Grow roses in pots? Why not?

I’m a space-challenged urban gardener who lives in an 1870s row house. The front is shaded by street trees – obviously not a good place for growing roses, which enjoy soaking up the sun.

So when a UPS truck unexpectedly delivered several rosebushes the first year I lived here, I wondered what in the world I was going to do with them.

I wanted to grow them – they were hybrids that were being introduced the following year, and I’m always curious to try something new. Besides, I love roses.

The obvious answer was to plant them in large containers on my sunny patio out back. They made themselves at home there, and I’ve been doing it with different roses ever since.

The pots have to be big – 15 inches minimum for a miniature. Mine are about 30 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 20 inches in diameter.

The foam pots that mimic the look of clay are a good choice, since they’re attractive and retain soil moisture better than terra cotta. Second best would be plastic containers in a complementary color.

In containers, you’ll have to water more often than you do roses in beds. So the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly, you can use a water-holding potting soil. Or mix sifted compost, finely shredded leaf mold, or a water-holding polymer (sometimes called a hydro gel; ask about it at garden center) into the soil at planting time. All will make a noticeable difference in the dog days of August.

There’s no reason you can’t fill the bottom third of the container with garden soil, which is free and will anchor a lightweight container, then fill the rest with potting soil.

Because roses are heavy feeders and will bloom over and over until a hard frost in fall, you’ll want to mix fertilizer into the soil before planting. Pelleted fertilizer (it’ll say something like “lasts 9 months” on the label) lasts longest.

With organic fertilizers, I prefer the commercial blends that are mixed especially for roses, since they’ll contain the elements roses need.

When you plant, place the bush so the bud union (that’s the knob where the top of the rose has been grafted onto root stock) is about level with the top of the soil.

I’m thinking about all this because my new roses arrived last week, and I’ve got to get them potted later today. Since the bushes are in bud, my garden has a look of summer to it already. And that’s my favorite season.

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