Growing Roses in Northern Colorado

Growing Roses In Northern Colorado
By Stan V. Griep
Colorado Native Rosarian
Over 40 years of rose growing experience


I have attended rose society programs and rose growing classes where it seemed like the person or people doing the program or class seemed out of sync with our area. There seem to be some “standard informational lines” about rose growing that are passed on from one person to the next without any real thought about checking their validity to the actual location. Growing roses in Colorado varies a lot from one location to another depending on altitude as well as the soils in those various locations. When there is a large variation in what works and what does not, within one single State, there are no doubt huge variations from State to State. The variations from our Country to other Countries are surely staggering.


My advice to anyone that is either new to growing roses, or someone that has moved to a new location and wants to grow roses there, is to seek out someone that has grown roses in that location for several years. Perhaps there is a neighbor close by that grows and enjoys roses.  A big plus would be that the location you are in has a local Rose Society with just such people as members. If that society has not only some long time rose growers in that area but also a Consulting Rosarian or two, you have found a gold mine of information indeed. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions about what works and what does not in growing roses in your location. Ask for one of the members of the local Rose Society or a Consulting Rosarian in your location to come by your proposed garden(s) and see what they think of the proposed location(s). It would be helpful to whomever you have come by your proposed garden location if you would dig a couple holes in the soils in the proposed garden locations to expose some of the underlying soils. The American Rose Society has a listing of Consulting Rosarians on their website at . Or maybe better, drive around your neighborhood and look for some nice rose gardens. Stop in and compliment the folks on their rose garden and ask them if they have a minute or two to share some information on growing roses in the area.


 Some statements about growing roses need to be carefully examined. One such statement is that it is not possible to “over water” your roses. “Water your roses as often as you want, roses love water”. Such a statement is not entirely true here in portions of Northern Colorado. We have areas were the clay soils present big problems with drainage. If you were to dig a hole for a rosebush that was 20 inches in diameter and 20 to 24 inches deep, replacing those soils completely, you would have something similar to having planted the rosebush in a large pot without a drainage hole. In such heavy clay you can in fact over water your rosebushes making them sickly and quite possibly losing them. In order to be sure some of these areas have proper drainage, a person would need to dig up the entire proposed garden or rose bed area and replace the soils to a depth of three feet with either totally new soils or heavily amended soils as well as put in a perforated drain line. This sort of drastic action is not likely to take place in most cases. Rather than that, we amend or replace the soils in the top six to twelve inches of the proposed garden location. Or perhaps we practice “spot amending” by just amending the soils or replace the native clayey soils totally in the individual planting locations.

The “spot amending” is done in hopes that the rosebushes’ root system will be strong enough once it reaches the clayey soils to punch through and do just fine. Being careful how much water is applied to the spot amended locations is vitally important. Upon examining some areas where rosebushes have died, I have found a small pool of foul smelling water at the bottom of a very soggy planting hole. The rosebush had no root system to speak of as most of it had long ago rotted off. The times that I found this condition I asked the rose loving gardener how often they watered their roses. The answers were either every other day or every three to four days watering had been done.


I personally do not have real severe clay problems where I live, yet I still do have significant clayey soils to deal with. I amend my soils heavily using the best compost I can find. When I have run into the severe clay problems I have changed out the soils or heavily amended them with some Clay Buster amendment. In the cases where the clay was severe I also dug out trenches partially filled with pea gravel to help create better drainage for my chosen garden location. Trying to figure out exactly when the roses should be watered can be difficult in these clayey conditions.


I use a moisture meter to help me make sure the roses get enough water yet are not over watered. I purchased a moisture meter with the longest probe end on it that I could find. Before watering the roses I push the probe of the moisture meter down into the soils around the rosebush as far as it will go and check the reading. It is important to probe the soils out away from the center of the bush a ways. Probing the soils too close in to the rosebush will not give you good readings of moisture availability to the actual root system. I probe or “moisture test” the soils in at least three different locations around each rosebush to give me better information as to the soils moisture availability all around the bush. I combine the readings around each bush to determine if a good watering is in order, a light watering is in order or if I can wait a while before watering. Keep in mind that even a light watering with a deep watering device can go a long way in real clayey soils.

There are times when I want to probe the soils deeper than my moisture meters probe will reach. In those cases I will dig out a small hole in the soils in the three testing locations and then do the moisture meter testing. The testing holes are filled back in with amended soils and lightly tamped so as not to pack the soils in those areas.  


Watering is just one area where growing roses differs from one locations soils type to another. The nutrients readily available and not readily available in various soils also vary greatly from one location to another. The components needed in the soils to “unlock” the various nutrients for easy uptake by the rosebush root systems can also vary greatly from one location to the next. Having a neighbor that is a gardener is of high value to you if you are just planting your first rose or rose bed as they can probably tell you a lot about the soils and nutrients needed. In the absence of such good local information a soils test done on your proposed garden area is an excellent way to go. A combination of both forms of information is priceless information.


What you read in books or hear in classes on Rose Growing are usually good “general tips or rules” for your use in successful rose growing. However some local information is required to assure that success.



Honey Bouquet - Floribunda Rose - "Sunlit Spray" - Photo By: Stan V. Griep - May 2012.
Honey Bouquet – Floribunda Rose – “Sunlit Spray” – Photo By: Stan V. Griep – May 2012.

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