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I’ve been growing roses in pots for over 20 years, and although I have roses in raised beds, as well as maintaining large rose beds as part of my garden maintenance business. I also love to grow roses in pots and think it’s a great alternative to growing them in the ground.
I just love the idea of scented roses on the patio or balcony and the fantastic displays you get from the longer flowering varieties such as the Floribunda roses and Hybrid teas, not to mention the miniature roses, which are themselves perfect for growing in pots and containers.
Choosing the right rose plant
You can plant any rose in a pot, even climbers as long as the pot is large enough and water regularly and feed regulary. That being said if you planning on growing them in smaller pots, choose a rose that’s labelled as Patio or Miniature Shrub Rose. These are especially suitable roses for growing in pots. If you have your heart set on a climbing rose, you can also look for miniature patio climbers. These grow to about 3 to 5m high – that’s a respectable height for a climbing plant of any kind. The patio and miniature rose plants have smaller flowers in proportion to their height. I even grow David Auston roses in pots and they grow well well but prefer a larger pot.
Selecting the right pot
If your rose grows successfully in the pot, there’s a good chance it will become top-heavy with the masses of flowers. Any kind of pot is suitable for roses as long as it has enough drainage holes. Heavier pots offset the weight of the roses and are a good choice as they are much less likely to get blown over in windy weather. If you don’t go for a heavier pot, maybe you want to use a plastic pot like the one I used in the picture above. Then I recommend getting a pot with a wider base to provide stability.
I also try to use deep pots; the deeper, the better. The width of the pot should be about twice the width of the root ball if it’s already in a pot so that the plant has some room to grow. If you plant a bare root rose you can probably get away with a smaller pot but it won’t be long until it needs repotting.
As I mentioned above, drainage is a key consideration in the pot you select. You may have to make more drainage holes yourself in the bottom of the pot. Of course, this is easier in plastic and fibreglass pots than in ceramic and terracotta ones. Don’t forget to put some crockery or stone in the bottom of the pot to stop the holes from getting clogged up.
And choose a pot that matches your patio décor or garden landscape colour scheme.
The best soil to use in your potted rose plants is a potting compost – John Innes No. 3 compost (John innes potting compost) is what I always use. If you add 10% to 20% multi-purpose compost or manure to this, it bumps up the richness of nutrients for the roses. John Innes is soil based so it also retains moisture better which helps stop the soil from drying out.
An alternative is to buy compost that’s specially formulated for roses and shrubs.
You can also consider applying a layer of mulch in autumn and every spring after the first year. Apply a 5cm layer of compost or manure over the soil, but don’t let it touch the trunk or any part of the rose tree. The mulch helps to retain moisture in the soil and provides additional nutrients for the plant. Plus, it keeps any weeds down.
How to plant roses in pots
As previously mentioned, after making sure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, place a layer of broken crockery, terracotta pieces or gravel in the base of the containers. This helps with drainage and stops the compost from blocking up the drainage holes. Place the compost in the pot up to two-thirds of the way to the top.
Gently tease apart the roots so that they’re not together in a clump. Make a well in the soil in the centre of the pot and put in the rose.
Fill up the pot with soil to the level just above the root ball where the branches start from. Tamp the soil down gently so that all the air pockets become full of soil. I always recommend keeping the soil leave just at the same point of the graph as shown below. This way, you can have room to top up the compost as well as add a layer of mulch in autumn.
Water in the plant well and position in a sunny position and water regularly, but more on this below.
When to plant roses in containers
If you buy a bare root rose, it needs to be potted almost straight away. As you can only purchase this type of rose from November to March, you have the winter months to plant your rose. You can plant container grown roses at any time of year although spring is the best time to do this.
Roses need plenty of sun
Roses love the sunshine and should get at least six hours of sunlight per day. But you need to balance this with some time in the shade so that the pots don’t dry out to quickly. A trick is to position the plant so that the foliage and flowers are in the sun but the pot itself is sometimes in the shade.
Roses grown in pots need watering regularly
Growing roses in pots can be a bit tricky when it comes to watering. Roses, like most plants, need to be in well-drained soil. This is why I’ve been quite insistent on the pot having numerous drainage holes. Sitting in water-logged soil encourages rose pests and diseases to move into your plant as well as root rot.
Container plants always dry out much faster than those in the ground and need to be watered more often. Don’t let the compost dry out. A cycle of dry-lots of water-then dry again is very stressful for the rose and causes all kinds of stressed out responses such as loss of leaves. In summer, especially, set up a regular schedule of checking the moistness of the soil in the pot and watering when necessary.
As with watering any plant, apply the water directly into the soil and not over the leaves or flowers. I have setup an automatic watering system for my pots which works well using drippers and a smart water timer.
Feeding roses grown in pots
Roses in pots only have access to the nutrients in the soil in the pot and that soon becomes used up. As a general rule, use general-purpose fertiliser until the flowers form to encourage strong, all-round growth. Switching to a higher potassium fertiliser (i.e. tomato feed) encourages more buds to form at the expense of the foliage. Feeding your roses once a fortnight should be enough. I like to work this into my water routine.
Stop feeding the rose with anything after August. You don’t want new foliage or flowers to form after that time as they’ll be damaged or destroyed by the frost and the rest of the winter weather.
Prunes roses in pots
When it comes to pruning, I personally prune them back in spring just as the buds shoot from the stems and prune them back to 20-30cm. I like to prune that back hard, don’t be afraid of pruning them back to hard as they respond well to hard pruning. This helps keeps them from getting too tall and helps encourage a bushy multi stems roses. The exception to this is climbing roses which you can learn how to prune here. You can also prune out any disease or damaged stems at any time of year to prevent them from spreading. Always prune at an angle so water doesn’t sit on the cut and prune just above a growing outward facing bud.
Pests and diseases
Matter how well you look after your roses in pots, they are outside in your garden and exposed to bugs and disease. Please read my Rose pests and diseases to familiarise yourself with the common ones that roses may become infected by and to learn what to do about them. Roses are prone to rose black spot, rust and mildew.
As soon as the leaves start to shoot I spray my roses with a rose fungicide to help prevent diseases in the first place. I have found this to be very effective and I repeat the spraying schedule every few weeks but stop when they come into flower to avoid harming beneficial insects.
Roses are prone to diseases more than most other plants so expect some diseases to make an appearance. Most ate not serious but they can look awful if they get out of control.
Roses are very hardy plants and they usually don’t need too much winter protection. However, in very cold regions, I would still recommend moving them to a covered area, maybe under the eves of the house against the wall or into a cold greenhouse.
Repotting a potted rose
If your rose is doing well, it will outgrow its current pot every three or four years. Repot it in a new and slightly larger container and use all new compost to do so. On the years you don’t do this, remove the top 5cm of compost and replenish it with all new compost to add in new nutrients for the plant.