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All About Garden Roses

Have you ever been given roses that were so lovely they looked like something out of a fairy tale? And did you bring one to your nose, only to be disappointed that there was no fragrance? That’s because roses in the floral industry are specifically bred to be large and showy, but scent-free.

Closeup of puffy yellow garden roses.

If you want roses that smell and look beautiful, then you want garden roses!

If you’ve never heard the term before, or you just aren’t sure what garden roses are, keep reading — we’ll tell you all about them.


Characteristics of Garden Roses

Standard roses feature pointed petals that rotate around one central point — think of the roses given on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette shows. Garden roses, on the other hand, are puffier and softer looking. People often describe them as the roses their grandparents grew.

Garden roses are known for having a classic rose smell. The descriptions include “myrrh,” “damask,” “spice,” “citrus,” “fruit,” and “musk,” just to name a few. There’s as wide a spectrum for garden rose fragrance as there is for color, petal number, form, and bloom size.

Closeup of lilac pink garden roses.

These hybrid roses are some of the most popular groups of flowering plants. While most garden roses are grown for flowers, others grow them for hedging. With so many options, there’s sure to be a garden rose for you!


History of Garden Roses

Old garden roses were believed to be grown as early as ancient Babylon. There are paintings of roses on Egyptian pyramid tombs dating to the 14th century B.C.

Growing garden roses became popular in Europe in the 19th century when a large variety of roses were bred throughout the area.

Most of today’s garden roses come from 18th-century China, with the Old Blush Group being the oldest.

A trio of pale pink garden roses.

Garden Rose Classification

Roses are some of the most popular flowering shrubs in the world. As mentioned earlier, they come in many colors and sizes, depending on the region where you live.

While there’s no single system of classification for garden roses, they’re usually placed in one of three main groups:

Wild Roses

Also known as species roses, these roses are low-maintenance shrubs as compared to other garden roses. They can tolerate some shade and even poor-quality soil. They usually have one full flush bloom annually.

Old Garden

Any rose variety that existed before 1867 falls into the classification of an old garden rose. These include Old Garden Climbing, Gallicas, Centifolia, Alba, Moss, Rambler, Portland, Damask, hybrid perpetual, and tea groups.

Old garden roses are also known as historical or heritage roses.

Red garden roses.

Modern Garden

Modern garden roses are defined as any roses that were bred after 1867 — when the first hybrid tea rose, La France, was discovered.

These roses typically come in white, red, and pink. They typically only bloom from stems from previous years.

Some groups of modern garden roses include Modern Climbing, Grandiflora, Hybrid Tea, Miniature, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Polyanthas.


When to Plant

Roses are best planted in the spring after the last frost. You can also plant them in the fall at least six weeks before the first frost. Planting garden roses early in the fall gives the roots enough time to get established before the plant goes dormant for winter.

Planting a Rosebush

No matter where you choose to plant them, roses need plenty of sunlight and airflow to grow glossy leaves and lots of blossoms. Choose a location that gets at least six hours of sun daily.

If you live in a hot climate, choose a spot that offers your plants some protection from the afternoon sun.

Make sure to space your roses so they have enough breathing room. Good air circulation keeps your garden roses disease-free.


Preparing Your Planting Area

You must prepare your soil ahead of time. Roses flourish best in soil that is slightly acidic and near-neutral pH.

A soil test can help you learn more about your soil and how to improve it for the best-looking garden roses.

A fertilizer with a nutrient-rich formula will help your roses yield more blooms and will continue to feed them for up to four months.

Nutrients Your Old Garden Roses Need

Fertilizing a rose shrub.

There are three primary nutrients that your garden roses need to grow best:

Nitrogen

Nitrogen gives roses the healthiest leaf growth. But there’s a Goldilocks range when it comes to nitrogen.

Too much nitrogen can result in fewer blooms, while not enough can result in smaller blooms or yellow leaves.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is responsible for healthy root development. This leads to the best show of blooms.

A phosphorous deficiency can result in weak flower stems, buds that don’t open, or even leaf drop.

Potassium

Potassium helps your garden roses recover from extreme weather or exposure to insects or diseases.

Lack of potassium can result in poorly-developed buds, weak or small flower stems, or yellow leaves.


Fertilizing Tips

For newly planted garden roses, use a slow-release fertilizer with bone meal to promote healthy roots. Continue to fertilize every month with a mild fertilizer.

For established garden roses, begin to fertilize when any new leaves emerge, usually in early to mid-spring. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer with alfalfa meal to help jumpstart leaf growth.

Once shoots are four inches long, use a slow-release fertilizer. Continue to feed every few weeks during the growing season.

From late summer to early fall (depending on the weather), apply a slow-release fertilizer which will help with root development and next year’s blooms. It’s important to stop fertilizing at least six weeks before the first frost.

Types of fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are best for the environment and can be used alone or in combination with other supplements. They help to support healthy soil and promote drainage.

Inorganic fertilizers are convenient and more concentrated. However, they don’t generally improve the soil and may contain insecticides that can be harmful.


Pruning Garden Roses

Pruning removes dead leaves, stems, or branches that may cause unhealthy growth or shape.

Pruning a rose shrub.

Prune your roses back in the first winter after planting. Remove all dead, damaged, or weak leaves or stems. How you prune the rest of your roses depends on their form.

Here are some tips for different rose forms:

  • Hybrid tea garden roses need to be pruned back to 4-5 inches from the ground.
  • Climbers require that you prune the remaining strong stems to about one foot from ground level.
  • For shrub roses, leave strong stems unpruned for the following year as they will produce next year’s buds. Prune weak, diseased, or dead branches. Overall light trimming is okay.

For an in-depth read on the topic, read our Rose Pruning Guide on our website.


How To Transplant Garden Roses

Sometimes you discover that the site you originally selected for your rose just doesn’t work anymore. Unlike some garden plants, it’s possible to relocate your roses by transplanting them.

Transplanting roses, especially garden roses, requires planning and care. But you don’t need to be a master gardener to do this! Follow along as we walk you through what you need to know.

Pink garden roses along a white picket fence.

Early May is generally a good time to transplant roses. If your garden roses are growing in a poor location and you want to move them, follow these steps:

  1. Water your garden roses well for a few days. This allows the ground to become moist for transplanting.
  2. Prepare the garden bed by prepping the new planting site and digging a properly sized hole for the rootball. Amend with peat moss or potting soil, whichever you prefer.
  3. Prune the rose canes to about 12 inches in length.
  4. Dig a circle about nine inches out from the drip line of your bush to lift it out. Take as much soil with the roots as possible to reduce transplant shock.
  5. Plant your rose bush in the new planting site. Set the root ball in the hole. Make sure that it is sitting at or slightly above ground level.
  6. Fill the hole halfway with soil and water it fully. After allowing it to drain, fill the hole with the remaining soil.
  7. Add rose fertilizer and water the plant once more.

While transplanting rose bushes isn’t a simple, quick process, you can successfully move your garden roses to a new, better location where you can enjoy them for years to come.


Creating Bouquets From Your Garden Roses

After all the work of caring for your garden roses, you deserve to enjoy them! You can make beautiful bouquets for your home or to give away.

An arrangement of garden roses in a mason jar.

Cutting roses requires a good pair of shears. Here are the best practices for cutting garden roses or arrangements.

  • Choose garden rose blooms that are just starting to open.
  • Cut your roses in the morning when they’re most hydrated.
  • Cut the stems at an angle as close to the base of your bush as possible.
  • Immediately put the stems in a bucket of water.

When arranging your old garden roses, trim as much off the bottom as you can at a 45-degree angle while it is still submerged in water. Remove all of the leaves that would be under water as this will lead to rot.

Experiment with different lengths. Use rubber bands to bundle a few roses together to achieve an even more unique arrangement.

To keep your arrangement fresher longer, add two tablespoons of white vinegar, two teaspoons of sugar, and a half teaspoon of bleach for every quart of water.

Every few days, cut off a little more of the rose stems and also change the water at the same time.

Here’s a video that shows you how easy it is to make elegant table arrangements with garden roses using floral foam blocks.

Where to Buy Garden Roses

White garden roses.
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Nature Hills Nursery is a well-known online nursery and a great place to buy garden rose shrubs. They have a large selection of colors and shrub sizes to choose from, so you’ll have no problem finding a garden rose you love.

Start browsing in late winter/early spring to make your planting selections!


Add Garden Roses to Your Outdoor Space!

Let’s face it, when it comes to the roses we grow in our garden spaces, we want them to smell just as good as they look. Garden roses are a way to have the best of both worlds.

They come in all different colors, sizes, and forms so there’s bound to be a garden rose, or two, that will make a great addition to your yard.

Closeup of purple climbing garden rose blooms.

To learn more about roses,visit our Roses page for blog posts on rose varieties, plus helpful growing and care guides.