How To Propagate, Grow, and Care for Roses: A Beginner’s Guide

Last Updated on August 7, 2020 by Kimberly Crawford

Roses are beautiful, fragrant additions to any garden. With a few cuttings, even novice gardeners can propagate, plant and maintain roses.

Delicate, aromatic and brimming with color, roses add beauty to any garden. They are also easy to propagate, plant and maintain. Even beginners can start roses from cuttings.

Soil Preparation for Healthy Roses

soil preparation

Roses need a good foundation before they are placed in the ground. A healthy start will keep them flourishing and will be less work for the gardener in the long run.

Many gardeners fear roses, but these lovely scented plants aren’t that difficult to grow. The most important thing to know is in the foundation. The key to growing a healthy rose is in the planting location and in the soil itself. Tea roses, climbing roses, antique roses, china roses and any other rose in this large family all need basically the same foundation.


Before planting, consider the micro-climate where the rose is to be placed. Roses need protection from drying winds. They need lots of sun and they need the air to flow freely around them. Those are the location basics.

Roses and Soil Characteristics

Roses can grow in any soil, but they do seem partial to clay. However, there are three characteristics the soil must have; drainage, humus and the soil must be rich in nutrients or natural plant food before the gardener sticks the plant in the soil and buries its roots.


Drainage is very important to the rose. Like all plants, other than swamp or pond-loving plants, roses hate sitting in puddles. There has to be a happy medium for them. They need moisture, but don’t drown them in it. Don’t plant a rose where standing puddles are visible after a rain or in wet, sodden areas.

If unsure of the position, dig a test hole about 12” deep and fill it with water. If it still has water in it in a couple of days, then it’s obviously not draining well. Heavier clay soils can be amended with the addition of gritty sand. The gardener can also add manure, compost or peat moss to the soil, deeper than she would normally dig the hole for the rose. In most cases it’s that easy.

If the gardener is determined and has time and money, she could do more digging and install a drainage tile bed, but simple soil amendment usually does the trick.

The Benefit of Humus

Humus is decaying vegetable matter – decaying rather than decayed. Once decayed only texture is left. All the good nutrients are gone. So it will be necessary to add compost from time to time even after planting. Humus has a few benefits to the rose. It absorbs the moisture that would otherwise drain away and releases it only as the rose roots need it. It encourages bacterial growth in the soil, important for the addition of nutrients. Humus conditions the soil to allow air and water to penetrate it easily.

Well-Rotted Cow Manure

Composted well-rotted cow manure is available in garden centers in large bags. This creates the perfect humus environment for roses. Peat moss, also easily available in large bags will absorb and hold moisture. So with a good helping of kitchen compost, well-rotted cow manure and peat moss the gardener will create a perfect fountain for a rose. But the roots can’t get those nutrients without water and roses don’t like their beds to dry out completely.

Food for Roses

Plant Foods can be bought in nurseries today, but there are also more natural plant foods – things the gardener can do herself easily. Roses need nutrients from four basic “food groups”; nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and calcium. There are more to mention, but they are only trace elements and the rose grower doesn’t need to worry about them in soil preparation. Trace elements exist naturally in most soils.

Nitrogen stimulates the growth of leaves and stems. Too much and it will delay or halt the production of flowers. This is true for many plants.

Phosphorus on the other hand, stimulates flower production and gives strength to the stems. Potassium ensures vigorous root growth. It balances the overabundance of nitrogen and helps the rose to resist disease.

Calcium is not just a plant food, but assists in helping the rose absorb the other plant foods. These four nutrients provide a well-balanced diet for the rose.

Most plant food materials can be found in the organic matter already mentioned; peat moss, compost and cow manure. The soil will become rich in nutrients, looser and more friable and it will both hold moisture and drain water away. This is basic soil preparation for a rose and will give it the perfect foundation.

Gather Cuttings to Propagate

rose cuttings

To obtain a cutting, select a healthy, well established rose bush. Look for branches with flowers that have recently faded but still have leaves. Using sharp clippers, cut a stem about 6-inches long. Strip off any bottom leaves, but keep the top ones intact.

Using a sharp knife, cut two 1-inch strips of bark from the bottom of the branch on either side. Gardeners call this process wounding. It promotes the development of roots.

Prepare Rooting Medium

To hasten rooting, dip the base of each branch about 1 1/2-inches into the rooting hormone. Rhizopon AA #1, #2 or #3 powder; Dip-N-Grow; and Hormodin Rooting Powder #1, #2 or #3 are popular brands. Some organic gardeners prefer to use honey, but hormones speed up the process.

Meanwhile, prepare the pots. Use clean, 2-inch containers with holes at the bottom for drainage. New pots can be rinsed with a little dish soap and water. Previously used pots should be thoroughly washed to rid them of harmful bacteria.

Fill the pots with a planting medium. A 50/50 blend of potting soil and perlite, sand or vermiculite makes a nice, light mix. Light blends drain easily and encourage quick root growth. Use a pencil to create a hole in the center of each container. Insert cuttings about halfway into pots. Gently push soil around the cuttings.

Encourage Rooting

Place the pots into a gallon-sized plastic bag. The bags with zippers and stand-up bottoms are best. Zippers provide easy access for weekly watering. Stand-up bags allow air circulation. Plastic retains moisture for quick rooting. Gallon-sized bags provide room for growth. After the plants are set, seal the bag and place the plants in an area with indirect sunlight.

Rooting takes four to eight weeks. When new growth appears, remove the roses from the bag and place them in a cool, shady spot. This step gives the bark time to harden. When the bark is firm, the roses are ready to plant in the garden.

Plant Young Roses

plant roses

Dig a deep, wide hole so the roots have room to spread out without bending. Place some pebbles at the bottom of the hole to encourage proper drainage and prevent root rot. Add a handful of compost or sheep manure. Then fill the hole halfway with soil and a little water.

Gently place the rose in the hole. Make sure the roots are straight. Add soil and some water alternately until the hole is filled. Tamp down the soil to get rid of air pockets. If several roses will be planted, make sure each bush has about two feet around it for air circulation. If crawlers, trees or miniature roses will be planted, find out how much space they need around them.

Optimize Health and Growth

Roses should be watered thoroughly once a week. Do not let the leaves get wet because moisture promotes fungus and disease. Watering roses in the morning will allow them to dry during the day and prevent fungus from developing.

Fertilizer helps roses grow and keeps them healthy. Apply fertilizer at least twice during the growing season. A local nursery can provide information about the area’s growing season and suggest an appropriate fertilizer.

Rose Insects and Diseases

Roses are being bred to be more hardy and insect and disease resistant yet they still can be affected by many.

Roses can be affected by a host of different insects and can contract some deadly diseases. In order to protect your roses from these nasty things it is a good idea to take a good look at them once they start to green up and branch out in the spring all the way until they die back for the winter.

Check the flowers – are the petals being eaten, are they browning and curling up before their time? Do the leaves have holes in them; do they have unusual colorings or spots on them? Does the whole rose bush look like its wilting? Check for insects inside the petals and under the leaves.


rose insects

Some of the insects that will make dinner of your roses are aphids, spider mites, and thrips. It is probably a good idea, if you’ve had the problem with these insects in the future, to obtain horticultural oil made specifically to control them.

Your local nursery should have this oil in stock and will know what you need. It is very important that you follow the directions exactly or you can kill your roses. This type of oil should NOT be applied when the outside temperature exceeds 90 degrees. In fact, it is a good idea to ONLY apply the oil when the outside temperature is in the low to middle 70’s. Therefore, it has to be applied in the spring.

Insecticidal soaps are a good thing to use during the summer and fall to deter bugs. It is harmless to roses yet most of the time it will harm the bugs infesting your roses. This method works sometimes, but if you have a highly virulent bug population, it might decrease the number but it won’t get rid of them totally.

japanese beetles rose

Japanese beetles also attack roses. Small and green with coppery wings, these pesky critters can destroy an entire rose garden. Planting garlic and applying Neem Seed Oil prevent beetle infestation. For persistent problems, though, environmentally friendly insecticides may be used.

Sometimes the bugs can be knocked off your rose bushes by a spray of water, just spraying them down might keep them away for a little while. However, most roses don’t like being hit with water and their leaves and flowers will spot and you could knock the petals off.


Blackspot is a disease that will stump most rose gardeners and make them pull out their hair. This disease usually shows up in the spring but can last all summer. It is identified by black spots and yellow discoloration on the leaves. The leaves will drop leaving you a plant with only canes.

The disease develops in water so be sure the leaves of your roses don’t have water laying in them very long. You can rarely get rid of this disease once you get it, but there are ways of preventing it. Spray fungicides on your roses on a regular basis to prevent this. If you do get it cut off diseased leaves and remove everything you cut plus all the leaves of the ground and discard them. Spray in the spring and middle of summer.

Powdery Mildew is another disease that shows up in the summer especially when it is very humid outside. It is identified by new leaves becoming curled and twisted with a powdery white substance on the undersides. Remove all leaves and stems that are affected and dispose of them and the ones that have fallen to the ground. Apply fungicide during the summer to prevent this from happening to your roses.

Spot Anthracnose is somewhat like blackspot and does appear about the same time. It is identified by small red, brown, or purple spots on the leaves. The center of the spot dries out and turns white and may fall out of the leaf. The whole leaf will then turn yellow and drop. This fungus also comes from water on the leaves. A fungicide in the spring will usually prevent this disease from appearing.

Canker is an especially nasty disease as there is no cure for it. When you see canker you must cut the canes to where the disease seems to be. It is identified by red or brown sunken spots with dark margins around them that are seen on the canes of the roses. This is a fungal disease that comes from water sitting on leaves.

Rust is a fungus that spreads when the air is moist and the temperature is moderate. It starts as an orangish powerdery substance on the undersides of leaves and then yellow and brown spots appear on the leaf which will wilt or curl. You will need to remove and destroy infected leaves, even those that fall to the ground.

Your local nursery will be able to give you good advice on how to get rid of these diseases, as it depends on the weather and conditions in your area.

Caring for Roses Organically

care for roses

After choosing the right rose varieties & enriching the soil, use these organic gardening tips to keep roses healthy so they can resist insects and disease.

Some roses deserve the reputation of being fussy and difficult. However, choosing disease-resistant roses and preparing the soil so it’s rich with compost and nutrients are two essential first steps in creating an easy organic rose garden.

Once this is done, here are the next steps to take to get a garden full of gorgeous roses:

Give Roses Plenty of Water

Like most plants, roses do best with regular, deep watering as opposed to a light sprinkling every day. Depending on the size of the bush, roses need about 3-5 gallons of water per week (more frequently if it’s very hot or dry).

Roses should be watered in the early morning or late afternoon, and the leaves should have time to dry out before it gets dark at night, so as not to encourage fungus or mildew growth.

As much as possible, water the roots and try to keep the leaves dry. A drip irrigation system makes this extremely easy.

Enhance Air Circulation with Spacing & Pruning

Roses should be planted 2-3 feet apart to allow for adequate air circulation between plants. Also, when pruning roses, remove canes that intersect or bump up against each other, in order to allow for air flow within the bush.

Dead-Heading for Continuous Bloom

Cutting off spent blooms will encourage new flowers to form. Look for the first outward-facing bulge on the stem, and cut the rose back ¼” above that point. Cut at a 45-degree angle with a sharp shears to minimize the open surface area exposed.

Prune, Cut and Enjoy

Prune roses to encourage growth. Start with clean, sharp clippers. Cut away damaged and dead branches. Clip down to the lowest, thickest new shoot.

For a fragrant bouquet, cut roses in the morning. Find a stem with petals just beginning to unfurl from the bud. Locate the first five-leaf cluster. Using sharp, clean shears cut the stem at the cluster. Leave some foliage between the cut and the main stem of the bush to promote healthy, new growth.

Place cut roses in a vase of water immediately. In a few days, the buds will open up to reveal magnificent blooms. To ensure a lasting bouquet, change the water and add a few drops of plant food every few days.

Easy to grow from a single cutting, roses add old-world charm and elegance to any home and garden. With minimal time and effort, even novice gardeners can produce beautiful rose bushes.

growing roses organically