How to Grow Roses in Alberta

In this blog, we would like to talk a little more about roses. Learn about how to care for roses, how to deadhead roses, and how to prune roses as we continue our discussion on roses.

Roses are a classic flower that has spanned generations and defied style trends for ages. They are used in cut flower arrangements to celebrate the beginning of life, events in the middle, and the end of life.  Fresh roses have a way of somehow making life a little more magical, no matter what the occasion; fancy or small.

On our website, we have covered a few different aspects about roses, like which are The Best Roses for Alberta, How to Plant a Rose Properly, and How to Winter Protect Roses.

Caring for Roses

Once a rose is established, the day by day routine of care begins. The better you care for your rose, the better it should perform.   Once the growing season has started healthy roses should continue to bloom all summer as long as they are deadheaded.

Rose maintenance is multifaceted.  It includes watering, fertilizing, mulching, deadheading, and pruning.  Let’s dig in as we break each of those down now.

Watering Roses

Roses are high water consumers. Check and monitor the rose each day as you are out and about in your gardening space.  This doesn’t have to be a long, detailed process  – just take a quick look at it as you pass by it.  Leaves, flowers, soil, and roots can give clues to the hydration status of your rose.

  • Leaves – Visually check the leaf turgor and colour. The leaves shouldn’t be wilted or flagging like laundry hanging on a line.  They should be firm and a deep green colour.  Paling leaves are a sign of dehydration.
  • Flowers – Do the flowers have good turgor? Are they unravelling from the bud well?  Fragile, weak, wilted, and wrinkly buds and emerging flowers can be a sign of being dry.
  • Soil – Bend down and place your entire pointer finger into the soil at the base of the rose. If it is dry at the tip of your finger, this is a good time to give it a healthy drink of water.

If the soil is soggy and really wet, there may be a drainage issue.  Roses don’t like to be in consistently damp soil, well draining soil is the best.  They hate having their feet wet constantly and their roots will rot.  Cut back on the watering and see if it will dry down.

Take note of the weather.  Because roses can be thirsty creatures but yet are sensitive to being overwatered as they establish, it helps to watch the weather patterns.  Here are a few notes about weather:

  • If it is hot & dry, water 2 to 4 times a week.
  • If it is cooler, water less often.

Once roses are well established at about 3 years in, they can tolerate drier conditions, but don’t abuse that privilege if you want robustly blossoming roses.

Fertilizing Roses  

Fertilizing is an important step to keep plants healthy, and roses are no exception.  Roses don’t have high fertilizer requirements like annuals, though.  Annuals usually need fertilizer weekly, but not roses.

Fertilize roses about twice per growing season. The best rose food and the simplest for a gardener is a general all-purpose slow release fertilizer like 10-10-10.  Check and follow the package instructions to apply the correct dosage.  10-10-10 is a slow release fertilizer, and it will hang out in the garden for about 6 weeks.  As side note about slow release fertilizer is that it releases its properties in response to warmth, not so much in response to applied water.

There is also fertilizer available on the market that is labelled specifically for roses, which is very close to the above formulation.

Over fertilizing roses and other perennials results in underperformance, even though we think more is always better.  Not so for roses and perennials.  Just a bit goes a long way.

Related: For more information on fertilizer, see our blog called  Unwinding the Fertilizer Numbers.

Mulching Roses

Mulch is a wonderful thing.  Mulch for this discussion is chopped up bark, leaves, and other organic material.  There are ‘mulches’ made of rock mixes, but we don’t recommend that.  Bark mulch can come in various grind sizes (kind of like coffee) ranging from large pieces that are 4-6”, to more fine pieces that are half that size.

 Mulch helps to preserve soil moisture, keep roots cool, slow down weed growth, and insulate during the winterMulch can save gardeners a lot of work by reducing the frequency of watering, which also reduces demands on the environment. Mulch can decrease workload by reducing the need to weed – not completely, but significantly.  Mulch is often too thick for thin plants to grow through successfully and then the weeds come out easily.

Mulch your rose after you have initially planted it and maintain a mulch base at 3”-4” yearly.

Related: The Magic of Mulch

Deadheading Roses

Rose blossoms don’t last forever, although we wish they did.  The best time to deadhead rose blossoms is when the flower is beginning to dry and is losing its petals. 

Cut the old flower back by counting down the stem to the next set of 5 leaflets, rose leaves grow in sets of 5.  This will encourage the rose to continue to bloom, rather than forming rosehips and seeds.


Pruning Roses 

When and how to prune roses can be a confusing thing for gardeners.  Let’s look at the benefits of pruning roses, when to prune them, and how to prune them.

Why Prune Roses?

Pruning roses is good for their health.  First, it stimulates their growth; second, it encourages flower production; and third, pruning maintains the shape of the rose bush.

When to Prune Roses in Alberta

Most sources agree that the best time for pruning roses is in the very early spring or late winter, just as you see buds beginning to form.  There will be no leaves on the shrub at this point.  Rose canes (rose branches are called canes)  without leaves makes it easier to visualize the individual canes and shape the shrub correctly.

The types of rose canes to prune include:

  • Dead canes – They will look dried up and brown, they serve no purpose any longer.
  • Weak canes – Weak canes will be skinny and very bendable. They take energy from the shrub that can be used for more productive flowering canes.
  • Disproportionately thick canes – This kind of cane will take over the shrub, in a sense. So if you have a super thick, dominant cane, trim it out too.
  • Rubbing canes – This is where 2 canes are leaning against one another and move against each other in the wind. This rubbing can create a sore spot by damaging the bark. Wounds can develop and lead to infections.  Disease can also spread through these injured bark areas.  Bark is like our skin – it is the first line barrier to defend against disease.
  • Unproductive canes – Canes that don’t bloom don’t contribute to the overall goal of having a rose bush. Cut it back so other canes can flourish.
  • Canes growing below the graft site – The rose graft site`(also known as graft union or bud union) is the bulgy part at the base of the rose stem. A stem growing below this site is called a sucker.  See the photo below published by Garden Gate.

Suckers are not beneficial for the rose and won’t be true to colour because it is the root stock rose, not the blossoming rose.

How to Cut Rose Canes Properly  

Tools for pruning roses – the best tool for pruning roses are clean, sharp hand garden shears.  Clean them with warm soapy water so that bacteria or other disease aren’t spread while using them.

Cut canes at a 45º angle – This will encourage rain water to slide off of the branch to not cause rotting. Experts suggest that you remove up to 1/3 but no more than ½ of the previous season’s growth.

David Austin Rose growers recommend the following 3 year rose plant care plan:

  • Year 1: Cut canes back 3-5 inches from the cane tips & prune out any canes that are overly weak or overly strong and out of proportion with the other canes.
  • Year 2: Cut all stems back by 1/3 and any that are out of proportion to the shape of the shrub.
  • Year 3: This is the year of maturity. How much you cut back is up to you, they should be vigorous growers at this time. Shape the rose into a rounded bush.

A few other things:

  • Always clean up the area where you have pruned to prevent any disease transfer from the decomposing canes. Remember, a clean garden is a healthy garden.
  • Different individual rose varieties may need specific care, be sure check out their care on their labels.
  • If you do have an underperforming rose that comes out of winter dormancy slowly, has sluggish growth, or blooms half heartedly, the first thing to check is its zone rating. Edmonton has a horticultural zone rating of 3 and 4.  Take time to inspect the soil for rotting roots, check the stem for injury, and under its leaves for pests.

Growing Roses – Conclusion

Once you have successfully grown your rose through the summer months, the challenge is to get them through the winter.  For a complete look at how to keep your roses alive over winter in Alberta, check out How To Overwinter Roses in Alberta.

We welcome you to contact us with any questions you may have related to this topic.

About The Author

Wallish Greenhouses
Tucked just outside the northern boundary of Sherwood Park on Clover Bar Road, we are known in the greenhouse world as a grower-retailer agribusiness. We specialize in growing annuals and perennials. Presently, Wallish Greenhouses is operated by Glenn & Louise Wallish, and Dan & Sharon (Wallish) Murphy, now a 3rd generation business.