The Q&A Archives: roses in container

Question: how to plant them & what size container you need

Answer: With the exception of large climbers, most roses can be grown successfully in containers. It is important that the container be large enough to provide ample space for the roots; have good drainage, good soil and a location with adequate light and air circulation. The container may be plastic or clay. Plastic fares better in cold climates where freezing may actually crack clay containers. Clay containers do provide a cooler condition for the roots during hot weather. If choosing plastic, it is better to obtain the lighter terra-cotta color than the darker plastics, as they heat up faster.

It is important that bush roses and small shrub roses be placed in containers no less than 15 inches in diameter. They will do well there for about two years and then will need transplanting. Roses in containers tend to deplete the soil of its nutrients more rapidly than if they were in the ground. Often they will also outgrow their containers and need a larger home. In this case one can provide the rose with a container one or two sizes up from the previous one.

To prepare a container for the rose to be planted in, place a layer about one inch deep of gravel or other medium sized rocks in the bottom of the container. This serves as drainage and prevents the soil from becoming too compressed at the bottom. Next, to prepare the soil, combine one third good quality commercial potting soil, one third well- aged garden compost (if this is not available then substitute more of the potting soil) and one third well-composted mushroom or steer manure. You may wish to add an extra cup of perlite to the mix to enhance drainage. It is beneficial to the rose to add one cup of bonemeal to the soil. To increase the nutrient level, fishmeal and bloodmeal may also be added. Roses are heavy feeders, as they need fertile conditions to produce many blooms over the growing season.

Fill the container about two-thirds full with the soil mix. Place the rose, with its roots spread out comfortably, over the slightly mounded soil. Then fill in around the rose with the remaining earth. Press down gently and firmly around the protruding canes. The soil surface should be level with the bud union (where the rose is grafted onto the rootstock). If the rose seems too deep in the container or the soil level is well below the brim of the pot, repeat the planting procedure. The soil will compress somewhat with time and the entire contents will sink somewhat in the container. It is advisable to fill the container right to the top. Water so that the contents are well saturated. Containers dry out more quickly than soil in the ground; it is important to water container roses often, especially during long periods of drought and heat. A quick spot-check for dryness will determine whether a rose needs to be watered. Scratch about an inch down into the soil. If it is totally dry the rose is in need of fluid.

For health it is necessary to place the rose where it receives some moving air. Space containers about two feet apart. This will reduce the incidence of fungus-related rose diseases. A rose should also have a full day of sun, or at least seven hours.

Roses can spend their lifetime in this situation, except in those places where the temperatures can drop dramatically over the winter months. It is advisable to move roses to a sheltered site or temporarily indoors. Finally, in spring offer roses in containers a tablespoon of epsom salts sprinkled around the base of the plant. This provides the necessary magnesium for healthy foliage. Also a kick-start of a fish emulsion feed in spring to get them off to a healthy start.

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