Old garden roses are typically defined as any class of roses that were in existence prior to the first modern rose being introduced, in 1867 in France. This has become a rather loosely used term over the years and you will also find these roses being advertised as historic, heritage, and sometimes even as heirloom roses. The roses that originated in Europe tend to be woody plants that only bloom once per year while the roses originating from eastern Asia are usually repeat bloomers.
There are over a dozen classes of these roses though the average grower usually isn’t familiar with them. They include Damask, Bourbon, Tea, China, Alba, and several hybrid roses (though not the hybrid tea roses). For our purposes here we do not need to delve too deeply into the individual classes as we can cover each one individually in another article. How you go about growing and caring for these roses is what is most important to us right now.
Growing your garden roses is not really difficult and if you have any past experience growing other types of plants then I don’t think you will find roses to be a huge leap. There are a few differences and quite a few similarities between roses and most other types of garden plants. The biggest decision that you will make in the life of your roses is where in the garden you choose to grow them. Try to select a location that gets around 8 hours a day or more of full sun.
You also will need to grow your old garden roses in soil that drains very well if you want them to perform. This is actually a really simple thing to accomplish but it is something that I see a lot of growers overlook. Roses that are grown in poor soil not only tend to underperform, but they often become very sickly and weak plants. If you are unsure about the quality of your garden soil, take a trip to your local garden center and pick up a bag or two of a good quality soil mix that is designed specifically for roses. In the long run your roses will thank you for it.
Getting your roses into the ground is not a tough task and most growers can get this job done pretty well with just a few basic hand tools. How you go about planting your roses depends a little bit on how you purchased them. If you bought your rose from a local nursery then chances are it was already planted for you in a container and ready to bloom. These are the easiest roses to plant. Dig your hole at least twice the diameter of the container and equally as deep. This will keep the bud union at its original depth while giving you plenty of room around the roots for your soil mix.
If you bought your old garden roses online, then they may have shipped them to you as bareroot plants which is not uncommon. You should first soak the roots of these overnight in a bucket of room temperature water prior to planting day to rehydrate the roots. Then dig your hole as long as the longest roots on the plant and deep enough to allow you to set the plant on top of a mound of soil while keeping the bud union no more than an inch or so below the surface once planted.
Once you have your rose set in place on top of the mound, spread the roots out in all directions and then back fill the hole only halfway to start, using your soil mix. Take the garden hose and water the loose soil heavily until it flows around the roots like mud, then you can go ahead and finish filling the hole the rest of the way. Give the soil one last heavy watering and be sure to top off any final settling that might occur, but do not tamp down the soil. This method should make sure that you do not get any air pockets around the roots of the plant.
Taking care of your roses is fairly straight forward and once again any prior experience you may have growing roses will certainly come in handy here as well. You will need to make sure that you are providing your roses with enough water and nutrients, while taking care not to overdo it. For most climates this usually amounts to about one deep watering per week. If your region is overly hot or dry then you should probably check on your roses every 4 to 5 days just to be sure.
You also should consider giving your old garden roses a dose of a granular all-purpose fertilizer in the spring when the leaves begin to open up. This will get your roses off to a fast start. If your rose is a repeat bloomer, then it will benefit nicely from a couple more feedings over the course of a growing season. I will give my roses their second feeding right after they have completed their first big bloom, with a third feeding coming around midsummer to encourage late season flushes. Most roses I have grown will do nicely on this schedule also.
I will generally prune my roses in the late winter or very early spring, when the weather starts to warm but before any of the leaves start to open up. This makes pruning easier on myself and the roses. You will want to start by removing all the dead and discolored wood from the plant and set your cuttings aside. Next, prune back any overlapping lateral canes so these do not compete for sun light once the leaves fully open. Lastly, give the remaining canes a cut back by about one third of their current height to promote new growth.
This is also the best time to rake up around the base of your old garden roses and get rid of all the dead leaves and debris that often collect there from the previous growing season. Throw all of this material away in the trash along with your cuttings. Never let dead matter lay around your roses as it can quickly turn into a breeding ground for pests and diseases. Finish up your pruning by giving your roses a fresh new layer of mulch to start off the growing season.
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