3 Rules for Better Rose Bushes

Many years ago we moved into a house that had two rose bushes. I avoided them for a long time because I had always heard how difficult roses were to keep. Also that they were easily damaged. One day I found a magazine article that changed how I viewed roses. Their care was explained so simply that I couldn’t understand  how they had ever gotten such a bad rap. Now I have 6 bushes to care for and it really isn’t that big of a deal.

To start with, roses need a very specific nutrient called potassium. Now you can go to Wal Mart and pick up a bag that is in powdered form and it works fine. Or, you can use something you already have and were just going to throw in the garbage, banana peels. Yup, bananas and their peels are just full of potassium. All you need to do is cut up the peels and bury them next to the rose-bush. Not only will they provide the needed potassium, they will rot and create a compost for the soil.

Pruning is where most people worry the won’t do it correctly. There are a couple terms that make it simple to remember. Deadheading is only cutting away the spent blossoms. Doing this allows the plant to continue blooming the entire season. In other words, a few minutes of your time will mean more and bigger blossoms to enjoy. Pruning is selectively cutting a plant. This includes deadheading as well as the proper shaping of the  plant as well as cutting away dead wood.

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There are several things wrong with the plant pictured above and it will greatly benefit from a good pruning. When you are pruning for the first time I suggest taking it slow. Cut some away then come back and cut some more. This prevents you from cutting away too much. The more you prune the better you become at knowing exactly where to cut.

Begin by cutting away all dead wood. These are all the brown branches. This is normal and happens every year as some branches just don’t make it through the winter. Be sure to cut the entire branch off that is dead, don’t leave little stumps behind. Always make cuts at a 45 degree angle with the cut facing out. This may seem trivial but the direction of that cut will determine the direction the plant continues to grow. If you cut facing the center of the plant you will regret it later on. Once the dead wood is gone you can decide which branches are growing the wrong direction. One thing you don’t want are branches who cross each other forming an X. This will give your rose plant a better shape and makes future pruning significantly easier. One thing to remember is that the fewer buds a plant has the more energy is can put towards the ones it does have. This translates into bigger blooms. If you would rather have a lot of small buds then be a little less aggressive in your pruning.

There is a significant difference from where this plant started.
There is a significant difference from where this plant started.

As the season progresses it is time to deadhead spent blossoms. I believe this is best done on a daily basis. Doing it daily only takes a couple of minutes and ensures that you will always have new buds forming. This is ideally in a perfect world and life doesn’t always cooperate that way. So at a minimum it should be done once a week. Let it go too long and you will find time when you have absolutely nothing in bloom.

What to look for are leaflets with specific number of leaves on them, that is where the cuts will be made. Early in the season you cut right above a 3 leaf stem, by mid Summer it should have 4 leaves and by the end if your season look for 5 leaves. This picture is a great visual.

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It quickly becomes habit and you don’t even need to think about it anymore, you just do it.

The petals are long gone and it is time to prune.
The petals are long gone and it is time to prune.

Keep a bucket or garbage can next to you as you prune so all th cuttings can go directly into it.

Perfect cut
Perfect cut

Each cut requires only a few seconds to make. I keep a basket by my front door with my pruners, gloves, shears and something to kneel on. This allows me to do gardening quickly and without having to search the garage for items all the time.

I wish I had thicker gloves but my hands are so small I cannot find any that fit. But these are better than nothing!
I wish I had thicker gloves but my hands are so small I cannot find any that fit. But these are better than nothing!

Sometimes I find unwelcome visitors living on my roses. While I want lady bugs, aphids are not welcome. One easily made solution gets rid of most pests. In a spray bottle mix warm water with 2 Tablespoons of Dawn dish soap. Dawn is used on animals during oil spills to clean them up so I figure is it perfectly safe to use on my roses compared to other brands. Using the mist setting, spray your plants not only on the blooms, but the top and especially bottom of the leaves. Sometimes you may have to purchase something from the store but always try this first. Not only is it cheap but very successful.

There you have it, 3 rules for successfully growing roses. Provide them with potassium, do regular pruning and use dish soap spray for pests. I hope this makes growing roses a little less daunting and please share how your roses are doing this year.

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