Rose Growing Tips

Back to Basics: Soil, Irrigation, Spacing, and Sun

Rosa "Ruffled Cloud"
David Beaulieu

The ancient Greeks identified four basic elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Successful rose growing begins with proper attention to these same four basic elements. Get these right, and you are well on your way to enjoying these iconic flowers right in your own backyard:

Soil (Earth)

  1. Roses prefer a soil pH ranging from 6.5 to 6.8. Soil pH levels govern nutrient availability.
  2. Maintaining the correct soil pH level is especially important when it comes to the uptake of phosphorus, which is the P in the NPK series of numbers you see on fertilizer packages. While it is critical that your roses receive sufficient phosphorus, avoid overcompensating by continually adding phosphorus (you can end up with too much of a good thing).
  3. If all that sounds a bit intimidating, a simple recommendation for beginners is to use a 10-10-10 rose fertilizer, "applied every four weeks."
  4. Soils with good drainage are best for rose growing. When improving the soil through the use of soil amendments, do not forget to promote drainage by incorporating peat moss.
  5. Apply 2 or 3 inches of mulch over the soil.

Irrigation (Water)

  1. Watering requirements depend greatly on conditions. As an estimate, you can water rose bushes twice weekly. Monitor the health and vigor of your plants, and adjust that recommendation accordingly as demanded by the conditions in your own region. It is better to irrigate less frequently—but to water deeply when you do—than to administer shallower, more frequent waterings.
  2. Avoid late-evening watering, which could foster powdery mildew, which is a very common disease among rose plants. Tip: That warning makes sense if you remember that this is a fungal disease. A fungus thrives under moist conditions, right? By watering at the end of the day, you are not giving the sunlight a chance to dry things out before night falls. The result? That moisture hangs around all night, creating optimal conditions for powdery mildew. 
  3. For the same reason, avoid watering roses from above. Getting the leaves wet will only invite an infestation of powdery mildew. Instead, apply the water at ground level.

Spacing (Air)

  1. Rose growing in conditions where adequate spacing is not provided can foster powdery mildew as well. Let your roses breathe: do not plant them too closely together. Follow spacing requirements for each particular variety when purchasing rose bushes, as indicated on the plant label.

Sun (Fire)

  1. Roses are full-sun plants. That means you need to give them at least six hours of sunlight each day.
  2. If possible, let the morning provide the bulk of those six hours, since the afternoon sun can sometimes be a bit intense for these plants.