Growing Roses
in the Middle Tennessee area


Select an area with 6 or more hours of sunshine in a location free of competition from large trees and nearby shrubs. Good drainage should be provided because roses, even though they like lots of water, cannot tolerate "wet feet" in soggy soils. Raised beds are a good solution.

Select grade #1 roses purchased from a reputable nursery or garden center. These should have at least 3 canes no smaller in diameter than a pencil, and at least 15 inches long. Many roses sold by local nurseries and garden stores will be in pots and may have some significant new growth. These roses are more expensive, but usually will perform very well. Roses purchased through mail order sources may arrive completely dormant - that is, in bare root form with no soil around the roots and no significant new growth. both are excellent choices

Roses purchased at some grocery or discount stores at discount prices usually are sold in package form or in very small pots and may not have a good root system. They are normally of lesser quality (grades #1 ½ or #2 with fewer and/or weaker canes) and will not produce high quality bushes and blooms, especially if the canes are coated with wax. The Rose Society does not recommend purchasing these types of roses if you want high quality bushes with lots of beautiful blooms the first year.

Prior to planting any new rose bush, prune out any dead wood (or stubs), broken canes or stems, and any old growth smaller in diameter than a pencil. Do not disturb any new growth on potted plants until after planting, then follow the pruning guidelines indicated below.

Planting Potted Roses:

  1. Dig a hole slightly larger than the diameter of the pot and around 18" deep.
  2. Put ½ cup Superphosphate (or bone meal) in the bottom of the hole and cover with 2" of soil.
  3. Remove the bush from the pot carefully, cutting sides of pot if necessary to remove root ball without breaking it.
  4. Place the bush in the hole so that the bud union (knot where the rose was grafted onto the root stock) is at or just above ground level.
  5. Fill in around the root ball with soil and firm it so there are no air pockets.
  6. Water thoroughly with a little root stimulant (Upstart, Vit B-1) added to the water. Give the rose a few weeks to settle in before fertilizing. Plant potted roses outside after April 15th

Planting Bare Root Roses:

  1. Before planting bare root roses, they should be soaked in a five gallon or larger bucket of water with root stimulant added. Let them soak for 8 - 24 hours to rehydrate them thoroughly. Bare root roses can be planted whenever the soil can be worked in late winter or early spring.
  2. Dig a hole 18" wide and deep. Don't skimp on the size of the hole.
  3. Use a prepared soil mix, or mix your own by using 1/3 top soil, 1/3 humus (composted leaves or manure, sphagnum peat, or other well composted organic matter), and 1/3 sand or perlite.
  4. Place ½ cup of Superphosphate in the bottom of the hole and cover with a soil mound using your prepared soil mix.
  5. The top of the bush should be pruned to remove any broken or dead branches and old canes smaller in diameter than a pencil. If any canes are crossed that might rub together, one of themshould be removed. When pruning, make cuts about 1/4" above outward growing buds where you want the new growth to start.
  6. Prune back any broken or unusually long roots. Then prune about 1/2" off all other roots to stimulate the side growth of feeder roots.
  7. Place the roots over the soil mound in the hole and spread them downward and out covering the mound. Do not let any of the roots curl up. If necessary, cut them back further or enlarge the hole.
  8. Place soil mix around the roots filling the hole half way. Firm the soil gently to remove air pockets.
  9. Pour a gallon of water with root stimulant over the half planted rose and let drain.
  10. After this has soaked in, finish filling the hole with the soil mix.
  11. Continue to mound the soil around the bush to ground level, then cover with mulch extending about 12" above ground. This will help keep the bush hydrated until the feeder roots have started growing, usually for a period of about 2-3 weeks.
  12. After the last date of frost (approximately April 15), remove the mulch gradually.


Roses need lots of water but they hate "wet feet". Good drainage from the root area is essential.

No matter how much fertilizer you put on roses, it doesn’t do any good until it’s dissolved by water and washed down to the root system. Water also causes the leaves and stems to remain turgid and blooms to have good substance. Water roses deeply both before and after using dry fertilizer. Water well before using a liquid fertilizer, but do not water immediately after using liquid fertilizer - this would wash it away. Shallow watering causes the feeder roots to stay near the surface and will cause the bushes to wilt in hot weather.

During hot, dry summer months, the roses need the equivalent of 2 - 3 inches of rain per week. In extremely hot weather they may need to be watered three to four times a week.

Roses can be watered either from overhead sprinklers or at ground level as long as the leaves have a chance to dry out before sundown.


One of the most important ingredients in a good fertilizing program is water. Roses are heavy feeders, but they must take their food in liquid form. Water dissolves the fertilizers and soil elements into a water soluble form that can then be taken up by the feeder roots.

On newly planted bare root roses, do not add any chemical fertilizers until after the plant is well leafed out. Time is needed for the new feeder roots to become established.

Fertilizing established bushes should be started in the spring  after the winter cover is removed. We recommend removing winter protection in the Middle Tennessee around April 15th, then applying your first fertilizer around the 15th of April to the 1st of May.

The novice rose grower can do very well using a good balanced fertilizer - one that has an equal percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, such as 10-10-10 or 13-13-13. A further benefit is a fertilizer that contains "trace-elements". These are very small quantities of trace minerals such as boron, zinc, iron, etc. that are required in minute quantities by roses to grow properly.

The easiest, most time efficient fertilizer to use is a timed release product (Osmocote) that lasts for 9 months. One application in mid-April will last all season. Apply evenly around the dripline of the bush and cover with mulch. A liquid fertilizer may be used to supplement on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

Some rosarians like to apply a balanced fertilizer ( 10-10-10 or 13-13-13) around the bushes monthly in accordance with the label directions, then water it in thoroughly. Then about halfway between the monthly feedings, apply a water soluble fertilizer (Miracle Gro, K-Gro, Rapid Grow) at ½ the strength indicated on the label.

Another type of fertilizer that benefits roses is Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salts). Apply about 1/4 cup around each bush in early April and again in early June. This makes the stems stronger, encourages the growth of basal breaks, and makes clearer and brighter colors in the blooms.

Organic fertilizers are always welcomed by roses and other plants in addition to the inorganic or chemical types discussed above. Examples of organic fertilizers include alfalfa meal or pellets, well-rotted manure, composted leaves, fish emulsion, liquid sea weed or kelp, blood meal, cotton seed meal, etc. These are good fertilizers that usually are slower acting than the chemical types and help to increase the microbial activity within the soil. Alfalfa contains a special "growth stimulant" that is particularly good for roses as well as other plants. Organic fertilizers can be applied in early April, June, and August. Do not add any type of fertilizer after August 15.


As soon as  pruning has been completed in mid to late March, spray roses with a fungicide and insecticide. Let it dry and replace the winter protection until April 15. After removing the winter protection, start a regular spray program for fungus diseases (black spot and mildew) on all roses by spraying every 7 days. (The exception is rugosa roses which should never be sprayed.) The spores for these diseases tend to over-winter on any old leaves or other debris from pruning in the garden. Therefore, all these materials should be removed from the beds throughout the growing season

There are a number of chemicals that can be used for this purpose. Funginex has been recommended by the American Rose Society for control of both black spot and mildew. This is a preventive spray and will not cure black spot or mildew after they have started. Manzate 200 or Daconil may be added to Funginex to kill black spot or mildew. In addition, any leaf with black spot or mildew damage should be removed and disposed of away from the garden.

The Nashville Rose Society has an extensive spray reference chart listing many of the chemicals used in rose growing, their dosage, and approximate cost. The chart is free to all Nashville Rose Society members. Contact NRS for more information.


There is some disagreement among rosarians about whether or not to spray for insects until you actually see them and/or their damage. There are some "good" insects in the garden (these include lady bugs, preying mantis, etc.) that help keep the "bad" insects under control if you give them a chance. However, you must watch closely for "out of control" situations and spray to kill infestations of insects when they occur. Mavrik Aquaflow, Orthene, or Diazinon can be used on an alternating basis each week so that the insects cannot build up an immunity to any one insecticide.

Spider Mites

Spider Mites attack rose bushes during hot, dry weather. They usually start on the lower leaves nearest the ground and spread very rapidly to the upper leaves and to other bushes, defoliating them in a matter of days if not controlled. The sucking action of spider mites causes the leaves to become speckled and turn yellow. The underside of the leaves have a "salt & pepper" look. Quick action is required to prevent serious damage.

Head off trouble by removing the lower leaves up to 6-8" on established bushes beginning in late May and pruning out twiggy growth that won’t develop into productive canes. Do this on a regular basis throughout the season.

A strong spray of water on the underside of the leaves every two or three days for a week will also help control the spider mites. If you have difficulty controlling them with water, there is an effective chemical spray called Avid that can be used in very small quantities and sprayed on the underside of the leaves.


  1. Improve the health of the bush by removing all dead, damaged, or diseased canes, and by removing all twiggy growth (stems smaller than the diameter of a pencil) that may harbor spider mites.
  2. Open up the bush and make way for new and more vigorous growth; remove crossing canes that may rub together.
  3. Remove canes in the middle of the bush to provide air flow and sunshine to the center of the bush.
  4. Cut back any long canes needed to keep the rose within the size limits required to enhance its position in the landscape.

Each cut should be made about 1/4" above an outward facing bud eye. The bud eye is located in the area where the leaf is attached to the stem.

Roses should be dead-headed (removing the spent blooms) regularly. Keeping the spent blooms cut off will stimulate the bush to bloom continuously. Do this until early October when it will be time to ease the bush into dormancy. At that time, leave the hip on the bush and remove only the petals.

If you are trying to build a newly planted bush into a strong performer, remove only the bloom leaving all the foliage on the bush. Later in the summer when f the bush is well established and performing well, you can cut down to a five-leaf leaflet.

Always use sharp "by-pass" type shears to prune with. The "anvil" type shears (i.e. one sharp blade and a flat anvil surface) will crush the cane or stem and may result in dieback.


Winterization is a necessity in the Middle Tennessee area. First, do not apply any chemical type fertilizer that contains nitrogen after August 1st. (You can use liquid fertilizer until August 15.) This will allow the roses to slow down any new growth that won't have time to harden before killing frosts.

Next, stop cutting off dead blooms in early October; this signals the plant to stop producing new growth so it can be ready for winter. Remove only the petals to keep the beds clean.

Then, between the last week of November and the first two weeks in December, cut back the canes to 2' - 3' to keep them from blowing around in the winter winds and loosening the soil around the roots. Remove all pruning debris from the beds. Place a mound of soil or mulch about 12 inches high around each bush to protect the bud union from freeze damage. In addition, if you want to minimize the amount of winter die-back at the end of each cane, you can further protect the canes by piling oak leaves, or loose hay or other loose organic materials about two feet high around the bushes. You can keep these from blowing away with a small cage made from chicken wire or other fence wire.

Time to rest, order more roses, and dream of next year’s beautiful blooms.


As a Nashville Rose Society member, you will be assigned a Consulting Rosarian - an experienced rose grower accredited by the American Rose Society - who will contact you to offer help and advice. Membership in the Nashville Rose Society is $20 a year and can be established  contacting the Nashville Rose Society.

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Last updated September 12,2008