by Dorothy Whitlock

The beautiful roses blooming in my neighbors’ yard captured my attention with their incredibly pleasant fragrance and amazing display of color.   Climbing roses covered the neighbor’s fence and several varieties of rose bushes lined their yard. In addition to roses in shades of pink, red, white, and coral, a yellow “Julia Child” rose, an eye-catching variety called “Joseph’s Coat,” which has pointed petals that change colors as it blooms, could be found.

I wondered if I could grow flowers as pretty in my scrubby yard. So, I decided to go over and ask about growing roses.  My questions were welcomed, and the friendly neighbors offered some advice about how to grow roses with plenty of tender loving care. As self-proclaimed “amateur” gardeners, they also recommended that I contact a certified rosarian in the area for more professional advice. Mr. Ken Schmitt, president of the Eastern North Carolina Rose Society in Greenville, North Carolina, provided more wonderful advice.

Although roses will grow in various soils and climates around the world, rose gardeners must find what works best for the variety they wish to grow. These are some practical tips that I plan to use in my flower garden here in eastern North Carolina in the coming year.  


Rose bushes should always be planted in an area where they will receive six hours of sunlight daily, with afternoon sun preferable.  To allow for healthy root expansion, rose bushes should be spaced at least two feet. 

Mr. Schmitt especially stressed the importance of roses getting enough water, at least five gallons each week, as well as being planted in soil that drains well.  In his words, “Roses need a lot of moisture, but they don’t like their feet wet.”  This means that soil may need to be amended (by adding manure or sand to increase drainage) or the rose can be planted in raised flower beds to prevent plants from standing in wet soil for long periods of time.  Another suggestion was to plant roses on a slope so that the soil drains easily.  

Standing in wet soil can lead to problems with fungus, Black Spot Mold, and insects.  Spraying pesticides helps, but having the rose plants off the ground in a raised bed is the best prevention for such problems.    


When planting, dig hole that is twice as wide as the plant container or root ball, and only just as deep. If the soil needs to be amended for drainage, dig the hole twice as deep, and back fill the bottom half with a mixture of manure and potting soil. Tamp down, but do not compact before placing the root ball in the hole, so that the top is level with the ground. 

After planting the rose, it is a good idea to loosely apply 2-3 inches of mulch around it to help keep moisture in the soil.  Leave 2 inches of space between the trunk of the rose bush and the mulch to prevent crown rot. Mulching will also keep weeds out and protect from root invasion. 


Following simple guidelines for watering and fertilizing roses is essential for beautiful blooms. Roses like to be in soil that allows air to flow freely.  This can be accomplished by regularly using a small rake to loosen the soil throughout the growing season.  Applying plant food made especially for roses, or compost is useful to ensure bountiful blooms.  

It is important to always apply water at the base of the plant, not on the foliage.  One way to tell if it’s time to water the rose is to feel the surrounding soil with your bare finger.  If the top three inches feel dry, then it’s time to give the plant a good soaking.  When the blooms and leaves look droopy, then watering is overdue.  If leaves begin to turn yellow, you are over watering the plant.  

To maintain beautiful blooms throughout the season, “dead heading” both prevents faded blooms from developing disease and encourages new blooms to emerge. Roses have leaves protruding from the stem that have either three leaflets or five leaflets. When cutting roses, make a diagonal cut above the five-leaflet leaf.  This is important because the new bloom develops from the base of these leaves where the energy for the plant is made.

As the weather warms and the flowers begin to bloom, I am excited to begin my journey in rose growing. Hopefully, with some extra tender loving care, my roses will be as spectacular as those in my neighbors’ yard.

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