Growing Roses in Containers:
“Why and How To”

by Ed Bradley

(Photos by Tana Bennett)

There seems to be more and more interest in growing roses in containers, for a variety of good reasons. As a matter of fact, roses can be grown quite successfully in containers; and, the use of containers provides an opportunity to grow beautiful roses in some situations where they may not otherwise be grown. Thus, containers offer a different dimension to growing roses. So, let’s take a look...

First, why would containers be a good choice? Some folks simply don’t want to dig and build raised beds. Perhaps the terrain is all rock – there’s no dirt to dig. The terrain may also be unsuitable (steep slope) for raised beds. Tree or large shrub roots may invade your rose garden. It is easier to control weeds and grass in containers. Perhaps you have limited space, or you desire to have specimen or accent plants. Containers provide a degree of mobility; you can move the plant to different locations for different occasions. Or, just perhaps, you already have 300 in the garden, but just have to have the latest and greatest ones coming on the market. All of these sound like good reasons to use containers.

Next, what kind of container is appropriate? Several options exist, including old whiskey barrel halves (drill a hole in bottom), clay or terra cotta, cement or other compound, redwood or cedar, plastic or black poly, and even hanging baskets for miniatures. Or, you can build your own with treated lumber. Be sure to get the size needed for the rose you want to grow. A 5-gallon size is usually adequate for a miniature, while a 10 gallon would be better for a hybrid tea. Any container you choose must have adequate drainage.

Now, you want to consider the type soil to use in the container. A good rose soil mix is ideal for a container, just as it is for a raised bed. One of your major problems with the container, however, will be keeping the soil moist. Therefore, you will want to add a few goodies to the soil. You should add extra organic matter (compost, vermiculite, bark chips, or peat moss) to aid in retaining moisture during the hot summer days. The special acrylic co-polymer water-storing crystals are also ideal to help retain moisture in containers. You will also want to put a generous layer of mulch on top, after the rose is planted.

Now that your rose is planted, let’s think about the care it will need to flourish in the container. Since the roots will be more concentrated, thus more susceptible to burning, you will want to use a mild feeding solution, but feed more often. Liquid feeding every two-three weeks, or a slow-release granular feeding would be ideal. Add organic nutrients such as alfalfa meal or pellets, fish meal or emulsion, and cottonseed meal in the spring and fall seasons. It is especially important to water the container well before feeding.

Speaking of watering, you will need to water containers more often than a bed. Water will drain right through your soil; some moisture will be retained, but will soon be depleted by heat and air because the container is above ground. If the soil dries out, it will shrink away from the container wall; then water will simply run down the side of the container and will probably carry lots of soil with it. You must avoid this by keeping soil moist at all times. However, if the soil should dry out, moisture can be regained by soaking in a saucer from the bottom or slowly watering several times. Simply feel the soil to know when to water.

Roses may be moved to a larger container when they are dormant. If you need to rejuvenate the root system, and cannot move to a larger container, remove some soil and clip some roots when the top is pruned. After fresh soil is added, water with a root stimulator mix to generate new feeder roots. Container grown roses are pruned the same as if grown in a garden. However, since they are above ground and elevated by the container, you may want to keep them slightly more compact to prevent wind damage.

Using containers can be a good alternative for growing beautiful roses… Give it a try!