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Welcome to the November 2003 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.

Caring for Miniature Roses
by Paul Barden

The following document was written for my local rose society as a hand-out at a Spring plant sale. It gives beginners some good basic care instructions for their newly purchased Miniature Roses. Feel free to use this document for your own rose society fundraising events, or as a hand-out for friends who are new to growing roses.

Thank you for purchasing a Miniature Rose from our Rose Society. To help you learn how to care for your new rose we have prepared this document, which outlines most of the things you need to know to grow your plant into a specimen you will be proud of. Roses have gained a reputation for being difficult plants to grow, but in fact they are very easy to care for as long as their basic needs are met. Lets take a look at the things you need to know to grow your rose to perfection.

First Things First

The rose you purchased is currently growing in a four-inch nursery pot containing a soil mix made of Peat Moss and Perlite or Pumice. This light mix is quick to drain and yet it holds plenty of water. You may need to water the plant when you get home if it has been a warm day. The soil should always be moist. The plant has been grown in a greenhouse that is only slightly warmer than the outside temperatures, and so you need not worry about putting your plant directly outdoors. In fact, it is preferable to place your rose outside instead of keeping it indoors. Light levels in the home are insufficient to keep the plant healthy, and the dry indoor air tends to encourage insect pests. Let’s talk about where you want to grow your Miniature Rose.

Where Will Your Miniature Rose Live?

Miniature Roses have become very popular in the past few decades because they are easily grown either in pots or directly in the garden. Whichever you decide to do, there are decisions that must be made in order to get the very best out of your rose. Let’s talk about container culture first.
The most important consideration is the size of the pot you need. While a Miniature Rose can be grown in something as small as the 4 inch pot it was purchased in, it will not do well if left in that size of pot for long. The average Miniature Rose is capable of growing to a mature size of 16 inches tall and about as wide at maturity. (Some varieties will be smaller and some can grow bigger.) Imagine that the root system will grow as big as the top part of the rose, and so you want a container that is ideally at least 12 inches deep and 10 to 12 inches across. Deeper is better, and experience has shown that the 16-inch deep pots are just about perfect to make a permanent home for the average Miniature. Whatever style of container you choose, remember that it MUST have some drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out!

Of course you can choose something larger if you want to, giving you the opportunity to plant more than one variety in the pot. The large wooden half-barrels are a good example: you can plant three or four Miniature Roses in something this big, and even under-plant with small cascading annuals like Lobelia and Alyssum. (You may have to drill drainage holes yourself)

The soil mix you choose should be something light and well drained. Soil taken from the garden is less than ideal for pots because it is too heavy and tends to hold too much water. Most of the pre-packaged mixes that are found at local Nurseries are excellent choices for roses. Soils like “Black Gold”, “Gardener and Bloome” and “Whitney Farms” have all proven to be fine choices for container grown roses. If in doubt, ask the Nursery staff for their suggestions.

While all of these soil mixes are blended to be nutritionally complete for most applications, you may want to consider adding Alfalfa meal to your mix. Alfalfa meal has been found to have growth stimulating properties for plants, and can enhance the health and performance of your roses. The addition of one or two tablespoons of Alfalfa thoroughly blended into the soil mix is plenty. Remember this part is optional and is just offered as a suggestion.

When you plant your Miniature Rose in its new pot, place it so that it is no deeper in the soil than it was in the 4-inch pot it came in. Water enough to completely wet the soil. (Water should drain out of the drainage holes at the bottom) Do NOT apply soluble fertilizer at this time! Read the section on feeding your Roses for more information.

If you decide to grow your Miniature Rose directly in the garden, then the number one issue is correct placement. The chosen site must offer exposure to at least five hours of direct sunlight (preferably more) and must have good soil quality and drainage. Considering the amount of rainfall we often get, some parts of our gardens tend to stay very wet. A poorly drained location is not an ideal choice for placement of a rose. Many people choose a raised bed for their roses, which is a perfect solution.

When you have chosen a location for your rose, preparing the planting site is next. Dig a hole at least 10” deep X 10” wide, preferably a bit bigger. If your soil is heavy clay, add some organic matter to lighten its texture. Peat/Sphagnum moss is a good choice, as is Mushroom compost or Mint compost. The addition of one or two tablespoons of Alfalfa meal into the soil is also recommended. (but not essential)

If I were to choose one single soil additive when preparing the ground for roses of any type, I would select aged manure. Well known as a good source of Nitrogen and soil-enriching organic material, manure is an excellent soil conditioner. Aged manure can be obtained from the local garden centers in bags for a few dollars, or you may know a farm where you can get what you need for your project. Just be sure not to use manure that is very fresh, as it can cause root burn. The addition of a few shovels full mixed into the soil at the time of planting will provide much of the needed Nitrogen for the first month or two of the growing season.

One last consideration when planning and making a home for your Miniature Roses: mulching. This is the practice of covering the exposed soil at the base of your plants, which serves three important issues. First, mulch conserves soil moisture. You will be amazed at how much more water is retained in the soil if you have a two-inch layer of mulch covering it. Secondly, it helps to suppress weed growth by smothering weed seeds. Mulch also helps to reduce the amount of disease your roses will have to deal with, by decreasing the amount of mud and debris that splashes onto the foliage during rainy days. An ideal mulch is fine redwood bark chips, but any organic matter is perfectly suitable as long as it does not contain rose leaves. (Never use rose leaf debris as mulch or in compost, as this can encourage disease by redistributing fungal spores)

Watering and Feeding Your Roses

Roses require regular applications of water and nutrients in order to perform well and bloom to the best of their ability, and Miniature Roses are no exception. First let’s talk about what fertilizers there are to choose from, and which ones are best for Roses.

There are basically four main kinds of fertilizers: 1) dry granular fertilizer that is mixed into the soil and leaches in with watering, 2) time release fertilizers that are dug into the top of the soil, where watering releases the nutrients slowly over a period of weeks or months, 3) water soluble fertilizers like Miracle Grow, which are dissolved in water and watered into the soil periodically, and 4) organic fertilizers like fish emulsion, which is diluted with water in the same manner as soluble fertilizers. All of these are suitable for roses as long as the instructions are followed. You may even choose more than one of these fertilizers, but be careful if you use the soluble fertilizers in addition to the time release food; it could be very easy to overfeed resulting in root damage, or more leaves than flowers! If you choose time release fertilizer, then wait until at least ½ of the duration of effectiveness has passed before using water-soluble feeds. (Check the directions to see how long the time release food is supposed to last.)

Most of the water-soluble feeds are suitable for roses, but beware of using a steady diet of fertilizer that contains a lot of Nitrogen. (Nitrogen is the first of three numbers on the label, expressed as a per cent figure) Over feeding with Nitrogen will give you lots of lush green foliage at the expense of blooms! Excess Nitrogen can also cause root damage. If you carefully follow the instructions for the product, then you are unlikely to over-feed your roses.

When choosing any fertilizer for your roses, it would be wise to choose a product that offers more Phosphorus (the second number in the ingredients list) than Nitrogen, as roses use a lot of Phosphorus to produce a steady stream of blossoms. Any formulation that approximates a 1-2-1 ratio is a good choice. For example, you may choose a rose food that contains a 15-3-15 blend of Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potash. You can use a product like 20-20-20, but be careful with it; watch to see that you are getting lots of flowers and not just foliage! Also, if you have the option, choose a fertilizer that also contains the Micronutrients such as Iron, Copper, Boron etc.

Roses also use more Magnesium than many other plants, and you can provide extra Magnesium by applying Epsom Salts (Magnesium sulfate) to your plants once or twice a year, preferably in the Spring and early Summer. A tablespoon of Epsom Salts dissolved in a gallon of water is a good amount. A miniature rose bush should receive about a quart of this solution, and larger roses should get at least 2 quarts. One application in mid-Spring (when Daffodils are in full bloom) and another in mid to late May should be sufficient for the year.

A fertilizer like fish emulsion is an organic plant food that acts like a slow release fertilizer, increasing the soil fertility as bacteria break down its components to make nutrients available to the plant. This kind of fertilizer has the advantage that it assists in creating a healthy soil flora, which may help in improving overall plant health. Fish emulsion can be added to your regular feeding program without the concern of over feeding, since it releases nutrients quite slowly. Some people prefer to use fish emulsion alone, and they get results that are equally satisfactory. The choice is yours!

Regular and moderate feeding is the key to great roses. Many growers prefer to apply fertilizer at ½ strength or less, but apply it more often, giving a more continuous supply of nutrition. No matter how you choose to approach the feeding of your roses, you will only get the best from your plants if you provide the minimum of soil nutrition on a regular basis.

There is no trick to watering roses; the soil should always have moisture without being constantly soaking wet. In the Spring in the Willamette Valley, supplemental watering isn’t usually necessary until May or even June. Plants in pots may require watering before that time, however. Watch to see how damp the soil is, especially when the first warm, sunny days arrive, and water your roses before they become dry enough to wilt. Wilting is a certain sign that the plant is not getting sufficient water. (A rose that is kept soaking wet constantly can suffer from drowned roots, which will also cause wilting, but it is easy to distinguish which condition is causing the problem)

During the hottest part of Summer, Miniature roses in pots will likely require daily watering. Water your roses in the mornings, so that the plant will have adequate water for the rest of the day. Roses grown in the ground may need watering only once a week, especially if you mulch the soil. The soil should always feel cool and damp within one inch of the soil surface. If not, then water.
There is no absolute rule regarding frequency of watering; you must learn to judge how often water is needed. It will vary with weather conditions and soil types.

Pruning Miniature Roses

No matter what their size, the pruning of roses can be a daunting task for beginners. With a few simple instructions, it need not be.
Your first pruning job will be the removal of faded blooms as they finish. With pruning shears or scissors, cut the cane about two or three leaves below the bloom. Shortening the cane somewhat after flowering will encourage the quick production of new blooms. If you are not sure how much of the flowering shoot to remove, a good general rule is to shorten that cane to about one half its length.

As the plant grows larger, it will begin making some strong shoots from the base of the plant. Sometimes these grow so large as to disrupt the balance of the plant. While you may choose to let these larger shoots develop as they want, you may also cut these to half their length, which will cause them to branch and produce more bloom, while maintaining the visual balance of the plant.

Some of the smaller varieties like ‘Si’ and ‘Tom Thumb’ are much easier to prune; simply use scissors to shear the plant into a pleasant shape!
The most important pruning of all is the first pruning in the early Spring. In the Willamette Valley, the Spring pruning is done sometime in late February or early March. A good way to know when to prune is to watch for the Forsythia to start blooming. That is the ideal time to prune your roses.

The Spring pruning includes 1) the removal of dead and frost damaged wood 2) removal of thin, unproductive canes, and 3) shortening the remaining canes to encourage strong new growth for the coming season.

It is easy to identify and remove dead and damaged canes; they are dry and either gray or brown in color. Simply cut these down to living green wood. As the plant ages, there will also be a buildup of thin, twiggy branches, often resulting in an overly dense plant that doesn’t bloom well. These smaller, thin branches should be thinned out, especially in the center of the plant. Roses that become too dense at their centers tend to get diseases more easily.

Lastly, you want to choose four or five of the largest canes (hopefully at least as thick as a pencil) to become the main structure of the plant. These canes should be shortened to about one half their height. Always make the pruning cuts about one quarter of an inch above a leaf node. (The nodes are the bumps on the canes where the leaves attach.) These nodes are where the new growth will come from.

Finally, don’t worry too much about making mistakes when pruning. Roses are quick to recover from an overzealous pruning job, and you will learn from making the occasional mistake.

Watch for Pests and Diseases.

Nothing spoils the fun and excitement of Rose growing more easily than unchecked insect and disease problems. With a minimum of tools you will easily enjoy crop after crop of beautiful roses.

Fortunately there are few insect pests that will cause damage to your roses, and for the most part they are generally quite easily deterred. Aphids are the most common insect pest, and usually the first to appear in the Spring. These green or brown sucking insects tend to gather on the buds and soft new shoots to feed. Unless they build up a significant population on your plants, they are not going to do a lot of damage. They are easily removed with a forceful spray of water from the garden hose, or with a bit of soap in water, sprayed on affected parts of the plant. About 3/4 teaspoon of soap to a quart of water will do the job. There are Insecticidal Soaps available from local Nurseries that do a very good job of controlling most insects as well, and these Soaps come highly recommended. You will have to use the Soap at least twice, about 7 days between applications, in order to control most insects.

There are other insects that can damage roses, and the second most common pest is the Spider Mite. These collect on the underside of the leaves and make tiny webs where they feed and cause the foliage to become stippled with tiny pale dots. Eventually the leaf becomes brown and dry. Washing the undersides of the foliage with water, every other day for about a week will usually clear up this problem. The Insecticidal Soap is also a quick and effective cure for Mites.

Rarely are roses troubled by other insects, except perhaps the occasional caterpillar, which is usually easily dealt with by squashing it. For help with insect problems, check with our local ARS Consulting Rosarians (See contact information at the end of this document) or ask the staff at your local Nursery.
The most important thing to know about managing Rose disease is that prevention is infinitely more effective than trying to cure a problem that has already gotten hold of your plants. Unfortunately, fungal diseases like Blackspot can be a problem in a climate like ours, especially during the wet Spring months. However, it takes a very small effort to keep your roses healthy for the season. Fungicidal sprays are available from local Nurseries, and the newest Fungicides are quite safe to use when handled as per instructions. For best results, you should alternate two different Fungicides. The number one choice for most gardeners is Banner Maxx, or Ferti-Lome Systemic Fungicide. Ortho Funginex is also a good choice, as is Daconil, Mancozeb, or Immunox. Any two of these used alternately will provide near 100% protection from Blackspot and Mildew when used as directed. Please note that Daconil and Mancozeb both leave a visible residue on the foliage, whereas the others do not. For this reason you may want to choose from the other three Fungicides.

For those of you who wish to fungicidal chemicals, there is an organic alternative called the Cornell Formula. Mix 2 Tbsp. horticultural oil and 1 Tbsp. baking soda mixed in 1.5 quarts of water, sprayed on the foliage weekly. This has proven to be reasonably effective in preventing Blackspot on Roses. Once the weather is drier, you may not need Fungicides again until wet weather begins again in the Fall.

Other Resources

This document covers the basics of Miniature Rose culture, but there are many fine books by authors like Sean McCann which will provide more detailed information when you are ready to learn more. The Internet is also an excellent source of information, and the following web sites are good starting points to learn as well.

All About Miniature Roses”, by Ralph Moore:

The American Rose Society:

© Paul Barden, November 2003

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