Caring for Roses - An Interview with Gardening Know How

We spoke with Stan Griep, the Master Rosarian at Gardening Know How, about growing and caring for roses.

A master rosarian has to grow roses for many years and contribute significantly to the realm of rose growing in order to achieve their title, so Stan has a wealth of experience, which he kindly agreed to share with us.

Our full interview with Stan is shown below:

Interview with Gardening Know How

1. You have years of experience growing roses in cold climates. How difficult is this? Are there any roses that flourish in colder environments?

It definitely is more trying to grow roses in a cold climate.

You need to really do your homework and research the growth habits and growing-zone ratings established for the rosebushes you are considering for your rose beds or rose gardens.

Some rose bushes that are not rated for colder growing zones can be grown here but need extra attention to be successful.

One thing that must be done is additional mounding to help keep the rose bushes cold, once the temperature has turned cold and sent them off to their winter nap. 

Warm, sunny strings of days in the winter can warm up the soil just enough to make the roses think it is time to grow again. When the deep cold temperatures hit them again, it causes a major shock to the bushes.

These fluctuations in temperatures, which cause growth cycle fluctuations, are what kill the rosebushes.

Keeping them cold, once it has gotten cold, is the ultimate goal and the key to their survival.

Yes, there are rose bushes that have been developed over the years that do very well in colder climates.

Those developed by Dr Griffith Buck, known as Buck Roses, do very well in our colder climate but still need the winter “keep them cold” protection.

Some roses that were hybridised in Canada do extremely well in cold climates, such as the Morden rosebushes, along with other Canadian rosebushes, such as Winnipeg Parks (of the Parkland series) and the Explorer series of rosebushes, just to mention a few.

red roses against a dark backdrop

2. How much care and attention do roses require to properly develop? 

For the first year, roses need considerable attention. Keeping them well watered (but not sopping wet) is the key.

I highly recommend using a moisture meter to check the soil's moisture. Sink the probe end of the moisture meter down, as far as possible, in three places around each rose bush, to check the soil's moisture. 

In years 2 and 3, watering is important too. However, the root system is now better developed and can find its own moisture far better.

Feeding the rose bushes with a good organic rose food is best as the organic fertilisers benefit the soil, as well as feeding the roses.

Really, after that first year of getting our rose bushes established root-zone wise, they are pretty hardy, especially the shrub roses, miniature roses and Floribunda roses.

There is a saying that "everything in the garden grows better with the shadow of the gardener there". This is very true, spotting any pest problem at its earliest stages goes a long long way to gaining control of the problem.

In this way, growing roses is not really much different than caring for one’s veggie garden.

yellow roses against a dark backdrop

3. Would you say that growing roses is more for experienced gardeners than amateurs, or does experience not matter?

There is a learning curve to everything we do in this life, and growing roses (or anything else in our gardens) is no different.

If anyone wants to grow roses, they just need to spend some time reading about them and their care. Focusing on soils' needs, sunlight needs, feeding and watering needs, and how to recognise and treat pest problems, whether it be fungus or insect attacks. 

Growing roses is something amateurs can do, provided they are willing to check out the things I listed previously, along with studying the growth habits of the rose bushes they are considering for their gardens or rose beds. 

Seeking out a local rose society or garden club is a top notch idea for amateurs, as they can gain an abundance of free information as to what grows best in other gardens, and gain tips on helping their plantings be top performers.

Selecting good hardy, disease-resistant rose bushes for the garden or rose bed should be at the top of the list.

a red rose with glossy, green foliage

4. On the Gardening Know How website, there are articles around growing roses from cuttings. How can you do this?

When taking cuttings you need to select mature canes. These are the canes that have produced buds and have bloomed at least once. 

I like to take cuttings for rooting that are 6 - 8 inches long. I leave some upper leaves on the cutting but remove the lower leaves, from the bottom 2-3 inches of my cutting. I score the sides of the bottom ends of the cuttings with a sharp and clean knife. In 2 places, on the sides at the bottom of the cane, the outer cane is scraped away, exposing nice fresh cane near the centre pith.

I have some pots with seed-starting soils in them, which have been well moistened with water, waiting to receive the freshly prepared cuttings. The pots must have drainage holes in them, so that water will not be trapped within the pot, become rancid and ruin the project. I use pots that are 8 inches or more in diameter for the rooting starts.

Now back to our cutting. Once prepared, with the scoring and shaving off the bottom edges of the cutting, it is dipped into a rooting-hormone gel or powder, such as one called Olivia’s Cloning Gel, which works very well.

I make a hole in the centre of the soil in the pot with a pencil, which is just a bit smaller in diameter than the cutting and at least 2 - 3 inches deep. The hole is smaller to allow the cutting to be pushed down and get a nice tight fit. The soil around the cutting is lightly compressed with a finger to be sure the cutting is well supported in the rooting soil.

I have some litre-sized soda pop bottles, with the bottoms cut out of them, that are used to form a mini-greenhouse over the cuttings. The bottles caps remain on them at this time. The bottles are placed over the cuttings and pushed down into the pot soils, enough to be well supported in the soil.

The soil moisture can be checked periodically with a moisture meter so that there is no need to lift off our mini greenhouse cover.

Eventually, the caps on the upper ends of our bottle greenhouses can be removed for short periods of time to let some of the moisture out, so that it does not cause fungus or mould issues.

The rooting process seems to depend upon the individual cutting, with regards to how long it takes to start forming roots.

Be very patient with them. I wait about 4 weeks before lightly checking the cuttings for roots. 

This method can all be done outside in a garden area, the only difference being that you are using amended garden soils instead of the pot soils.

a pink and peach rose bloom with green foliage

5. There is also an article on the website about using potatoes to propagate roses, to form rose bushes. Have you got any experience using this method? How do you do it and does it actually work?

Oh yes, another method of rooting rose cuttings is to make a hole in a potato and place the rose cutting with the same rooting hormone on it into the potato.

Be sure to use potatoes that are large enough to get a full three inches of the rose cutting into the potato. Then plant the entire potato with cutting in the ground, or large pot, and cover them with the mini pop bottle greenhouse. A Wall-O-Water unit may be used for the mini greenhouse for this type of rooting, if so desired.

Some folks say this method works very well for them. 

Starting cuttings gets easier the more often it is done, and the success rate seems to increase the more often the rooting process is attempted. 

I have attempted this method only once so far. Out of 6 cuttings, using the potato method, I got 3 of them to take root nicely. One seemed to start to take root but then stopped and died. The other two grew potato plants but the rose cuttings did not take root. I guess that too would be considered some measure of success, right?  

I will give it a go again using some canes with larger diameters and see how things go.

When I first wrote that article on the potato method, I had not yet tried it myself. However, it grabbed my interest while doing research for the article and I had to give it a try.

a pink rose bloom with bright green foliage

6. When should you plant roses to give them the best chance of survival? 

For me, the best time to plant bare-root roses is very early in the spring, once the soils have become workable.

The bare-root roses are soaked in a big bucket of water with some moo-poo tea (cow manure tea) for at least 24 hours, then planted in their new soil homes.

For roses that are already leafed out and growing well in their pots, I hold off on planting them until the danger of hard frosts has passed.

Planting roses in the hottest part of the season is not a good idea as the roots are just not capable of taking up enough water or nutrients to keep the top part of the rosebush growing well. 

Once planted, all the rose bushes are watered in with some water that has both a good root stimulator and a product called 'Super Thrive' mixed into it. This water-mix goes a very long way in helping the root zone develop as needed.

The moo-poo tea can be used to water the rose bushes, as well; just add some Super Thrive to the water, when doing so. Give them all some root stimulator in the next watering.

a close-up of a pink rose bloom, with hints of yellow and white colouring

7. When is the right time to prune roses, and do they need pruning in a specific way to make sure they continue to develop?

I am a spring pruner, meaning I like to do the major pruning of my roses in the early spring.

Some years, the winter has been so harsh that many rose canes have died back to within an inch or two of the ground surface. In those years, there is not much choice but to just prune them all the way back, seal the cut ends of the canes with glue, such as the tacky glue one can buy at craft stores, or Elmer’s Multi-Purpose Glue, to help stop cane-end-boring insects from causing problems. 

Usually, the shrub roses and climbing roses have more canes left, far enough above ground, to do some shaping pruning to them. Waiting for any of the rose bushes to show you where they need to be pruned is a good practice.

By this, I mean that I wait for the rose bushes to start to form leaf buds, as some canes that look dead will at times push out leaf buds and be just fine.

Climbing roses especially can have canes that look dead, yet end up pushing out new leaf buds and leaf out fine.

One must be very careful about pruning climbing roses as well. Some of the older climbers bloom only on “old wood” (the previous year’s growth), so pruning them back unnecessarily will destroy the possible blooms too.  

Pruning roses, so that the new growth will come on in the right direction, is important as well, otherwise one will have rosebushes with canes that cross and crowd one another, leading to damaged canes, blooms and disease problems, due to limiting air flow through the bushes.

a close-up of 2 bright blue flowers with yellow throats

8. You mentioned that you are an award-winning floral photographer. How did you get into floral photography? 

Thank you for asking. Growing up, my father was really into photography. We had a little darkroom, where he would develop the film and photos he had taken.

I fondly remember the smell of many of the chemical baths used to take the film through the processes to get the final photographs on paper.

My father was very good at landscapes and scenic photography. 

My focus on floral photography came as part of my passion for roses. I enjoy growing them, smelling their awesome fragrances and seeing their fresh “bloom smiles”, which greet me on my morning garden walks that double as photo shoots.

My wife and I enjoy all sorts of flower gardens and have a wonderful spot for growing wildflowers, adjacent to our home. The problem part is that the bloom smiles go away after a while and the joy they brought is only a memory.

Taking photos lets them last for years, allowing me to go back and enjoy them during those long winter seasons.

Plus, I get much enjoyment out of sharing my photographic works with others; hearing others make wonderful remarks about them is a joyful thing to me. Seeing the smiles the photos bring to others' faces is truly precious.

3 pink roses against a white backdrop

9. Is there a specific technique you use when photographing roses to get the best results? Do you have any examples of images you have taken you could share with us?

Back when my father was into photography, it was fairly expensive due to film and other necessary items. Today, digital photography has really changed that.

Both of the cameras I currently use are automatic-type cameras, which I set to the manual mode so that I can play with the settings on them. I take lots of shots of rose and flower blooms, from many different angles and in different natural light settings, making note of the settings used, the time of day, and whether it was bright sun or cloudy for the lighting conditions.

Red and white roses, as well as other flowers of such colours, can be very difficult to photograph.

If the settings on the camera are not just right, the red-coloured bloom smiles will bleed into one another and the red will not be anywhere close to the actual red of the bloom smile. With red blooms, you can also get what I call a blue bounce to the photo, where there is a bluish coloration to the shot that really messes it up.

White roses bleed into each other as well, especially in bright sunlight. You can easily lose the petal textures and the petals' outlines, which are what make the blooms so beautiful. Using the flash to take photos of a white rose, late in the day, is extremely difficult as the flash will wash out the white bloom badly, with the loss of the all-important textures of the bloom smile.

Be sure to check out the background of the bloom, prior to taking the shots. Items in the background, such as proud insects, can ruin the shot. Capturing bees and butterflies in the shots is a nice plus, though. Using a black or white felt, or satin-like material, as the background can really make the blooms pop as well.

Capturing rain drops, or morning dew drops, on the roses' petals is a very special event to me. I refer to the raindrops as “Diamonds from Heaven” - thus I will refer to such captures as 'the beautiful ladies wearing their diamonds'.

Please do take a look at some of my photographic work I have included here, and also feel free to check out my photography work on my website.

2 orange roses against a white backdrop

10. What advice could you give to someone who is looking to get into this line of photography? Is there a good starting point, or specific plants that are good to start with?

Select a digital camera that has a manual mode, so you can play with the settings on it. A totally automatic camera will take some nice shots but can also take some terrible shots in varying lighting conditions.

The camera used does not need to break one's bank account, either. I have won photography competitions using inexpensive cameras, where I have been up against others' extremely costly camera equipment.

I recommend taking lots of shots of each subject bloom, or blooms moving around the subject bloom ('flares', as my Australian friends call them). Change the angles of the shots as you move around the subject, as well. I am sure I have provided some enjoyment to those witnessing my photography shoots, with some of the distorted positions I put myself in to take a particular shot. 

At first, it is a very good idea to carry a little notebook with you. Make notes of the time of day, lighting conditions and the settings used for groups of shots taken. You will soon learn exactly what you need to do for each lighting condition, colour of bloom, and such, to get the best shots.

When going back through the shots later, those that truly hit that sweet spot of beauty will bring much joy to your very soul! 

I like to leave all the blooms on the bush or plant they are growing on, so that I can come back later, as it opens or ages, and take more natural shots of them.

Take photos of various blooms in lots of different lighting conditions, to start out. Don’t be afraid to try different settings on the camera to see what you get. This is all part of a learning curve, which can be an enjoyable journey.

The great thing about the digital photography of today is that it only costs you some of your time in taking the shots and then processing them by cropping or touch ups. The shots that didn't turn out can be deleted and new shots taken that same day, or on another day.

Learning the right settings for various lighting conditions will be of immense help at those important or special times when you really need to get a good shot, such as a special event or a trip to somewhere that you won't be able to return to anytime soon ('special moments in time', I call them). 

I suggest starting with wildflowers or roses for floral photography, as they provide some of the nicest shapes, colours and textures to try to capture.

a close-up of a red blooming flower and a ripe bud, both against a black backdrop

Gardening Know How

If I may, I would like to put in a good word for Gardening Know How as an excellent source for information.

It does not matter what you grow, there is someone in our group with excellent knowledge to help you through the rough spots encountered, as well as just simply getting started.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be associated with such a fine group of gardeners, who are so willing to share their knowedge of gardening and help make it such an enjoyable experience.

Thank you to Lady Heather for establishing and assembling such a fine group of, not only helpful, but experienced gardeners.

All photos credited to Stan Griep

Read the rest of our interviews for more great gardening tips and don't forget to visit the Outdoor Living section of our website, where you will find greenhouses, coldframes, planters, and everything else you require to grow plants successfully.