Top tips for growing roses in containers

With rose season in full swing, Catherine Dawson shares advice for healthy, productive and peat-free garden roses

Who can fail to be moved by the sight and scent of a beautiful rose in the June sunshine? Many roses give colour, scent and structural interest to the garden.

You can buy containerized roses at all times of the year either for potting on or for planting out. But remember the easiest time to plant is either in the autumn or the early spring. Leaving it later can work, but you will have to be more vigilant in caring for your rose. Later planting will make it more prone to drying out before the new roots have fully established in the surrounding soil or compost.

One of the easiest ways to establish a rose in a container is to buy a bare root specimen over the autumn to early spring months. The choice is huge, and the chances of long-term success are good if you follow a few basic rules.

SylvaGrow rose advice

Plant your rose as soon as you can

Soak the roots of bare-root roses for at least two hours prior to planting. If you’ve bought a containerised rose, it’s still a good idea to plunge the pot into water for a couple of hours prior to potting on or planting out.

Choose a pot that is deep enough to accommodate the roots but avoid the temptation to go too large at this stage. You can always pot on once the rose has grown. But over-potting now could mean the roots being swamped with too much wet compost in the cold months of early spring.

Settle the compost around the roots by gently firming or tapping the pot. Try not to compact the compost by pressing it down. This will create airless conditions which can cause waterlogging.

The rose is likely to have been grafted so ensure the graft point is just below the compost surface. With pot-grown roses, be careful to plant so that the compost level is the same as it was in the pot. This applies whether you are using a container or planting your new rose into your garden border.

A sunny position is best for your rose but anywhere that gives at least half a day in the sun will work well.

SylvaGrow rose advice

Choose the right compost

Use a good soil-based compost such as our peat-free SylvaGrow® John Innes No. 3. This is designed for the potting of mature plants that are likely to stay in the pot for a long time. Equally good would be SylvaGrow® with added John Innes. This award-winning peat-free compost contains sterilized loam to aid stability and allow easy nutrient management.

You can top the pot surface with an attractive mulch such as SylvaBark® Pine Mini Mulch. Or use Melcourt Horticultural Coarse Grit, which will help prevent excessive evaporation from the compost surface.

For more guidance, watch me planting a bare-root rose into a container in the video tutorial below.


Feeding your rose effectively

The compost you use to pot your rose will only have enough fertiliser for the first few weeks. Once the rose starts to show new leaves, you’ll need to liquid feed on a regular basis for the best results. Either a general all-purpose feed or one designed for tomatoes will ensure good flowering and a healthy plant.

Alternatively, add controlled release fertilizer granules according to the manufacturer’s instructions, at the time of potting. This is an easier way to provide a steady flow of nutrients for your newly potted rose.

SylvaGrow rose advice

How to water a rose

Success will also be assured if your watering is careful. Try to learn how heavy the pot feels when the plant is well-watered and use this as a guide. Too much water will simply leach nutrients away. But too little runs the risk of reducing the health of the rose.

If your compost has become dry – and it happens occasionally to the best of us – just add a few drops of washing-up liquid to your watering can. This will help the dry compost to take up moisture more easily.

Read more of our container watering tips.

Planting a rose in a border

Roses are hungry plants so even if you’re planting out in your border, blend some nutritious organic matter into the planting hole before you start. Make sure this is well-mixed with the back-filled soil. This will feed the rose and aid moisture retention, which is so important during the first few months.

Ideal for this purpose is SylvaGrow® Farmyard, our nutrient-rich soil improver. This can be used as a mulch post-planting or in the spring and autumn. As with any mulch, avoid going right up to the stem, but otherwise a good few inches’ depth will work wonders.

Once your beautiful new rose is in flower, deadhead regularly. Or even better, pick a bunch for the house and this will encourage even more flowers for you to enjoy.

Learn more about our peat-free products.