The bare-rooted or heavily pruned roses available in garden centres over winter may not look much but now is the time to plant roses for a colourful summer display.
By getting roses in the ground, or shifting existing roses, over the next month, you are giving the plant the best chance possible to establish and do well over summer.
A clean-up before pruning will also pay dividends – remove dead leaves (which may be harbouring disease) from on and under the plant and if you spray your roses June and July should include something to kill over-wintering eggs of aphids, red spider mite and scale.
If you are planting a new rose in the same place as an old one, the National Rose Society recommends disposing of a decent area of surrounding soil (about two wheelbarrows’ worth) and giving the new rose fresh soil to help it on its way.
Many roses can also be grown from cuttings – although you will wait longer for the plant to be of flowering age, it is a cheaper way to stock your garden.
Helen Polstra, who gardens near Katikati, takes her cuttings at pruning time and plants them beside their “mother”, believing she gets a better strike rate.
Cut straight across the stem immediately below a bud “eye” to form the bottom of the cutting. At least two bud eyes should be above ground (about one-third of the length of the stem). Keep the cuttings well watered through summer and try not to disturb them for a year.
One of Helen’s favourite roses is Martha Ford, which has fragrant, apricot blooms that age to white. After buying a plant from “a little old lady” who had a hand-made sales sign on the highway north of Wellington, Helen has propagated the rose herself from cuttings.
Martha Ford was developed by Ken Nobbs, co-founder of the New Zealand Heritage Rose Society, and is, strictly speaking, a rambler, although Helen uses it as a climber.
“Normally when Thys is driving we go from A to B and that’s it,” Helen says of her husband, “but this day he heard my plea and turned off.”
Although enthusiasts still grow beds of roses, they arguably look best in a mixed border where other plants can come to the fore once the roses have finished flowering and help disguise their less attractive winter stage.
The timing of pruning will depend on where you live – in the Tauranga area you should hold off until at least the second half of July.
And this is the last year that you’ll be able to buy Matthews Roses from garden centres. The long-established and well-known Wanganui business – it’s one of the biggest commercial rose growers in the country – is to become mail-order only.
Most of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated for this website.