ASK MARTHA: Growing Easy, Dependable Roses

Martha’s tips for selecting and planting roses.

Question: Hi Martha, I love roses, but hear they are difficult to grow. What varieties will work for me? 

Martha: Caring for a rose garden isn't nearly as challenging as many gardeners assume. Here's how to enjoy an abundance of fragrant blooms all season long - and for decades to come. 


Many gardeners believe that roses are fussy shrubs requiring constant catering. And, if you grow the common run of hybrid tea and floribunda roses, (often found at local garden centers), that’s what you’ll get. These two breeds of roses are like thorough­bred horses: capable of phenomenal performance, but delicate. 

However, if you expand your definition of roses, and explore the many other breeds, you'll find plants that produce the flowers you want and require no more care than a lilac or an azalea. What's more, you'll find that these easy roses are beautiful shrubs even when not in bloom. 

Growing roses starts with the selection; choose those well suited to your zone. To determine that, visit local botanical gardens and fellow gardeners to see which varieties thrive in your area. You'll also need to plant them correctly and prune them properly.

Roses are generally available in two options: bare-root and container-grown. 

Bare-root roses, which are dormant plants that have no soil around their roots, come in a much greater variety than container-grown (or grafted) roses, but they must be planted right away. Beginners may prefer grafted roses, which can be kept in their containers, in a semi-sunny spot, until you are ready to plant them in the soil. 



Open the package right away and inspect the plant's condition. Prune any damaged canes or roots immediately to deter any infection from setting in. 

  • Before planting, soak the roots in water overnight, adding a root-stimulating solution such as Miracle-Gro® Quick Start Planting & Transplant Starting Solution to the water. 
  • Dig a hole about two times as deep and wide, as the length of the root system. Work a slow-release fertilizer with natural ingredients and some compost into the soil at the back of the hole (do not let fertilizer touch roots directly). Two good options are: 
  • Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed Rose & Bloom Plant Food
  • Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Rose Plant Food
  • Make a mound of soil in the center of the hole so that the plant's bud union (the swollen point above the roots where the canes emerge) is 1-inch above the soil line in warm climates; and 1-inch below the soil line in cooler climates. Place the plant in the hole; spread the roots evenly around it.
  • Create a 50:50 blend of native soil and Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil Trees & Shrubs. Backfill hole two-thirds full with the soil blend; fill with water and allow to drain Finish filling the hole, and water again.


When shopping for container grown roses (grafted), look for a well-established root system. Test by tugging on the main stem; if it comes out easily, don't buy that plant.

  • Trim off any blooms before planting (put them in a vase); this will ensure the plant's energy is focused on root development.
  • Follow same method as above when planting, loosening roots before placing in hole.


It is very important to properly prune roses, which requires some simple know-how.

  • Remove any crossing canes, and those with inward-facing buds. 
  • Prune heavily in winter to stimulate growth and prevent disease; prune lightly throughout the season to maintain an attractive shape. 
  • Deadhead stems after blooms fade: Cut toward the center of the bush at a 45-degree angle, just below the first pair of leaves and directly above an outward-facing stem.
  • Remove spent flowers throughout the season to encourage more blooms.

It’s always a good idea to visit botanical gardens in your area, fellow gardeners’ yards and local garden centers for ideas and inspiration. To get you started in your selection of roses, here is a small sample of easy, dependable roses that I love and that will make a beautiful addition to any garden.


Robust, disease resistant, and cold- and wind-proof. This shrub is a safe choice for all northern regions. 'Henry Hudson' is white, 'Jens Munk' pink, 'Champlain' white. 'Henry Kelsey' is a red climbing rose. 'William Baffin' is a deep pink climber (shown here). Hardy to zone 3.


A gallica variety, with semi-double flowers of violet-crimson open flat to reveal showy yellow stamens. Very fragrant, once-blooming in early summer. Lovely fall foliage and hips on an upright bush reaching 5 to 6 feet in height. Hardy to Zone 4.


This popular mini is nearly always covered with sprays of semi-double white blossoms with golden centers, resembling a batch of freshly popped corn. Glossy, disease resistant foliage on a compact, 12-to-18-inch bush. Hardy to Zone 5.


This interesting hybrid rose can grow to ten feet on long arching canes. Can be trained to climb but is better as a large shrub. Flowers come in late spring and are double, fragrant, and salmon pink. Hardy to Zone 3.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.