In love with roses

Ce Cowart Schlicher | WCMGRoses at the Walker County Demonstration Garden. 

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated with roses since the late 1600’s. It started with King Charles II of Sweden while he was on a trip to Persia. There the king discovered the language of flowers. This is the art of using flowers to convey messages. And the rose, well, it sent the message of deep love.

So it was a natural step to give roses, red roses in particular, to the one you loved on Valentine’s Day. Approximately 250 million roses are sold and delivered in the three-day period around Valentine's Day, with over 40 per cent of those being red roses.

Did you know that roses go back as far as 40 million years in America? There are 35 species of roses native to the United States. “The thousands of rose varieties we have today were developed, either in nature or by man, from the 150 to 200 rose species (those found growing in the wild). After the species, these varieties can be divided into four major classifications: bush, climbing, shrub and ground cover, and tree roses,” according to Dr. Jerry Parsons, Texas A&M horticulturist (retired).

Valentine’s Day is the kick-off for several garden projects concerning roses. In our Zone 8b, we are lucky to be able to start planting rose bushes (bare-root and potted) during mid-to-late February. Some roses can be trimmed at this time, if they aren’t in bud or blooming. More about that in a minute. And cleaning up rose beds, amending the soil, and fertilizing are all on the list. So let’s take the important points about planting roses first.

Roses are heavy feeders regardless of type. So soil nutrition is a key element. Roses require soil that is compost rich, well-drained and slightly acidic. Remember, we talked about soil tests earlier? This is where the pH of your soil needs to be identified. Roses take in nutrients the best with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8, but can tolerate our acidic soils to the 5.5 pH mark. Alkaline soils may cause manganese or iron deficiencies in your roses.

Regardless of the type of rose you select, sun exposure is another key element. Roses are sunheads. They require at least 8 to 10 hours of sun a day! Morning sun is preferred, but if your roses are facing West into the hot afternoon sun of our July and August days, you may need to give them a little protection from the glaring rays.

The other important factor with roses is air movement. Planting them too close, in an area where the breezes are blocked, or in a damp, humid area, is certain death for roses regardless of how great the soil is! Good air flow dries up dew and rain quickly, helping to prevent disease. Too much wind, however, can damage foliage in the summer and canes in the winter, so if the area you want to plant is a wind tunnel, put in a fence, windbreak or wall to protect them. Be sure they are still receiving at least 8 hours of sunlight.

Once you have your roses established, keeping them healthy can be accomplished by two tasks, pruning and fertilizing. Roses need haircuts. Pruning and trimming helps flush new growth and it also helps in removing of dead or diseased canes and leaves. Always remove dead canes and leaves! Never leave debris at the foot of a rose. This is an invitation to disease. In general, pruning begins in our area during the third week of February and continues through the first week of March.

Pruning roses can be a bit tricky. Those thorns protect those fragrant blossoms, so dealing with them can be hurtful if not prepared. Invest in a good or great pair of rose gloves. These are typically leather and have long forearm protection. Wear a long-sleeved shirt of heavy denim as well. I’ve been caught by thorns reaching into a bush to cut out a dead cane and been stabbed on the upper arm. If I had been smarter, I might have used some long-handled loppers.

Fertilizing roses can be a matter of timing. You don’t want a flush of young leaves or buds before a late frost hits in the spring, but you also don’t want to wait too late and ‘burn’ your roses. So the general consensus is to “feed the modern, repeat-bloom rose varieties first in the spring right after pruning. Next, feed when they have developed flower buds, and then again about two months before the first frost in your area. Gardens with fast-draining, sandy soil or those in southern climates are usually fed more frequently,” suggests Dr. Parsons.

You can also ‘up’ your chances of having fewer problems if you plant the Earth-Kind® rose cultivars. These roses have been given this special designation by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service through the Earth-Kind landscaping program. It is based on the results of extensive research and field trials, and is awarded only to those roses demonstrating superior pest tolerance, combined with outstanding landscape performance. Check out the cultivars at:

For more information on roses and their care and treatment, contact the Walker County AgriLife Extension office at 936-435-2426. You may also visit with a Master Gardener when we are ‘in’ on Thursday mornings, or email us at

The Walker County Extension Office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.