Pretty much anyone can grow a Knock Out rose. I’m a testament to that. Gardening is not my forte, yet I’ve managed to grow one in a pot in my backyard. It’s lush and blooming for the second time this year.
I’m wary, though, of trying my hand at more traditional roses, like the Old Garden and Modern Garden varieties.
Every Thursday morning, an army of volunteers from the Kansas City Rose Society — with pruners in hand — descends on the Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden in Loose Park to weed, prune, deadhead and train.
That’s what it takes to maintain the 3,000 shrubs comprising more than 140 varieties of roses in a rainbow of colors. Pruning and removing spent blooms are key to maintaining the shape and health of roses, making them more labor-intensive than a lot of other plants.
But don’t let that scare you, says John Riley, garden committee chairman of the Kansas City Rose Society and a board member of the Johnson County Rose Society. Labor intensiveness is different from difficulty, and even Old Garden roses, the ultra-fragrant varieties that bloom only once a year, aren’t any more difficult to grow than today’s fool-proof hybrids like the Knock Out varieties that bloom all summer long.
Wild, Old Garden and Modern Garden are the three categories of roses. Each category has several classifications, and each classification has hundreds, sometimes thousands, of varieties. So let’s say you’ve recently moved into a home and find an Old Garden rose in your yard. There’s no need to panic. With a little tender loving care, you can keep it vibrant and even rehabilitate a raggedy looking one.
But it does help to know what kind you have so you can adjust your expectations and pruning techniques.
According to Riley, Old Garden roses have been around for hundreds of years. Typically, they’re woody shrubs with pink, white and red double-flowered blooms that grow only on established stems.
Many Modern Roses were created by grafting blooms from one type of rose onto the rootstock of another Old Garden rose plant.
“The demarcation for Modern Garden roses is 1867, when the first hybrid tea rose was created. It was called LaFrance,” Riley says. “There are some roses that are native to North America, but there are no native roses south of the equator. All native roses are from north of the hemisphere.”
Roses are usually classified by their flowering and growth traits. They come in different shapes and heights and with widely varying numbers and sizes of blooms. Their foliage can also vary widely in shape and density.
“They all like a lot of organic, aerated, loamy soil and plenty of sun, at least six hours,” Riley says. “If you move into an old house it could be trees have grown and now the roses are in the shade. You can move the roses.”
When Riley moves roses he digs the hole and amends the soil in it during the fall before the ground freezes. He moves them in February, when the rose plant is dormant.
Riley has about 40 varieties of roses in his own garden. Don’t ask him to name his favorite.
“That’s a hard one,” he says. “It’s like asking your favorite kid, you know? I have fresh roses on my breakfast table all summer, so it’s usually that one. Right now it’s Touch of Class and Don Juan.”
Whatever you have in your garden, Riley offers the following tips for maintaining healthy and beautiful roses:
▪ Do a soil test to learn what nutrients are missing.
▪ Prune out the old, dead, crossed and weak canes. “If they’re dead, damaged or diseased it affects the health of the plant,” he says. “Crossed canes rub on each other and can create a wound.”
▪ Deadhead reblooming rose shrubs so the plant’s energy will go toward creating new blooms.
▪ Don’t deadhead once-bloomers. “Just let them go to rose hips — seed pods — which adds late summer color interest,” Riley says.
▪ Water deeply once a week during hot, dry summer months. “I’ll put five gallons per plant a week once it’s hot,” Riley says.
▪ Use a rose fertilizer once a month until August for good growth, though any fertilizer will work. “A 10-10-10 will work. After August you want to stop fertilizing so they go dormant,” Riley says.
John Riley is also a consulting rosarian with the American Rose Society. You can get your rose questions answered by calling him at 913-341-2853.