The Q&A Archives: Roses in Arizona

Question: I recently moved to phoenix. I love roses but not sure whether it is suitable for this climatic conditions. Would bare root be a good choice? How do i maintain it? I live in an apt so can only grow in containers.

Answer: Roses thrive in Phoenix. Over 40% of the rose shrubs sold throughout the country used to be grown in the West Valley, although most of the agriculture is being overrun by developments now. Bare-root roses are fine, but they are best planted here in December and January. Container-grown roses are planted through April. Roses still need full sun, even in the desert, although they benefit from protection during hot afternoon sun. Do you have a patio location that provides sufficient sunlight? Containers dry out quickly, so you will need to monitor soil moisture carefully. It should stay moist like a damp sponge, but not overly wet. A layer of mulch on top of the soil can help.

Roses need feeding to bloom. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are the 3 major nutrients for all plants. (They correspond to the 3 numbers on fertilizer packages, such as 15-30-15.) Nitrogen promotes growth of green leaves. Phosphorous is essential for blooms. The second and third numbers on the package should be higher than the first. Or, roses benefit from applications bone meal, which contains phosphorus, and greensand, which contains potassium. Both of these nutrients are important for flowering. The thing to avoid is feeding them with high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 21-0-0, that will encourage foliage growth at the expense of flowers. Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer every 6 weeks starting after pruning in Jan or Feb, continuing until June. Some rosarians continue feeding at half-strength through the summer, others stop, thinking it is too stressful for the roses. Begin feeding again in September, with the last application in mid-October. Don't feed during the cold winter months, as fertilizer promotes tender new growth which is susceptible to frost damage. It's a good idea to layer several inches of organic mulch around the base to maintain soil moisture and cool soil temperatures.

Major rose pruning is done in January here, to prepare for the peak boom period in April-May. Another lighter pruning is done in mid-September to prepare for the second bloom period in fall. Finally, there is a wonderful rose demonstration garden at Mesa Community College, coming into full bloom in April. It is a great place to look at varieties, and on Saturday's the local rose club, Mesa East Valley Rose Society, often holds demonstrations and work parties where you can obtain hands-on experience. Check their website for details. Good luck!

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