— Written By and last updated by Sarah Roberson

Most gardeners at one time or another have had roses or have thought about planting roses. Certainly we all think of roses when making lists of plants with beautiful blooms. Early March is a great time to give those rose bushes some attention.

            Most modern roses fall in one of six categories: hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora, climbing roses, miniature roses, and shrub roses. Shrub roses are the most talked about in gardening these days. They have a bushy, shrub-like form and are adapted to a wide variety of uses. There are many roses that fit in this group and they are becoming more popular all the time. David Austin English roses, Flower Carpet and Knockout roses are among the most popular. Shrub roses tend to have fewer problems with black spot.

Plant roses where they can receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. Full sun in the early morning will discourage diseases by allowing foliage and buds to dry. A little shade in the afternoon will keep flower color from fading.

Most soils in North Carolina require amendments before planting roses. Organic matter such as pine bark, compost, or manure can be added to improve soil and add nutrients. Roses need good drainage. In poorly drained areas this may be provided by preparing a raised bed or in extreme cases adding drainage tile. Soil testing is always important to determine if pH range is right. Roses like soil pH in the range of 5.5 to 6.

Planting should be done in the early spring or fall. It is best to till the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches especially if mass planting in a bed. However, if single roses are planted, the hole will need to be the depth of the root system and at least 18 inches wide. Make sure to remove plastic bags, fiber pots, or containers and prune any broken roots. Cut back the top of the rose to 5 to 7 inches. If the rose is container grown, loosen the outside of the root ball to prevent root circling after planting. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with amended soil. Do not add more than 50% amendment to the native soil. Tamp the soil in lightly as it is added to remove air pockets. When the hole is 2/3 full, water-in to remove remaining air pockets. Next let the water drain and fill the hole with backfill, but do not tamp in.

  Using organic mulch around roses is important. In addition to conserving moisture, preventing weeds, and improving looks, mulching roses will help reduce damage from disease. Mulch choice is up to you. You can fertilize roses with 1 pound of 12-4-8, 12-6-6, or 16-4-8 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed area. Do this in March, May, and July.Plan on only watering roses based on soil moisture if needed. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation provide moisture to the root system, but keep the foliage dry. Roses are very tough and drought tolerant once established if the soil is prepared well.

Pruning is important with roses. Pruning gets rid of diseased, damaged, or dead wood and improves the overall shape. Rose pruning should be done just as buds break dormancy. In eastern North Carolina check roses now to see if it is time to prune. In order to prune at the right time for each rose, watch for buds to swell. Prune bush or shrub type roses back one-third to two-thirds. For other roses prune to 3 to 5 finger-sized canes 18 to 24 inches in length. Always use sharp clean tools and make cuts at a slant just above a bud. Periodically dip pruners in a 70 % alcohol solution to decrease spread of disease. Spring flowering climbing roses should be pruned after blooming to keep them in bounds and remove old wood.

            If you need more information on roses give the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers a call at 902-1705. You can leave messages any time for a return call. Volunteers staff an office at the Pitt County Agricultural Center at 403 Government Circle in Greenville for walk in visits on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. Come to the same address on Thursday, March 7th from 10 a.m. to noon to tour the Pitt County Arboretum. An Extension Master Gardener will be leading the tour of the arboretum including gardens with vegetables, herbs, roses, perennials, wildflowers, butterfly attracting plants, small fruit, ground covers, trees, and shrubs. If you need more information call 902-1709 or visit for directions and links to our social media and blogspot pages. You can also visit the Extension Master Gardeners today at the Greenville Convention Center during HomeFest13 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to get questions answered in person.