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Words and Photo by Nita-Jo Rountree

Roses are beginning to show us why they’re called the “Queen of Flowers.” The lovely, newly emerging foliage fills us with great anticipation for the scented floral beauty that will soon follow.

This is a perfect time to plant containerized roses, and the nurseries are brimming with choices. The other day at Wells Medina Nursery, I saw a man unloading a cart full of roses and compost into his SUV. “You’re going to have fun!” I shouted from a socially acceptable distance of ten feet. “Not me, my wife,” he replied.

Before you make a trip to the nursery to buy a rose (or two or twenty), do a little research to make sure that the color and type of rose you’re looking for is disease-resistant. You will save yourself a lot of work if you’re not impulsively swayed by a glamour picture on the tag or the clever name of the rose. I completely trust any Kordes rose bred from 1995 to the present, David Austin roses bred after 2014, as well as many shrub roses, to be disease-resistant. This website will give you unbiased information about any rose you’re considering. There’s also a book

For roses that are already growing in your garden, when the new foliage reaches six inches long, it’s time to fertilize. I do a different fertilizing method every year because I’m always trying to see if there’s something better than what I’ve used in the past, but it seems that the main thing they need is simply to be fertilized with a well-balanced fertilizer.

This year, I’m into worm castings. Everything I read calls them, “the gardener’s secret weapon” and “the best soil enricher on earth.” I buy it at Molbak’s or online. Last month, I spread two cups of alfalfa meal and two cups of worm castings around each rose, and I scratched all of it into the ground. I then topped the mixture with an inch of compost. I’m careful to keep the compost away from the rose canes. Compost has good water holding capacity, but the moisture can cause the canes to rot.

Soon I will scatter a couple of handfuls of synthetic or organic fertilizer around each bush—something like 10-10-10 or lower numbers for organics. That alone would most likely be adequate for now, but I love the idea of also feeding the microorganisms with organics to enrich the soil.

Start checking for aphids not only on roses, but on a wide variety of plants. They’re easily controlled by using Ciscoe’s “El Kabotski” method, which involves squeezing them between a thumb and a forefinger while loudly yelling, “El Kabotski!” Otherwise, frequently hosing them off with a moderately strong spray of water does the trick. If you see some ladybugs, leave a few aphids to give the ladies a gourmet treat.

Start the rose season off right by giving your roses some love. By checking them frequently, you can nip pesky problems in the bud.

As Mary Berry said, “I can’t pass a plant stall without buying one. But my greatest extravagance, I suppose, is roses.”


Photo, Olivia Rose Austin. 


  • Judy Eskridge says:

    I would love to have help with a Pat Austin rose . It was not properly pruned for a couple of years and now I feel like I should just wait until November? Anyway, any help would be appreciated.
    Thank you

  • Wendy says:

    Nita-Jo– I love your title, photo and article! Wish we had enough sun in our shady garden to make at least one rose thrive; you make roses seem like an absolute must. I catch Rose Longing just reading.

  • Joyce Kormanyos says:

    This is the rose care method for Seattle taught to me by a rosarian. Set roses up for success in mid November. Prune to 2 to 2 1/2 feet. Remove any remaining leaves. Rake area clean. Winterize lightly with Garden in Bloom. This feeds them all winter and locks in disease.
    In February rake back mulch and prune to outside bud to 1 or 1/2 feet. Leave 3 to 5 strongest canes in vase shape. Fertilize Easter, July 4 and Labor Day. At labor day prune lightly remove weak canes etc. This sets you up for magnificent Oct bloom.

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