Selecting, Planting, and Growing Roses for Low Maintenance and Disease Resistance
(for Atlanta, Georgia and the entire temperate Southeast)
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“The rose speaks of love silently, in a language known only to the heart.” –Unknown
Where do roses want to be in your garden?
Like people, roses can be particular about where they find themselves, so let’s survey your yard. Where is there morning sun? Does that spot get at least 6 hours of sun? Does a gentle breeze run through it to dry leaves from morning dew? Is the soil rich and slightly acidic? Is it near a water source? Does it drain well? Is it not too cold and not too hot?
All that would be ideal, but if like most yards yours isn’t quite perfect, remember that the real key to enjoying a flourishing rose garden, be it one rose or many, is to match the right rose to the right spot.
A rose is a rose, but which is best here?
Before you check our list of Recommended Roses below, consider these questions:
Do you have a little more shade than most roses like? Try climbers such as the Georgia state flower and species rose Cherokee, the beloved species Lady Banks, or the nearly thornless Bourbon rose Zephirine Drouhin. Other choices include polyantha roses such as Cecile Brunner (also known as the Sweetheart Rose), and the hybrid musk rose Ballerina. These can do with 4 to 6 hours of sun, though they’ll welcome more.
Looking for drought-tolerance? Plant rugose roses such as the incredibly fragrant Blanc Double de Coubert, or the beautiful Hansa and Therese Bugnet selections. The shrub roses in the Carefree series, and the China rose named Spice are also said to be drought resistant.
What about disease-resistant roses? While no rose is entirely free from black spot, powdery mildew or insect damage, some are much less susceptible, including the climbing roses Climbing Pinkie, New Dawn and Red Cascade, the ground cover roses such as Carefree Marvel and Sea Foam, and shrub roses Carefree Beauty (Katy Road Pink) and the color-changing Butterfly Rose or Mutabilis.
Are there thornless roses? Thorns are rare on climbers Climbing Pinkie, Lady Banks and Zephirine Drouhin, and polyantha Marie Pavie, making these beauties ideal by gates, paths, play areas and neighbor-friendly fences. As a bonus, the last two are also wonderfully fragrant.
Consider your garden’s design
From the romance of a rose-draped arch to the perfectly practical cutting garden, there’s a rose for every purpose. Cover a vast expanse with shrub roses, or on a slope try spreading ground cover roses. Compact polyanthas are lovely front row. David Austin® roses exude old-fashioned charm for eyes and nose. Back of the border belongs to tall, large China and rugose roses, while tea roses are long-stemmed cut-flower favorites.
Purchase, prepare, then plant
The ideal time to plant in Atlanta is November through March. But roses sold in containers can be planted almost anytime, as long as they receive an adequate supply of water.
Order your roses from highly regarded local nurseries, or trusted on-line sources, and make sure you’re getting top quality number 1 grade plants with 3 to 5 canes 18 inches long. Plants will be either in pots or bare root.
Prepare your rose beds by mixing equal amounts compost, peat moss and coarse sand into the top 12 inches of soil. Space your plantings according to the mature size indicated by the grower, usually 3 to 4 feet apart. Holes should be about 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep.
For bare root roses, shape a mound of the mixed soil at the bottom of the hole to support the plant’s roots, and removed damaged canes. For container roses, place the root ball on top of a layer of prepared soil in the hole. Keep in mind, when you add soil around the plant, you want the crown of the bare root rose to end up just above ground level, and the potted rose to be at the same depth as it was in the pot. Pack soil around your new roses, mulch with a 3-inch deep layer of pine straw, pine bark, or hardwood mulch, and water well.
Water your roses deeply with one inch of water or 4 to 5 gallons per plant once a week. In summer’s intense heat, you may need to water more often, especially if there’s been no rain.
Irrigation with soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines will keep water off the foliage and discourage black spot and other leaf diseases. If spray irrigation is used, then it is best to water in the morning so that the sun's rays will have time to dry the leaves.
Feed your roses from mid-March through Labor Day. Use a 16-4-8 formula monthly, either granular or liquid, synthetic or organic. If you’d prefer to fertilize less often, use a timed-release fertilizer such as Osmocote® every 3 months. Organic options have their own benefits in that they include micronutrients and encourage the presence of beneficial earthworms and other organisms. Organics can be either store-bought pre-mixed solutions, individual ingredients such as bone meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, Epsom salts and composted manure, or homemade compost or even coffee grounds. Several can be “brewed” into “teas” you pour on the soil around your roses. However you feed, always water well after fertilizing.
Prune in early spring before growth begins to remove dead, damaged or crisscrossing canes. With hybrid teas, leave 4 to 6 strong canes, cutting to 24 to 30 inches high, just above a bud, and also remove any suckers. Climbers require less pruning. They are pruned to train them to fence or trellis, and after they’ve bloomed to remove canes older than 2 years to promote continued flowering. Shrub roses (including rugose roses, polyantha roses, David Austin® roses, and China roses) are pruned to maintain shape.
Enjoy the color, fragrance and beauty of your new garden!
If you’d like help, Botanica Atlanta would be happy to assist with designing, selecting, installing and maintaining your new rose garden. Contact us here for a consultation.
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The following roses are known to do well in the South, with little disease or pest problems.
(click on the linked rose names below to see images of the roses)