Working with and knowing your roses

Roses belong to the genus Rosa, which includes over 150 species with fossil records placing many roses species over 35 million years old, but it was not until late in the 18th century that cultivated roses were introduced into Europe. So many species/cultivars of roses have been created in the last few hundred years, with traits such as double flowers devaluing the species to pollinators. But many species exist which make great choices for you and wildlife in your garden.

Bush rose

Bush Rose
Bush rose

Typical Size: Varies from a few inches up to 6 ft

Habit: Bushy upright growth

Season of flowering: Summer to autumn

Scent: Can vary from heavily scented to scentless

Flowering:  single/double flowers of various sizes

Blooming pattern: Flowers repeatedly throughout the season on current season’s growth.


  • Flowers on current season’s growth
  • Single flowers at the top of stems

Bush roses can be split into two categories which are cluster flowered bush roses and large flowered bush roses.

Design Uses

  • Often used in formal gardens due to requiring plenty of space for air circulation as they are prone to infections such as bacteria.

Cluster flowered bush roses

Cluster flowered bush rose
Cluster flowered bush rose

These roses bear flowers in clusters or trusses; with several blooms opening simultaneously, these blooms provide reliable and long lasting colour throughout summer and into autumn.

Don’t cut to 30 cm leave at 40-45 cm when pruning

Large Flowered bush roses

Typically, these roses have medium to large sized blooms borne singly (or with several side buds) on the stem.

Large flowered bush rose

Shrub rose

Shrub rose (Figure 0-2)
Shrub rose

Typical Size: 4 – 6 ft.

Habit: Arching/ upright

Season of flowering: Summer to late winter

Scent: Mostly have little to none

Blooming pattern: Flowers from laterals growing on 2 years and older growth (blooms once per season)

Flowering: Clusters/mass effect flowering


  • Flowers on previous season’s growth
  • Produces strong shoots from ground level
  • Used in less formal settings
  • Typically, highly scented
  • More informal plants

Design Uses

  • Good landscaping value
  • Can be used as hedging or mixed into hedges
  • Used as a screening plant

Climbing roses

Climbing rose
Climbing roses

Typical Size: 5-20+ft

Habit: Vigorous

Season of flowering: Summer

Blooming pattern: Typically repeatedly blooms throughout the summer; on previous seasons growth

Scent: Ranges from scentless to fruity

Flowering: Large single/double flowers


  • Flowers from the laterals which arise from the main stems in the second year and subsequent years

Design Uses

  • Great for covering walls
  • Creating arches
  • Covering fences

Rambling rose

Rambling rose
Rambling rose

Typical Size: 4-5 metres or above

Habit: Vigorous

Season of flowering: Early summer

Blooming pattern: Lots of small flowers and flowers once per season in dense clusters

Flowering: Small to medium in bunches


  • Flowers on current season’s growth
  • Usually highly scented

Design Uses

  • Good cover for brick walls
  • Grow into arches, trees, pergolas and other such garden features

Standard rose

Standard rose
Standard rose (Figure 0-5)

Typical Size: Varies (3 – 6ft)

Habit: Vertical and bushy (dependent on scion)

Season of flowering: Summer to autumn

Scent: Varies but mostly scented

Blooming pattern: Repeatedly blooms throughout the season

Flowering: Large single/double/triple heads


  • Flowers on current season’s growth
  • Produced by grafting (budding) roses onto a root stock, then another bud/graft can be added to the top of the grafted rose specimen.
  • Used in formal settings due to its distinct shape

Standard Rose Sizes

Standard roses come in a variety of heights such as half standards.

  • Half standard: stem up to 75 cm
  • Full standard: stem up to 1 metre
  • Weeping standard: stem up to 1.5 metre

Design Uses

  • Focal point within a garden
  • Lining a path or similar to create an interesting border

General rose planting requirements

Roses (in general) should be planted in full sun with some shelter from strong winds as wind can damage the blooms and uproot the plants during winter; roses should have good air circulation to help prevent fungal infections. The soil should be fertile and many roses like clay soils as they do not require highly aerated soils. While roses will grow in most soils they do prefer a pH of around 6.5; organic matter can be added to the soil to improve fertility, aeration and drainage.

  • Plant in full sun
  • Shelter from strong winds
  • Soak well during planting and until the roses are well established; water well during dry seasons
  • During spring/summer apply a rose fertiliser
  • Don’t overcrowd the roses as they require good air circulation due to being prone to pests and diseases (such as fungi)

Planting and designing with roses

Roses come in many forms, shapes and habits as such it is important to pick the correct rose for each situation. Hybrid tea roses bloom repeatedly throughout the season on long single stems, which makes them perfect for using as cut roses and adding repeated interest throughout the summer.

Climbing roses are perfect for creating archways or covering up unsightly garden walls; they bloom repeatedly throughout the summer giving them a long season of interest.

Standards roses are created by grafting scions onto a root stock, they typically have long stems making the blooming floral arrangement higher off the ground, and this makes them great for lining paths, walkways or drives. Due to their striking shape and style standard roses can also be used to create a focal point within gardens.

Shrub roses belong to a non-specific class of wild species, cultivars and hybrids; they typically develop large dense growth and require little maintenance, which makes them good for adding to low maintenance gardens and areas. Shrub roses were prized for their fragrance so this makes them a great addition to scented or sensory gardens.

Bush roses come in two main types large flowered bush roses and cluster flowered bush roses these types have very different design uses and styles. Large flowered bush roses require adequate spacing to allow air flow so are often used in formal areas such as designated formal rose beds and produce single large flowers which last for a limited duration which can make the bed look very bleak and empty for most of the year; whereas cluster flowered bush roses produce clusters of flowers which bloom repeatedly so provide a longer season of interest.

Rambling roses can be used to cover unsightly areas of gardens/areas such as brick walls and the like, they can also be used to great effect by growing them into structures such as a pergolas, hedges, trees and arches.

Rose types comparison (Advantages and disadvantages)

Shrub and bush roses look fairly similar but have different flowering methods; a bush rose will produce single flowers from each stem while shrub roses will flower from laterals growing from the stems.

Shrub roses are wilder than other cultivated rose varieties, as such they can often be more disease resistant, tolerate colder climates, grow in a pleasing natural form and grow well in hedges. They can also be under planted with small compact perennials.

Climbing roses are great for adding a splash of colour and interest vertically; for instance up pillars or creating arches but do require extra work to train and support them over the chosen growing structure which can be more time consuming (this is also true for rambling roses).

Standard roses have the advantage of being taller than other roses due to grafting and scion choice, this means they can be used to create focal points within areas or line walkways/drives. The grafting process is more time consuming and specialised work which means these roses can be more expensive and harder to create yourself at home without the tools and specialist knowledge. But the grafting process does allow for some advantages such as choosing root stocks which can tolerate drought and diseases.

Know your roses

Quality: What to look out for when purchasing roses?

Purchasing high quality roses in good condition is the starting point for any successful planting scheme, as such it is important to know what to look out for.

Bush Roses

  • Stems should be green, unwrinkled and the wood should be well-ripened (not soft when squeezed)
  • 2 or more stems which are no thinner than a pencil
  • Well-developed fibrous root system
  • Buds should be dormant with no long white shoots

Climbing roses

  • Well-developed fibrous root system
  • Buds should be dormant with no long white shoots
  • 2 or more stems which are 75 cm long or larger

What type to buy?

Roses can be purchased bare root or container grown. Bare root roses are available while the roses are dormant and should be planted immediately after purchase in order to ensure the root systems do not dry out.

Container grown roses are available for a longer period of time but ensure that the root system is not pot bound and that the root system has fully established throughout the pot when you purchase the roses.

Planting your roses

After you have purchased your high quality roses it is important to get the planting and the location correct.

Roses require plenty of air circulation in order to prevent fungal diseases, they should receive plenty of sun and be sheltered from cold breezes, and the soil should be free draining, rich in humus and slightly acidic.

Soil preparation

Roses require humus rich, fairly fertile soil as such it is important to double dig the area prior to planting, also add some composted green waste to the soil in order to aid drainage, add humus and nutrients into the soil.

Bare root roses

Bare root roses should be planted from November to March (during the dormant season)

  1. Place out roses to ensure they are not overcrowded and in the correct position
  2. Dig a hole which is slightly larger than the root system and deep enough to bury the roots up to the nursery line
  3. Place your rose into the hole and fill with the humus rich prepared soil
  4. Firm in your rose using the heel of your foot
  5. If you are planting standards then add a cane by pushing it down past the roots and tying the stem using a flexible tie
  6. You can mulch the area with loose bark chippings or similar to prevent water loss and help suppress weeds

Container grown roses

Container grown roses can be planted any time of the year, but can require more after care then a bare root rose.

  1. Ensure that the soil is moist before you begin
  2. Dig a hole which is slightly wider than the width of the container and deep enough to accommodate the container height
  3. Gently tip the rose out of its pot and place into the hole
  4. Firm in with the heel of your foot
  5. You can mulch the area surrounding the roses with loose bark chipping or similar in order to help with water retention and suppress weeds

Roses after care

Each type of rose has slightly different pruning and care techniques, it is important to know what type of rose you have in order to ensure correct pruning.

The tools you will need are a pair of sharp secateurs, pair of long handled loppers, gloves and possibly a pruning saw.

When making cuts you should cut just above a bud and slope the cut away from the bud. Cutting too far away from the bud will cause die back to the bud and too close to the bud will cause damage to the bud. Using sharp tools is essential to create a clean cut wound which will heal over easily and quickly.

When pruning any type of rose always follow the 3 D’s first, this means remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood first.

Dead wood should be pruned back to a healthy bud.

Diseased wood should be pruned back past the diseased area into healthy growth, finding a healthy bud.

Damaged wood includes areas where stems have rubbed together or against another object and caused damage to the bark or snapped stems and the like.

Bush roses

Do not be scared of pruning bush roses back as they will flower in new growth and pruning them back hard ensures vigorous new shoots.

After following the three D’s you should cut stems back to a bud around 30 cm above the ground and thin out stems to ensure adequate air flow around the plant. Try to keep a balance by removing stems which have replacements growing in the same direction.

Shrub roses

The best time to prune is in late winter with dead-heading carried out in summer after flowering.

After following the three D’s you should cut back stems to around 45 cm in length and thin out stems to ensure adequate air flow within the plant. Try to keep a balanced framework by choosing stems to remove which will leave space for healthy stems to fill in the gaps.

Climbing Roses

Climbing roses flower on last seasons growth or older wood, as such you must ensure you only remove 1+ year old wood which has already flowered instead of cutting current seasons growth. Cut the stems back to ground level and thin out new growth to ensure plenty of air circulation. New stems should be tied and trained into the climbing roses supporting structure.

Rambling Roses

Carry out pruning in late summer or autumn when flowering has finished.

After removing all dead, damaged and diseased stems you should remove dead stumps at the base of the plant and cut away old stems leaving around 6 young vigorous stems (removed stems should be cut at ground level). Then shorten side shoots on the remaining stems to encourage branching.


Many large flowered bush roses produce more than one bud on each stem, you can remove the smaller axillary buds in order to ensure the terminal bud forms a large perfect flower.


Regular removal of withered blooms from bush roses is an important task, once the blooms have finished remove the whole truss by cutting the stem just above a node.

Feeding roses

Roses can require feeding if a slow release fertiliser was not used during planting or after the first year once the slow release fertiliser has been used up. It is advised to feed your roses each year. Also ensure you mulch your roses to maintain the humus level, suppress weeds and help water retention in the soil.


Fig 1. unknown., nd. RosefromUncleAlphonse. [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]
Fig 2. unknown., nd. Best Evergreen and Flowering Shrubs for Southeastern PA, Top Performers for  Landscaping in Philadelphia, Delaware County, Chester County & Montgomery County and PA Main Line. [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]
Fig 3. unknown., nd. Blaze Climbing Rose in Full Bloom on Corner Fence. [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]
Fig 4. unknown., nd. Rambling Rose Images | Flowers for Everybody. [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]
Fig 4. unknown., nd. Standard Roses. [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]
Fig 5. unknown., nd. rose bushes online . [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]
Fig 6. unknown., nd. Osiria Rose Care – Blood White and Pure. [digital image]. Available at: [Accessed 19th February 2016]