Perhaps one of the reasons that roses are such a favorite of mine is that they can take a fair degree of abuse, yet still produce so much beauty season after season. However, there are limits to what they will put up with!
One thing to be aware of is that the differences between rose varieties is much more than just differences in color and shape. Some roses are more susceptible to diseases, heat, humidity, etc. (read “Caring for Roses Part I: Pests & Pruning” for more information). Doing a little research into experiences other people have had with a particular variety and paying attention to what conditions you have to offer your roses will greatly help in guiding your purchases so you don’t have to rip out as many as I have had to. Roses don’t like being ripped out. They have thorns. They fight back.
One condition is a constant with roses. They like sun. Some varieties are tolerant of a little shade, either morning or afternoon. However, roses will not do well with full time shade, even if it is dappled. Roses that do not receive enough sunlight will have spindly growth and will bloom very infrequently. Be mindful of objects or trees that may cast shade over your roses at different times of day or year, to avoid planting them in trouble spots.
Just because roses worship the sun does not mean that they are all heat tolerant. You will need to check specific zone preferences for each variety you are looking to plant. No matter what, certain levels of heat are going to be too much for any rose plant, so take your location’s extremes into consideration. However, if there is a particular variety you are really wanting that is just outside your zone, there are some ways you can still make it work. We are talking only one zone up or down, so don’t get carried away.
If your zone is warmer than that of a rose variety you like will tolerate, planting it in an area that gets a little shade can help. Afternoon shade can provide relief at the hottest point of the day, but even morning shade will work. Shade in the morning will help keep soil temperatures cool for the rose as it goes into hotter daytime air temperatures. Ensuring that your rose has adequate moisture is also helpful. However, avoid mid-day watering as it is 1) wasteful since much of the water will evaporate rather than going to your plant, and 2) creates the perfect conditions for many diseases like black-spot.
If your zone is cooler, try planting your rose against a solid wall or against your house. That structure should be facing south if you live in the northern hemisphere, and the opposite if you are living in the southern hemisphere. These are the directions the sun shines more directly on during the cooler months of the year. As the sun shines on walls during the day they absorb heat and will then radiate that heat out at night. A wooden fence will not provide this same help. There are some other easy ways to keep your roses warm when needed, read here.
Despite being some of the least fussy plants I grow, roses do have the same kind of soil preferences that many other plants have, and for the same reasons. If you have heavy clay soil or super sandy soil, you will want to amend your soil to give your roses the best conditions for success.
Heavy clay soil tends to hold on to water too long, and hardens when it dries. Both can cause suffocation of your rose’s roots (yes, they need oxygen just like you do!) and be too dense for roots to grow through. Adding organic matter and material with larger chunks will help break up the clay. Covering the surface of the soil around the rose plant will also help keep the soil moist, preventing it from hardening, and make it more inviting for soil organisms like earthworms. They will naturally loosen up the soil and help return nutrients over time.
Loose sandy soil will also have problems with improper water retention. In this case the loose soil allows water to flow through too easily, causing a leaching of nutrients as it moves through, and drying out too easily. The same approach of adding organic matter, this time more fine material, and providing good mulch will help fix the problem.
Like many flowering plants, a proper balance of nutrients is essential for good growth, flower production, and even flower color. The reality is that roses don’t need added fertilizer unless your soil is really nutrient poor. If you decide to use a fertilizer, choose a natural one that is low in nitrogen. Synthetic fertilizers can be harmful to your soil organisms, and too much nitrogen will cause a lot of leaf growth at the expense of flower production.
Roses are not heavy water users, but are not entirely drought tolerant, either. Regular watering will help maximize growth and flower production, but over watering can lead to conditions that can foster disease or even smother roots. The soil around your roses should be moist without being waterlogged when watered, and should be allowed to dry out somewhat in between watering. Your roses will let you know if they have gotten too dry when they start wilting, especially in hot, summer, mid-day sun. If, however, you have been watering religiously and your plants are wilting: STOP! You are killing with kindness, as plants will show the same kinds of symptoms when the roots are being smothered with too much water. See the section “Soil Composition” above to learn about how to fix your soil for proper water retention, if needed.