Selecting Rosebushes for Your Gardens/Rose Beds

Selecting Rosebushes
By Stan V. Griep
Colorado Native Rosarian
Over 40 years of Rose Growing Experience

             There are many varieties of roses available for purchase today. There are also many places to purchase rosebushes. On-line purchasing of bare root or potted rosebushes has become quite popular.  On-line purchasing of roses is especially popular when looking for a certain rose that is not available locally. No matter where you purchase your rosebushes, it is extremely important to obtain good high quality rosebushes. Nothing is worse for a beginning rose grower than to purchase a rosebush that is not healthy or has some other problems to start with. I have been contacted by beginning rose lovers that are extremely frustrated over the lack of performance of their new rosebush. I go over everything they did from purchasing to planting of the rosebush first. Then I inspect the actual rosebush to see if I can spot any obvious problems. Many times I have dug down along side a problem rosebush to find that its root system is nearly non-existent. The new rose lover had purchased a bare root rosebush at a local store that even though it was still in its plastic wrapping had started to leaf out. The new rose lover reasoned that the rosebush must be very healthy if it was leafing out so nicely while still in the wrapping.  Once the rosebush was unwrapped our new rose lover noticed that there were not many roots there at all, yet went ahead and got it planted and watered well. A warm afternoon followed soon after planting and all the foliage went limp and died. What once had been a happy and excited beginning rose lover, was now a frustrated and upset rose lover. In many cases that new rose lover feels that he or she did something wrong and thus roses are given the label of hard to grow or very finicky. Most of the time what actually happened was that the rosebush had its root system badly chopped off or cut back at some point either during its harvest for sale or perhaps at packaging time. The limited root system was packed in nice wet sawdust and was capable of getting all the moisture it needed to support the growth it started to put forth while in the wrapping. One the new rose lover took away that wet sawdust packing and planted it in the garden, even though well watered, the new planting medium did not have the same moisture providing availability. Through on top of that the warm to hot afternoon sun and a root system that is not developed or established enough to support any foliage and what you get is limp to crispy foliage very quickly. Most of the time the rosebush will die as the root system is just not sufficient to support it. Thus the passion of growing and enjoying roses gets a much undeserved black eye of sorts.


When buying bare root rosebushes always take a good look at their root systems and inspect them for any damage or possible signs of disease. If some areas of the roots look slimy feel free to prune them back to good tissue. If the root system does not look right to you take it back to the store where purchased and ask for another rosebush. If the rosebush was purchased on-line call the company and explain the situation to them. The company will then advise you on how they want you to handle the situation. The company it was purchased from will replace the rosebush in many cases.

Some companies will want the rosebush shipped back to them and then will send out a replacement. The canes of the rosebush must be inspected as well for any damage or signs of disease. If significant signs of damage or disease are found, follow the same steps given previously when finding problems with the root systems.

When purchasing rosebushes that are started in pots it is still necessary to take a look at the root system. Have one of the store or nursery employees tip the rosebush upside down while firmly holding the rose at the point where it enters the soils in the pot.


If the soils easily spill out of the pot to the point where the roots are exposed, it has not been in the pot long enough to get the root system growing and developing. In such cases the root system may well be in trouble when it comes to supporting its foliage when removed from the pot and planted in your garden or rose bed. There is nothing wrong with going ahead and buying such rosebushes, just be aware that you will need to keep an eye on the soils moisture and also make some provisions to protect the rosebush from the direct intensity of the sun for at least a couple of weeks. My favorite local greenhouse sells wonderful potted rosebushes that always seem to have very well developed root systems in the pots. When I remove them from the pots the root growth is easily seen and when tipped upside down a little of the top of pot soil may come out but the root zone stays intact. Many folks will say to be sure to get #1 grade roses which is a good idea, however there are times when the marketing folks have a different idea of what makes a #1 grade rosebush than what the typical rule is. The #1 grade rosebush is supposed to be the more mature bush with a better root system and will have 3 or more strong canes at least one of which must be a minimum of 1/2 inch in diameter and 18 inches in length. The #1 ½ rosebush will have 2 or more canes that are a minimum of 5/16 inch in diameter and at least 15inches in length. A #2 rosebush has canes but may all be very small diameters and the root systems are not well developed.


Part of selecting a good rosebush has to do with knowing where in your garden or rose bed you intend to plant it. Read the available information on the rosebush or rosebushes you intend to buy. The amount of room a given rosebush needs to thrive can differ greatly from rosebush to rosebush. Some hybrid teas like to stretch for the sky and do not spread out much. One would want to be careful about planting such roses where roof eaves or overhangs are close by. Many floribundas love to spread out and load up with their beautiful clusters of blooms. One would not want to plant such a rosebush in a tight or limited space environment.  Many rose lovers make such mistakes with miniature rose bushes as well. A wonderful lady from California that ran a miniature rose business originally started by her mother once gave me a major tip about mini rosebushes. She told me to remember that the “mini” in miniature roses means the bloom and not necessarily the bush. Thus it is just as important to read up on the miniature roses as well to see what their various growth habits are.


Keep in mind that the price you pay for a rose may not be a solid indication of how healthy or hardy the rosebush may be. In some cases I may pay $3.00 or less for a bare root plastic wrapped rosebush and get exactly what I paid for in that it will need much tender loving care (TLC) to get it going and even with all the TLC it will never really make much of a bush, thus all of that TLC was to no avail as the rosebush either did not perform well or died in spite of it. Thus that $3.00 purchase added in with all of my TLC time may equal zero in returns and hundreds in frustration. The same can be said for a potted and started rosebush that costs $25.00 or more as it may not perform well in my garden or rose bed environment but this is far less likely. Once removed from the optimum greenhouse growing environment, some rosebushes go into a bit of transplanting shock. The rosebush may appear to be stuck at a certain stage and existing buds are not opening and blooming.


As long as the leaves are looking healthy and not going limp and the buds remain erect and do not go limp, things will be fine in time. What we cannot see is the root system attempting to establish itself into its new environment. Adding some vitamin B1 solution, Superthrive or root stimulator to the soils around the rosebush should help with the shock as well as aid the root system in its development.


One of my grandmothers used to totally disbud the newly planted potted and growing rosebushes thus not allowing it to have that first cycle of blooms in her garden. Her reasoning was to allow the rosebushes energies to go into building and establishing its root system rather than making the rosebush try to do both produce blooms and build up its root system at the same time. She felt that usually either the blooms or the root system, sometimes both, had too much of a struggle thus not performing as well in the long run. The buds would open but the blooms will be flatter than they normally would be or will not last long at all. The blooms may be without the fragrance they were advertised to have. Giving the root system its best opportunity to get well established was the top concern, as the root system must be doing well for the rosebush to pass its “winter test” here in Colorado. So, while difficult to do, the total disbudding of newly planted potted and growing rosebushes would appear to have some merit.


Basically look every rosebush you are considering buying over very well. Then give it your best efforts to give it a good home that it will thrive in. A happy and hardy rose makes for a happy you! Also realize that no matter how much you pay for a rosebush it just may not thrive and that may not have anything to do with your efforts. I have had three rosebushes of the same name and variety perform totally differently. It comes down to the actual “will of the rosebush”. Some have a strong will to thrive and perform, others need more coaxing to perform and some must be part mule as they are stubborn all the way! If you love the rose and want it in your garden don’t give up on the variety, I encourage you to try another rosebush of the same variety. Seek the joy and peace that truly come with growing roses, do your best to keep frustrations to a minimum by studying this object of your affections. Seek out others in your area that grow roses such as any local Consulting Rosarians for their advice on tending to roses as their advice may well be better than any book ever written for growing roses in your location. A list of Consulting Rosarians listed by State may be found at the American Rose Society website at I further encourage you to seek a local rose society, go to some of their meetings and check them out. Joining up is optional.


Now on to the preparations for planting and actual planting of our rosebushes…


Winter Magic – Miniature Rose – As captured by: Stan V. Griep


Pruning Rosebushes

Pruning Roses in Northern Colorado
By Stan V. Griep
Colorado Native Rosarian
Over 40 years of Rose Growing Experience

I am what is known as a “Spring Pruner” when it comes to pruning roses. Instead of pruning the roses way down in the fall after they have gone dormant, I like to wait until early spring when I see the leaf buds starting to form up well. My taller rose bushes do get a pruning down to about half their height once they have gone dormant in the fall. The fall pruning I do is to help prevent damage to the overall bush from winter winds and heavy snows. The winds and heavy snows can break over long rose canes causing great damage to the overall bush, sometimes to the bushes nearby as well.

I do the standard “by the book” type pruning with my hybrid tea roses for the most part. I select an outward facing leaf bud eye and prune on an angle away from the bud eye 3/16 to ¼ inch above the bud eye. That cut is then sealed with white glue that is not water-soluble. There are times when a particular cane may be at a fairly harsh angle from the center of the bush. In such cases I will select an inward facing bud eye and prune there. By pruning at the inward facing bud eye the new cane that grows forth will come back into alignment with the rosebush for a better looking overall bush. You need to look at each rose bush kind of like an artist looks at a blank canvas. Picture how you want the rose to be shaped. Then prune the bush accordingly. I prune all of my rosebushes with the “blank canvas” approach. A blooming rose bush is truly beautiful without a doubt. However a rosebush with wonderful overall form and loaded with beautiful blooms is indeed a work of art.

Here in Colorado, even with mounding the rose for winter protection, we can get some very significant cane dieback on our roses. There have been many times when the canes that are left on the roses after spring pruning are only 1 ½ to 2 inches long. Pruning down that far is required to get to a good white center of cane pith and a healthy bud eye. Such harsh pruning can make it extremely tough on the “blank canvas” approach yet it is still possible. You need to focus on where the bud eye is located and envision where the particular cane will be as it grows. You do not want canes to cross over one another creating a jumbled mess in the bush where insects or funguses can cause problems. Yet you do want a nicely shaped bush with lush foliage to properly display the beauty of the blooms.

The floribunda and grandifloras roses get pruned in much the same way as the hybrid teas except that I do not worry much about finding outward facing bud eyes. I still keep in mind where a cane will go as it grows so as to avoid the crossing canes. However with the floribundas and grandifloras I like a full looking rosebush that will fully present the beauty of the clusters of blooms against their rich foliage.

In my opinion, when making the pruning cut, it is better to have a flatter cut than a cut that is too steep. The angle of the cut is somewhat important to allow moisture runoff and such, yet it is not a crucial error if the cut is considerably more flat than a 45-degree angle.
The cut end of the cane can still be sealed and the new growth that forms from the bud eye still has a good base for support. Whereas a pruning cut that is too steep exposes more of the center pith than should be exposed and provides an extremely weak foundation point for the new growth. The steep cuts are also extremely hard to get a good seal on and will tend to allow easier pest invasion.

My mini roses are truly easy to prune as I simply prune away the winterkilled portions of their canes while forming up the bush. If the centers of the mini roses are too full I simply prune a couple of small canes out and the bush is done. In no time at all the new growth will have the overall form of the bush right where I want it.

When deadheading my roses I prune back to the first five-leaf junction with the main rose cane, as long as the cane in that area is sturdy and at least 3/16 of an inch in diameter. Too small of a cane at the area of new growth generation and future rose blooms will cause a sagging effect if the roses blooms are large blooms. In cases where the cane is too thin at the first five-leaf junction, I will prune down to the next junction where the cane is the desired size. The mini roses are an exception to this deadheading/pruning. When pruning my mini roses I simply prune off the bloom down to where the stem meets with the first group of leaves with no apparent effect upon the size or support of the rose blooms to follow.

Some other very important things to remember when pruning are:

1. Always seal the ends of the pruned canes that are 3/16 of an inch or larger in diameter with white glue or tree wound tar type sealer. This will help keep the cane borers away.

2. Always wipe down the pruners cutting blades with a Clorox or Lysol disinfectant wipe or dip the cutting blades into some form of disinfectant solution after pruning each bush. In some cases it may be necessary to wipe or dip them after each cut, such as when pruning out an infected or diseased cane. You do not want to spread the disease from an infected cane or bush to other canes or other rosebushes.

3. When finished pruning for the day and after disinfecting your pruners, spray the blades with some silicone lubricant spray or other protective lubricant. It does not take long for rust to form and damage your pruners. Plus the lubricant helps keep the pruners working well and not so hard on arthritic hands.

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