Beginners' Roses

The South's longer growing season calls for special touches in rose care. Rewards include an eight-to-ten month blooming season. Roses need at least half-a-day's sunshine. Morning sun is best, so give them an eastern exposure if possible.

Cut back a few tree branches of healthy rose bushes if branches shade the bed. Do not place within 20 feet of a tree — the tree roots will use up the rose fertilizer and moisture. Dig at least 18 inches deep in a well-drained spot. Roses do not like wet beds. Bed preparation is better if done in late fall, or preferably, late winter.

The ideal soil is made up of equal parts topsoil and loam, but any good garden soil will grow roses. Peat moss or well-rotted manure mixed into the bed will help greatly. Like Greta Garbo, roses like to be alone, so don't plant anything else in the bed. Plant bare-root roses in late winter when roses are dormant. Planted in fall, roses may start putting out tender shoots that get caught by a freeze. Planted in spring, they don't have time to get settled in the lower South. Some rose experts report good results from spring planting in the upper South.

Potted roses may be planted at any time. Keep soil from the pot secure around root system. Bare-root roots should go into a hole about one-and-a half feet across, and almost to the depth of the bed. Mound soil in center of the hole so graft will be even with the surface. Place plant on the mound, with roots spread out naturally over the mound. Fill the hole half full with soil, then water down. Finish filling with water again. This firms soil so no air pockets are left. Graft should be even with surface of soil.

Plant roses 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart. Any good fertilizer will do the job; a 6-12-12 is often used. Do not fertilize at planting. On the first day of each month (March through September in the lower South and March through August in upper South), use about 1/2 cup in a circle around base of plant. Pull mulch back to apply fertilizer; then cover again. Water fertilizer in. If a soil test shows soil is very acid, add a bit of bonemeal or lime. Holding back on fertilizer in late summer slows down growth so plants are not caught in a too-active growth cycle when first freeze comes.

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