I’ve been counting down the days until spring since Christmas. When spring “finally” get here, it will be time to roll up our sleeves and get busy.

I am often asked what I do in the spring to “all those roses.” So here are some tips that I follow for getting my roses off to a good start.


For late March or early April planting, I buy bare root roses from online vendors. (Click here for a list of rose companies.) When they arrive they are “bare roots” wrapped in wet newspaper and plastic. Very humble beginnings for a plant that will be so lovely later!

Bare roots soaking in Moo Poo Tea...
Bare roots soaking in Moo Poo Tea…

I immediately unpack them and soak them in a bucket of Moo Poo tea for 24 hours before planting. Click here for a great video on planting bare root roses by Guinivere of Roses of Yesterday and Today.

IMG_7516Grafted Roses: Most hybrid teas, floribunda and grandifloras are grafted roses.

That means that a rose is created by being grafted onto strong, hardy root stock creating a “bud union.” Plant the bud union (knobby part just above the roots) 2-3” below the soil line.

Own Root Roses: Roses that have not been grafted but started from cuttings, so there is no bud union to protect–plant as you would any other shrub.

Soil: We ask roses to bloom for us all summer, year after year, so it is best to give them a good start by planting them in good soil. Dig a hole deeper and wider than your roots. To the soil you remove, add compost and a quality grade of top soil. Your roses will appreciate more nutrients and better drainage! My soil is mostly clay so we dig very deep and very wide! (I usually go about 18″ X 18″). It is always a good idea to have your soil tested. See your county extension office for a soil kit test or they can be purchased at most any garden center.


It can be difficult to know when winter is really over and it is time to prune, so I let the forsythia tell me. When the forsythia is blooming, I start pruning.

Gene Boerner Floribunda

Hybrid Teas: These are going to get the most severe pruning. I shape, cut out any dead wood and remove the canes that cross the middle to create more air circulation in the center of the plant which can help control fungal disease. You also want to remove any spinally canes (smaller than a #2 pencil). They will rarely produce bloom and will just rob nutrients.

When I am finished pruning a HT, I am left with 4 – 5 of the strongest canes about 12 – 15″ from the ground. This changes in the case of a extremely cold winter. There have been times when I have had to prune close to the ground. Boy it is hard to trim that much but it worksI They don’t need to be working thru weak or dead wood. So just remove it!

Floribundas: I take a lighter hand at pruning Floribundas but do still remove the diseased, damaged canes and those that cross through the center of the plant.

Old Garden Roses: To me bigger is better as far as old garden roses are concerned, most of them preform at their peak when allowed to grow. So, I do very little pruning. I just thin out old wood, remove any dead wood and spindly canes or anything that is need to retain your size and shape.

David Austin English Roses: Very little pruning is required as they don’t appreciate a lot of cutting, just remove dead wood and give them a light shaping.

Sunny Yellow Knockout

Shrub/Landscape Roses: These are so easy… Just shape to fit your space.

I have several Knockout and Drift roses and I usually trim them back about 1/2 their size to rejuvennate them and increase bloom production. They can be pruned to about 12″ high if you are controlling their size as some of them get quite tall!

Clean up is vital to a healthy rose garden. Many diseases live over in even the most harsh winter, so disposed of your clippings and remove the spent leaves. I can hear Ted Mills, The Rose Doc, say… “Keep your rose beds hospital clean.” 🙂

One more thing about pruning — don’t scrimp on pruners. A sharp quality pair of pruners is a a very good friend to rosarians. If you need a source, check out The Rose Gardener. My friend Wendy can fix you up with some amazing Barnels!


When roses begin to have leaves it is time to fertilizer. Don’t fertilize too early and stimulate growth that could be lost in a late frost. Most any rose fertilizer will do — There are many organic and synthetic fertilizers to choose from but do read labels carefully–too much of a good thing can be harmful and we want to keep our soil as healthy as possible! I use a combination of Moo Poo Tea and Mills Magic on my roses.


Once fertilizer has been applied you will want to give your roses a deep watering to get those nutrients down to where they can do some good. A good rule of thumb is to water at the base of the plant, as wet rose leaves are more susceptible to fungal diseases (e.g. Black Spot & Powdery Mildew.).


This is one of my favorite parts. Mulch is so good for your roses (2-3″) … retains moisture, helps to keep down weeds and gives the garden that fresh, finished look!

One thing to remember when applying mulch … when mulch breaks down, it uses nitrogen in the process, so it is good to add a layer of compost on top of the soil before you add the mulch layer so the nitrogen in the soil can be used by the rose. If you are working in an established bed and last year’s mulch is still there, leave it… it becomes your “compost layer.” Win. Win.

IMG_5686My favorite tip is always to visit your roses daily or as often as you can to enjoy their beauty and to get to know them. Getting to know them can be key in early detection of any pest or disease.

And, when you have beautiful roses outside, who can stay in!


  1. Thank you, Teresa!!! This is great step by step information on spring prep for roses!! You are getting me excited!! Since we have snow coming in the morning, I need info like this to make me realize spring is around the corner!!!

  2. Teresa-thank you for following my blog. I am honored and must confess I have a black thumb when it comes to growing roses! I live in zone 6, central VA, and with our hot, humid summers, it took me twelve years to attempt ONE Sunny last season. Upon Allen’s recommendation, I bought one. It grew and bloomed a lot last season and did not require fungal treatment (yippee), yet this winter a hard wind bent it to the ground and now the entire plant appears wobbly.
    I also bought a bag of Jobe’s rose fertilizer spikes to use this year on Sunny and a 30YO florabunda, and wonder if you ever used them before on your roses? I see Moo Poo mentioned.
    I am so glad to meet you and hope you will coach me with my pathetic rose collection! 😉

    Diane, da scared rose gardener

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