong scent.
  • Modern garden roses are newer than old garden roses and tend to flower more than once throughout the season. The blooms are generally larger, but the plants can be more prone to disease.
  • Wild roses are also known as species roses and tend to have simple, five-petalled blooms and thorny stems. They generally just flower once per year – in early summer – and require much less maintenance than other garden roses.

damask rose

'Amanda Patenotte', an old damask rose

(Image credit: Images by Russell/Alamy Stock Photo)

When to plant roses

Roses can be planted at any time of year, avoiding the middle of winter, when the ground is frozen, or times when soil is waterlogged or during a drought. Late winter is a good time to plant. This is when bare root roses (see below) are available to buy by mail order or at the garden centre. 

Bare root roses come without compost and a pot, and although they look off-putting, resembling a bundle of dry looking roots, they are cheaper to purchase than potted ones, and they will soon grow strong and healthy, putting on plenty of foliage and flowers in their first season. 

Tips for planting a bare root rose

how to grow roses: planting bare root rose

(Image credit: Future)
  1. Soak the rose in a bucket of cold water for 30 minutes. 
  2. Dig a hole in the ground which is twice as wide and deep as the longest roots. Tease them out to make sure they are not compacted.
  3. Mix a bag of multi-purpose compost in with the soil and fork together.
  4. Sprinkle 30g of mycorrhizal fungi into the hole. This mix of natural fungi helps to create stronger root systems, which leads to healthier growth, more flowers and improved disease resistance. 
  5. Put the root into the hole. Look for a mark on the stem which indicates its previous soil level, and match this up. 
  6. Holding the rose upright, fill the hole with soil. 
  7. Press the soil in place with a spade.
  8. Firm into place using your hands or apply gentle pressure with your heel.
  9. Water thoroughly, using a full can. 
    There's more expert tips on how to plant bare root roses in our guide. 

CARING FOR ROSES 

how to grow roses: deadheading

Deadheading your roses is one of the best ways to get them to flower for longer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Roses have an unfair reputation for being high maintenance, but one thing is true: they are hungry plants. Marcus Eyles from Dobbies explains: 'For healthy growth and lots of blooms, feed each spring with granular rose fertiliser forked into the surrounding soil. Cover with a layer of manure to help retain moisture.' This should be done in late March or the beginning of April at the start of the growing season. A second feed is recommended in late July. Use a specially formulated rose food, widely available from garden centres. The food should be sprinkled around the base of the plant. 

Take care not to over-feed roses, as this can do more harm than good. Once the feed has been applied, mulch the plants, with a layer at least five centimetres deep. 'Make sure you spread it to the width of the canopy,' advise the experts at David Austin Roses. For mulch, they recommend Carr’s organic soil improver, garden compost or well-rotted manure. Head over to our guide to mulching for more top tips on using this method in your garden. 

Deadheading means that roses will flower for longer. When you spot a bloom that has gone over, pinch or cut off the flower, where the base joins the stem. For roses that flower in a cluster, remove the entire head once the flowers have finished. Cut it off with your best secateurs, just above the first leaf with five leaflets.

How to water roses

how to grow roses: watering roses

(Image credit: Karan Kapoor/Getty Images)

It’s not quite as simple as dumping a full watering can over the top of a rose. David Austin Roses’ expert growers recommend these tips:

  • Water as close to the base of the plant as possible. Go slowly, allowing the water to soak in.
  • Do not water over the foliage or the flowers of a rose as this encourages certain diseases, such as black spot. 
  • If you are watering with a hose, avoid using a jet spray. Some hoses have a special rose setting, but if yours doesn’t, ensure that the pressure is not too high. Find the best garden hose for the job in our guide. 
  • As a general rule, each time you water, shrub roses need five litres, climbing, rambling and standard tree roses need 10 litres and roses in pots require five litres. 

During October to February, roses require little or no watering. In March to May, they will need hydrating if there is a dry spell lasting two weeks or more. Newly planted roses need watering every two to three days. 

Between June and September, water established roses every other week, and newly planted ones twice a week. Roses in pots and containers need a drink every other day. Water twice as often if the weather is very hot and dry. Give each rose one large watering can full.  

Tips for pruning roses

how to prune roses: pruning floribunda roses

(Image credit: Yana Tatevosian/Getty Images)

Don’t stress about pruning roses because the principle is very simple. Prune them with sharp secateurs each winter (February is a good time) to keep their shape and encourage new shoots, says Dobbies’ Marcus Eyles. 'Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged stems, cutting remaining stems back to a strong outward facing bud,' he advises. 

For in-depth advice on keeping your roses in great shape, head over to our guide on how to prune roses

PROBLEMS WITH ROSES

cottage garden layout ideas: roses and lavender

(Image credit: Victoria Wade)

Roses can attract a number of pests and they are prone to fungal diseases such as black spot and mildew. The key is to inspect plants regularly and to act promptly if you find something amiss. 

  1. Rose black spot shows when small black or purple spots develop on leaves, and it can make them drop. Roses which are particularly prone to this disease are hybrid tea roses, floribundas, climbing roses and patio roses. Fallen infected leaves should be collected up and destroyed (not added to a compost heap). The plant can be treated with a spray.
    For a choice which will not affect beneficial insects such as bees, ladybirds and lacewings, try Sulphur Rose Spray (available from Amazon). This will also tackle mildew and certain aphids. Or try Fungus Clear Ultra, also available from Amazon. 
  2. Suckers are whippy shoots. They grow when the grafted root of the rose produces a shoot of its own which is different to the rest of the plant. They are undesirable because they may remove vital nutrients from getting to the top of the plant, ultimately causing it to die. To remove a sucker, find the source (below soil level if necessary) and pull away. 'If you are unsure if you have a sucker or fresh growth, leave it until it’s obvious that it matches the rest of the plant,' say the David Austin experts. Suckers can develop when a rose’s roots are damaged by digging or hoeing, so take care when working around the base of the plant.  
  3. Waterlogged soil can kill roses at their roots. Ensure that they grow in a well-drained area. If they are to be put into a container, make sure to add plenty of drainage holes before planting. 

Where to buy roses

You can buy roses as either bare root plants (the cheaper option) or as pot grown plants. Follow our quicklinks below to shop roses for your garden.

Where to buy roses in the UK:

Where to buy roses in the US: 

cottage garden ideas: cottage garden with rambling roses climbing a stone wall

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)
Fiona Cumberpatch
Fiona Cumberpatch

An experienced freelance journalist, editor and columnist writing for national magazines and websites, Fiona now specialises in gardens. She enjoys finding and writing about all kinds, from the tiniest town plots to impressively designed ones in grand country houses. She's a firm believer that gardening is for everyone, and it doesn’t matter if you have a single window ledge or an acre, there’s always peace and joy to be found outside. The small town garden of her Edwardian terraced house is currently a work in progress as she renovates the property, but her goal is always to fill it with flowers, climbers, colour, fragrance – and as many of her treasured vintage finds as she can possibly fit in.