"Growing Roses in the Northwest," by the Whistling Gardener

Growing high quality roses in the northwest isn’t for wimps but by choosing disease resistant varieties and following a few timely tips you too can be successful.
Mister Lincoln Rose. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

I once had a rose garden of 100 roses right smack dab in the middle of my circle drive. I also once owned a 1966 VW Bus (both of which could be grounds for questioning my sanity). “What?” you might ask do these two things have in common—high maintenance.

Like a boat owner, the two happiest days of my life were when I planted my rose garden and when I plowed it under 14 years later. Don’t get me wrong, I received a lot of pleasure out of both the rose garden and the 1966 VW Bus but it took a commitment to make it happen.

Growing high quality roses in the northwest isn’t for wimps but by choosing disease resistant varieties and following a few timely tips you too can be successful.

Here are some suggestions. For a more in-depth discussion come to our free rose class Saturday, February 14th at 10am here at the nursery.

1. Choose varieties that do well in our moist cool climate. Look for “disease resistant” on the label. If they seem to be disease prone, jerk them out or be willing to spray several times a year. There is a category of roses called landscape or shrub roses that are almost completely disease free. Many of the Rugosas are also disease free.

2. Plant them in a very sunny location with good air circulation.

3. Prepare your soil for a queen. Roses will tolerate a range of soil conditions but will perform best if the soil is amended well and fertilized generously.

4. When planting expect some soil to fall away from the roots. Just get them watered-in immediately and it will be fine.

5. In late February fertilize with a slow release organic food such as EB Stone Rose and Flower Fertilizer using two cups (one pound) per rose. If you are feeling generous add a cup of lime and a fourth cup of Epsom Salt and some alfalfa meal. Repeat this procedure after the first flush of blooms in late June. One more fertilization in late August completes the cycle.

6. During the spring, spray with a fungicide after there is six to eight inches of new growth. You should only need to spray three times a year if you do it right. The trick is to “spray before you see any disease” because it is a whole lot easier to prevent mildew and black spot than it is to cure it after the fact. Do not spray Rugosa roses, they will burn.

7. For aphids, hose off large infestations or occasionally spray with either a synthetic or natural product such as Bonide Rose RX (which contains Neem oil, a natural oil extract from the seeds of the Neem tree). Releasing lady bugs also works well. Other than an occasional worm or cane borer, there really aren’t very many bug problems.

8. In late May or early June you should be able to start picking yourself some nice bouquets. Be sure and mix in some summer blooming perennials that you should also be growing in your garden in amongst those roses.

9. Around Thanksgiving, mulch your roses and prune them back to two feet tall for the winter. In mid to late March finish the winter pruning by selecting four or five strong canes and cutting out any dead wood or crossing branches. Just remember “Hip High in the Fall, Knee High in the Spring”.

Regardless of your level of expertise, there is a rose out there that you can grow. Don’t let me dissuade you otherwise. Just don’t plant 100 of them and don’t ever buy a 1966 VW Bus.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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