Inula Royleana
Midwest Gardening
Container Roses

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You can grow just about any roses in containers, window boxes and hanging baskets. 

patio rose garden

Just about any rose can be grown long term in containers.  There are roses ideally suited to containers, including miniature roses and polyanthas.  Even shrub roses, rose standards, and small climbers can thrive in containers.  But the care you give and even the container you select will be very important to success.


Sunpaito roses

Potted roses are often used for patios, balconies or entryways, so make sure your roses receive a minimum of 6 hours of sun.  More sun is even better, but the sun can also heat up your container.  Planted in the ground roots are kept cool.  In warm climates, if your potted rose will receive a lot of sun, be cautious about the container you select and keep up with the watering.  The larger the container, the more soil you will have to keep the roots cooler.  Some rose varieties do better than others with only six hours of sun, so check the requirements for your selected rose.  Generally, the more petals a rose has, the more sun it will require to produce consistent blooming and large blooms.

Rose SelectionFairy Rose container

The mature size of your selection will be important in choosing a container.  A large shrub rose will require a huge container to maintain a healthy rose.  Many shrub roses respond well to shearing and severe pruning each year, which can help keep the shrub an appropriate size for your space and container.  Miniature roses and small Polyantha roses are excellent for smaller containers, window boxes or hanging baskets.  Polyantha roses and floribunda roses are generally a good size for larger containers.  Most of the shrub roses will require a very generous container.Moss roses and fountain grass container

A continuous blooming or repeat blooming rose will keep your container looking good.  You may also want to select a rose that blooms on new wood if you expect to see much blooming in the first season.  If you select once blooming roses, you can certainly include other plants in your container.  Choose long blooming perennials or annuals that will give you color all season.  Also make sure your container is large enough to support the additional plants.

Container Selection'Pascali' - everblooming hybrid tea rose in a container

Your roses will want plenty of soil for rooting space, and a lot of soil will hold a lot of water that your roses will also want.  So you must have a container large enough for the size of your rose.  Err on the generous size so the soil does not dry out too quickly.

Miniature roses and probably the small polyantha roses will do fine in a 5 gallon container.  To give you an idea of the actual size, a 12 inch deep container that is 11 inches across will hold 5 gallons.

Smaller floribundas, and many polyantha roses will be happy in a 10 gallon container.  A 16 inch deep container that is 14 inches across will hold ten gallons.  (Your medium garbage container under the kitchen sink is only 8 gallons, it should be bigger than that for your roses.)

Knock Outs in a barrelHybrid tea roses, large floribunda roses, grandiflora roses and small to medium sized shrub roses will need a 15 gallon container.  A 17 inch deep container that is 15 inches across will hold 15 gallons.  (Your tall kitchen garbage container in the closet is only 13 gallons, it should be larger than that for these roses.)

Large shrub roses (up to 5’ high and wide) and climbers will need 20 to 30 gallon containers.  Something along the lines of a whiskey barrel should be about 30 gallons.

'Perfume Tiger', 'Pat Austin', yellow miniature roseClay planters are ideal for keeping your roots cooler in hot weather, but they are substantially heavier than the lightweight plastic and resin containers.  A 10 gallon planter is difficult too move if it is clay or pottery.  Clay and pottery pots can also crack in freezing temperatures.  Fortunately the new plastic planters are looking pretty good, some are hard to distinguish from pottery from any distance.  Choose a light to medium color, the darker color plastics heat up, drying out your soil and heating the roots too much.  Moving 15 to 30 gallon containers of any material will require 2 people, or place it on a base with wheels.  In cold climates you may be moving your containers into a shed, garage or in a sheltered corner to winterize the rose.

Joseph's Coat climber in a barrelMake sure, of course, that your pot has drainage holes.  No need to “fill” the bottom with gravel, styrofoam peanuts or any other “drainage” material.  That’s what the holes are for, and your filler will take valuable soils space away from your rose.  The larger the pot, the more holes that are needed.  Four holes at least for a 20 gallon pot, up to eight for a 30 gallon pot.  Whiskey and oak wine barrels will often have drainage holes, but will often “weep” also.  Side holes are best, if your holes are on the bottom you might want to raise the pot a bit with shims so the excess water can drain away easier.  The only reason to put anything in the bottom of your container is to add weight to keep a tall plant, a climber on a pillar for example, from blowing over.  Use an inch of builders sand if you are concerned about a windy location.


Buff Beauty climbing balcony roseNever use garden soil in your planters.  Garden soil, or top soil, is very heavy, compacts easily and does not drain well.  Use a good quality potting soil.  Or mix your own with one third potting soil, one third aged compost, and one third composted manure.  Add one cup perlite to improve drainage.  You may also want to add to your purchased or mixed soil one cup of bone meal.  Blood meal or fishmeal may be added to increase nutrients.

You should replace the soil every three years or so.  Roses are very heavy feeders and will deplete the soil nutrients, fertilizer will not make up the difference.  They may also be a build up of soluble salts from the fertilizer after a few years.  This is also a good time to root prune if the plant is becoming root bound.  Simply trim back the roots, new ones will be replaced quickly.

Planting a RosePotted rose tree

When planting a rose in a container, the bud union should be at or just above the soil line.  The rose will grow more vigorously if the bud union is not below the soil line.  If you plan to overwinter your rose outside in a cold climate, the bud union should be just below the soil line.

Fill the container about two thirds with prepared soil.  Create a soil mound in the center and place the rose over it, spreading the roots out carefully.  Fill with more soil and tamp the soil by pressing firmly, but gently with flat hands around the roots.  Continue filling the container and tamp lightly until the soil has reached the desired level of the bud union.  Ideally when you finish the soil will be fully to the top of the pot.  The soil will settle substantially with the first watering, and will continue to settle over time.  Cover the soil with spanish moss or other mulching material to prevent soil splash when you water.  Now completely saturate the soil until water runs from the drainage holes.  Use a light flow so as not to displace the mulch and create deep depressions in the soil.  The soil should be saturated slowly.

Water and Fertilizer

patio rosesRegular watering and fertilizing will be critical to the health of your rose.  Insufficient watering or over watering will also result in inferior blooms.  Soil that dries out and becomes overheated (a dark colored plastic pot will accelerate the heating of the soil) will also result in inferior blooms. 

Expect to water your container every week, saturating the soil until water runs from the drainage holes.  Watering should be adjusted according to weather conditions.  Poke your finger into the soil about an inch.  If it feels dry, water.  If it is still moist, do not water yet.  Fertilize every week with a water soluble fertilizer mixed at one fourth the recommended strength.  It is very easy to “burn” container plants with heavy doses of fertilizer.  In the ground, there is a lot of soil to dilute heavy fertilizations.

Winterizing Container Roses

Winter conditions in any zone are unpredictable.  As a rule, your potted roses and rose trees should be kept in an environment above 25 degrees F, and ideally at 40 degrees, but not above 40-50 degrees or they will not go dormant.  Keep this in mind as you select a method to overwinter your container rose.  And do NOT prune roses in fall or growth will be encouraged.  Wait until very early spring when still dormant.

And don’t think that just because you potted a super hardy rose that it will survive winter in a container.  The soil in a container will freeze completely, whereas the ground will not.  A hardy rose loses 2 or 3 hardiness zones in a container.  In other words, a rose hardy in the ground to zone 3 will survive winter in a container without protection in zone 6, perhaps zone 5.  A very large container, and therefore a large amount of soil, will help.  It will take a longer period of consistently subfreezing temperatures to freeze the soil.

Generally speaking, potted roses and tree roses of any type should be able to weather a zone 7 winter outside with minimal protection steps.  Stop fertilizing by the end of August or first week of September, but continue regular waterings right through winter.  Less and less water will be used through the winter, but keep checking the soil at least every 3 to 4 weeks, as you do not want the roots to dry out.  If at all possible, protect your rose from wind.  Place the pots in an area sheltered from northern winds, and preferably in the shade but definately out of the late afternoon sun.  The idea is to maintain a cold temperature so the rose remains dormant.  Your rose may not remain dormant if it becomes too warm in a sunny area.  A burlap wrap will help protect the rose or tree rose from both wind and sun, especially if the pot is so large that you cannot move it to a sheltered location.  Tie the wrap loosely in place.  If freezing weather is expected, move the pots up close to the foundation to benefit from the heat of the house, and add additional wrapping.  A temporary covering of a blanket, heavy sheet or plastic should protect the plant from freezing for a short period.

To prepare container roses for winter in zone 6, stop fertilizing by the end of August or the first week of September, but continue regular waterings right through winter.  Less and less water will be used throught the winter, but keep checking the soil at least every 3 to 4 weeks, as you do not want the roots to dry out.  If you plan to overwinter your container rose outside, they should be in plastic or wood containers.  Ceramic and terra cotta pots will crack if the endure freeze and thaw cycles.  Right after the first frost winter protection should be applied, usually middle or late November.  “Bury” the entire pot in leaves or mulch.  Use some means of containing the mulching material, such as a chicken wire ring or a sack that allows air to flow such as burlap.  Or bring the container into a shed or unheated garage for the winter.  Be sure, however, that a garage stays cool enough to prevent the rose from growing.  And don’t forget to water if you bring them inside, they tend to dry out more quickly in a closed shelter.

In zones 5 and colder, container roses must be either “Minnesota tipped” or brought into a shelter that does dip below 25 degrees F or above 40-50 degrees.  Put simply, you need to completely bury your rose.  This can be done pot and all, or you can dig out the rose and bury it bare root.  If you keep a vegetable garden, that provides the perfect spot to bury a rose in its’ container.  Stop fertilizing around mid August, but continue regular waterings until the rose is buried.  About mid to late October after the first hard freeze, dig a hole and bury the pot or bare root rose.  The bud union should be at least six inches deep, burying the pot on its’ side is fine and works well for a tree rose.  If you prefer to keep the plant and container “clean” for easier spring removal, wrap it all in burlap.  Once the ground has frozen, cover it with a thick layer of mulch to help maintain a constant soil temperature.

If your container rose can be stored in an unheated garage, be sure the temperature remains between 25 and 40-50 degrees F.  Even in zone 5, overnight temperatures in a garage may dip below 25 degrees.   The rose and container should be entirely wrapped in a heavy blanket and stored up on blocks so it is not in contact with the very cold cement floor.  Place it in a corner that adjoins the heated house to borrow a little warmth.  Some gardeners in the most northern regions have even rigged a light bulb inside coverings to maintain minimal warmth.  Do use caution with such a method, making sure it is fire safe.

If you have an extremely large container that just cannot be buried or stored, do as much as you can to protect it.  Place it up against the heated wall of a house or patio door - we lose a lot of heat through glass and your rose will make good use of it.  Then heavily insulate the around the other three sides of the rose and container and hope for the best. 

With proper care your roses can live their entire life in the container.  Should your roses grow much larger than expected, transplant into a larger pot.

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