I was recently sent this questioning email…
I have been growing roses for some time but recently have not had success in keeping them going for several years in a row. I believe part of my problem is I have tried to buy the packaged roses sold in box stores rather than the potted ones. I guess I thought I could spend less and get them going with fertilizer etc. I prefer tea roses with the large single flowers on the ends of the canes. In late fall, I have trimmed the roses down to about 4 or 5 inches above ground and mounded dirt and wood mulch around them to protect from winter, but this last winter was particularly tough on my plants. I wanted to know your thoughts on where (and when) to buy the best plants to get started.
Well, adoring fan, I shall grace you with what little wisdom a-rose to my mind. The first thing I noticed while reading your email is that you choose autumnal rose care. I would recommend waiting to prune shrub and tea roses until spring. This is true for any woody species prone to winter damage. If you prune stems in the fall, you are reducing your odds of the number of viable buds surviving winter’s chill even when protected with soil. Second, you must ensure your winter protection is adequate. Hybrid tea roses need the protection I recommend below. Shrub roses, like Knock-Outs, do not need protection, although it does not hurt them. There are many methods of protection suggested on the internet.
What I do is wait until a real hard frost, then trim vigorous canes back to no more than 24” from the ground. Second, I mound up fresh, well draining garden soil over the center of the plant until the graft union is deeply covered. It can take ten to twelve inches of soil to accomplish this task. It is important to completely cover the graft union, as a late fall or winter rain storm can wash enough soil away to threaten the graft union’s protective cover. The more soil, the more temperature buffer provided the rose. Usually, this is all I need to do for a hybrid tea.
To answer your second question about where to purchase quality plants: find another reputable source you like and stick close. Box stores can provide quality plants, but can also provide some duds. Quality has more to do with the lineage and who grows it. We have a number of shrub roses from Bailey Nurseries and Proven Winners. Honestly, I have steered clear of tea roses because they are more fuss than I prefer. There are shrub varieties with large blooms as well. I would do a little hunting to find something you like. I would refer you to resources like the American Rose Society. With that, I shall leave you with a little poem…
Nelly Rose sat on a tack.
Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager