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We Promise You a Rose Garden


Published: 06/20/2012


 It often surprises the inexperienced gardener to learn that roses are easy plants to grow and enjoy, provided they are planted properly and have their basic needs fulfilled. They offer wonderful variety in type, colour and fragrance and deserve a place in all but the most densely shaded gardens.

Briefly stated, the needs of the rose are: proper planting and pruning, good soil preparation and feeding, at least a half-day of full sun, regular watering and cultivation, and winter protection. That may seem an onerous program but the rewards are well worth it.

The most popular garden roses are the hybrid tea roses, which are the standard rose bushes we are used to seeing singly or in groups in beds. People often plant many different types together -- perhaps a dozen or more in the same bed -- and the result is usually an unsatisfactory mish-mash of colours, shapes and sizes. You are better advised to plant similar types together, in blocks, or if space is tight, try three groups of three hybrid teas of the same variety, which means nine roses altogether. Even here you will need an area of approximately 3 m by 1.5 m (10x5 ft) for satisfactory results, since the bushes should be 50 cm to 60 cm (20-24 in.) from one another and from all other plants.

The best location for the hybrid tea is a south-facing slope with protection from the wind, though with good air circulation. If a half-day only of sunlight is available, then let it be morning light, since the sooner the dew is dried from the leaves, the better, so as to discourage mildew and black spot.

The best time to plant roses of all types in the Toronto area is mid to late April, when the average daytime temperature is above 7 or 8 degrees Celsius. For colour and scent, few hybrid tea roses are as satisfying as "Just Joey," which descends from the classic "Fragrant Cloud." It has a deep orange colour and red veins and flowers on strong stems that don't buckle. A few years back it was voted "Rose of the World," yet it has been around for at least 30 years, which is testimony to its enduring charm. "Fragrant Cloud" is still worth trying too. If red is your preference, then "Royal William" will offer you an abundance of fragrant blooms throughout summer, while "French Lace" will satisfy your need for white (actually more like champagne) and will not clash with anything.

Any discussion of roses should not overlook old-garden, or classic roses, which are the traditional shrubs that we see in heirloom gardens. They generally offer greater fragrance though smaller flowers than hybrid teas and are generally more resistant to disease. They tend to bloom only once or twice a season, with "Queen Victoria" the glorious exception that keeps on going until early fall. Toronto straddles plant hardiness zones five and six, which means we may safely grow "Rosa Mundi," a very showy crimson with white stripes, while "Madame Hardy" is as white as snow and highly scented, and, like many other classics, it prospers in cottage country too.

Climbing roses and rambling roses are often confused by gardeners, yet a simple rule separates them: climbing roses bloom intermittently all summer long while ramblers bloom but once, though sometimes for a month or more. Be careful in your choice of climbers and ramblers, since many of them are not hardy for Toronto: you should ensure they are zone five or lower and that you plant the graft (where the root connects to the stems) 7.5 cm (3 in.) below the surface.

To return to the hybrid teas, most books will tell you also to plant them with the graft below the surface, but you will likely achieve better results with the graft a couple of inches above, provided you afford lavish protection in winter. A good way to do this is to mound the base with soil, or compost atop straw, to a height of about 30 cm (12 in.), but don't scrape up the soil from the bed to do it and so expose the roots. Use fresh stuff. Also, don't apply protection until after a good frost, and remove it a few inches at a time, starting in early spring.

We should also mention the floribundas, which flower in clusters from June till frost, and the grandifloras with their massive, showy blooms. They tend to demand more space but are often extremely hardy. Tree roses such as "Tropicana" are well worth growing too. Their graft is where the top of the "trunk" meets the branches, and both it and the roots must be protected in winter. Burlap will generally protect the graft, but a better plan is to grow the tree rose in a perforated container, then uproot and bury the whole lot for the winter.


Planting roses is not hard, and the main requirements are good drainage and a hole about 45 cm (18 in.) wide. If planting specimens whose roots are bare (as opposed to potted), create a mound of fine earth (such as a mix of 75:25 topsoil and sand) and drape the roots over it. Old folklore says that a slab of cooking lard under the roots will help, but it is in the fill and the surrounding soil that you should ensure richness through a high degree of manure or compost. Do not, however, fertilize newly planted roses: wait till early summer, when you may use water-soluble or granular fertilizer whose three numbers (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) are equal or favour phosphorous (i.e. 10-20-10). After the first year, however, that spring feeding will be the most important. Roses appreciate many trace elements such as magnesium and calcium, and banana skins dug in just below the surface will supply them naturally.

Roses are thirsty plants and at the height of summer will need deep watering every four or five days for best results. They also respond extremely well to shallow cultivation at least once a week. Try to set a regular time for it -- it won't take long.

Like true queens, roses resent anything standing too close to them, though they grudgingly accept that parsley enhances their fragrance.


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