Rosa rugosa 'Therese Bugnet'

Rosa rugosa ‘Therese Bugnet’

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The Basics of Planting New Roses


Choose your roses carefully. There are many new varieties that are exceptionally disease resistant and completely hardy to Zone 5. Planting an easy care rose is the first step to making rose care simpler.


Roses need full sun (6 hours of direct sunlight per day), rich soil containing at least 25% organic compost or well rotted manure, and good air circulation. We pay a lot of attention to soil preparation to grow roses! When starting a new rose garden, or planting a new rose bush, amend the soil with compost. We feed with a balanced, blended organic fertilizer (Pro Gro, Pro Start, Dr Earth Rose and Flower), adding it to each planting hole. Take a soil test and, if the soil test indicates the need, be sure to add the mineral powders rock phosphate and greensand to provide a long term source of phosphorus, potassium and trace nutrients if the soil test indicates the need. These mineral powders become a part of the soil structure and are released slowly over time through the work of the all-important soil microorganisms. This creates a sustainable, long term situation for the roses.


Spring Care of Roses

Spring pruning of roses is one of the most important things that you can do. Start as soon as you see the buds start to swell so you can identify the live wood. Remove any dead wood. Remove branches heading into the center of the plant (open pruning) to increase air circulation. Especially look for some of the oldest, woodiest canes that may have a lot of dead twiggage. You want to constantly be replacing old wood with new, more productive younger wood.  Then, reduce the size of the plant according to your wishes. You can remove up to 1/4 to 1/3 of the height of shrub roses. With climbing roses, maintain the scaffolding structure that is attached to the fence or arbor. Choose the main canes that will remain, always looking for younger, potential replacement canes for future development of the plant. Remove the wild growth and tie the roses down.


Each spring, when waking up the garden, we side dress each rose with three shovels full of Our Magic Formula:

Our Magic Formula for Spring

Take a soil test and let the Natureworks staff help you interpret it organically. Add lime as needed to adjust your PH. Our basic feeding regimen is as follows: Fill a large wheelbarrow with compost (if you don’t make your own, use three 40-50 lb. bags.) Add 15 pounds of Pro-Gro organic fertilizer (a 5-3-4 blended organic fertilizer). If your soil test indicates that you are very low in phosphorus, add extra rock phosphate. If you are very low in potassium, add extra greensand. Mix this up well with your shovel. Add 3-4 shovels full to the base of each rose.


To help prevent fungus on roses, clean up all debris left over from the winter at the base of the rose before topdressing with the compost/fertilizer mixture. Spray the rose leaves with BioSafe Disease Control, an organic fungus preventative weekly if fungus has been a major problem for you in the past. BioSafe Disease Control is hydrogen peroxide solution that inhibits fungus spores from growing on the plant.

Mid Summer Care of the Roses

“Ever blooming” roses are actually mislabeled. They are actually repeat bloomers that cycle in and out of flower. After the roses complete their first heavy flush of bloom, prune them back by at least 3-5 leaf nodes to an outside-facing 5-leaflet leaf. This encourages new growth to head away from the center of the plant. Don’t leave a stub; cut directly above a leaflet as that is where the next branch will arise. We call this open pruning. Use this opportunity not just to deadhead but also to shape the plant a second time in the growing season. Keep roses deadheaded throughout the season for maximum bloom. When deadheading, cut back to an outside facing leaf to encourage an even more open plant.


Roses definitely benefit from a midsummer feeding to encourage lush reblooming cycles:

Our Magic Formula for Midsummer (July)

Put 3 bags of compost in a wheelbarrow. Add 10 shovels full of Pro Start (a 2-3-3 blended organic fertilizer). Mix together until the fertilizer is evenly distributed. Add 3-4 shovels full of this mixture to the base of all repeat blooming roses. This side dressing is an added boost for the plants that are going to go the distance for you in the late summer and fall.


Foliar Feeding

The hotter and more humid it gets, the more important it is to foliar feed your plants. I always say that if we’re uncomfortable, so are the plants! Foliar feeding literally means watering the leaves with a dilute spray of some type of organic solution. I use a hose-end sprayer. It’s a quick job and produces fabulous results. If the weather is very hot and humid, or rain is lacking, I use liquid seaweed as a highly effective “stress buster”. Another alternative is to spray your garden with a worm casting and kelp fresh brewed compost tea.  Proven to increase the plant’s resistance to stress and drought by increasing the amount of fine feeder roots. For plants that have been drastically cut back or plants that need a nitrogen boost to green up their leaves (roses in containers that are being watered daily, plants growing during an excessively rainy season when rain leaches out available nitrogen), I use fish emulsion(Neptune’s) mixed with the soluble seaweed extract(Stress-X).

How often do I foliar feed and what do I use when? I wish I could give you an exact formula. I use my instinct and I want you to learn to use yours. Monitor the weather and the conditions of your plants and keep in mind the basic guidelines above. We usually foliar feed every few weeks in a tough summer. You can’t make a mistake. No matter what you use, foliar feeding can only help.


Fungus and Insect Control

Keep the area clean of diseased foliage on the ground. Good sanitation is the best prevention.

Provide good air circulation inside the plant by open pruning (described above).

To prevent fungus, spray with Biosafe Disease Control or Actinovate(Streptomyces lydicus) in the early spring. Spray the canes before the leaves emerge. Spray again in May, again in early June, and then spray once a week from late June onward as the weather heats up. If the weather is exceptionally wet, spray weekly in the spring. Both help prevent fungus spores from sprouting on the plants.

If black spot or powdery mildew appear on the plants, switch your spray to a fungicide that will kill living fungus spores. Actinovate is not only a wonderful preventative but also can be used to treat infection. You must water the plants well in the morning, and spray the plants in the evening, completely coating the leaves for the night. Never spray during a sunny day with this product as you can burn the leaves. You can mix up your own spray using 2 ½ tbsp. low viscosity summer oil with 1 tbsp. baking soda in a gallon of water. Adding 1/8-1/4 cup of Neptune’s Harvest Fish Emulsion and Organic Plant Magic to this mixture also helps prevent fungus and foliar feeds at the same time. A high quality Neem oil also has some fungicidal properties. A further alternative is to spray with modified Bordeaux mix, which is essentially a copper spray.

Many insects attack roses. The first are aphids, and they appear on new growth during warm spells following lots of rain. For small numbers, simply hose them off with a strong stream of water. For severe infestations, use one of the organic insecticides described below. The rose sawfly appears in late May and does its damage in a 2-4 week period, just before the roses bloom. They can defoliate a plant in a matter of days. Monitor for them by checking the undersides of the leaves for little flat, green worms. Spray immediately. When the sawflies disappear, the Japanese beetles arrive. Using garlic and hot pepper wax sprays may help repel Japanese beetles. These are good to use as a preventative measure. Otherwise, for insect problems, use Neem, Spinosad, or Pyrethrum. For an even stronger effect, mix rubbing alcohol with the Pyrethrum (1/4+ cup alcohol with 1 quart of pre-mixed solution- this helps the pyrethrum penetrate the thick waxy coating on the outside of many insects bodies). Test on a few leaves first to see how strong the alcohol dilution can be. You can add up to 1 cup alcohol to a quart of solution. If you see true caterpillars on your roses (gypsy moth caterpillars are an example), you can use B.T. (bacillus thuringiensis) which kills caterpillars in the feeding stage. It will not work on sawflies.

If Japanese beetles are a real problem and spraying doesn’t seem to help, add Milky Spore to the soil and drench the soil with beneficial nematodes. Both of these products kill the grubs, which are the larval stage of the Japanese beetles. Timing is critical. The grubs are in the soil during the spring and fall. Always read the instructions carefully as these are both living, biological controls that are only effective if used correctly!

Rugosa roses can be damaged by insecticide and fungicide sprays. Avoid spraying their leaves; test on a small, hidden section of the plant and wait for one day to see if there is any foliar damage if you feel spraying is needed.


Always remember that you should only target spray a plant that has an insect problem. NEVER blanket spray your entire garden. There are many beneficial insects that will devour or parasitize harmful insect pests. They too can be killed by an organic insecticide. Spray only as a last resort and spray only the infested plants. Encourage beneficial insect populations by providing plants that they need for nectar such as those in the Umbeliferae family (Queen Ann’s lace, bronze fennel, dill, lovage, parsley gone to flower) and daisies of all sorts.


Winter Protection

Don’t cut roses back hard in the fall; wait until spring. Hill up the soil around the base of the plants 18-24” just before the ground freezes. If the winter is severe and the tops of the roses die back, the plant will still be alive under this mound of soil when you remove it in the spring. (This is not necessary for Rugosa roses and their hybrids as they are very hardy.)

In an effort to provide horticultural information, these educational documents are written by Nancy DuBrule-Clemente and are the property of Natureworks Horticultural Services, LLC.  You are granted permission to print/photocopy this educational information free of charge as long as you clearly show that these are Natureworks documents.