The world of garden roses is a wonderfully diverse horticultural playground. In the most general sense, all roses are woody-stemmed perennial shrubs – but thanks to centuries of breeding, they now range in size from miniatures less than 12” tall, to massive climbers that can easily make their way up a 30’ tree. Add to this literally thousands of variations in flower color, shape, and fragrance, and you have a virtually limitless array of floral delights at your fingertips.
Abraham Darby: Copyright of Victor Lazzari
Roses, of course, are also beloved as the rock stars of the cut-flower world. Ever since ancient Roman times, cut roses have been used to ornament meals, parties, weddings, funerals – even war campaigns, believe it or not!
Flo Nelson: Copyright of Victor Lazzari
While the flower shops of today offer a variety of colorful long-stemmed roses, these pale in comparison to the beauty and fragrance of home-grown garden roses. Even the humblest of garden roses has a certain charm that her refrigerated sisters at the florist will never quite capture. Whatever message you want to convey – “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” “Welcome home,” “Get well soon,” or “Congratulations!” – that message becomes more sincere and meaningful when accompanied by flowers that you grew and nurtured all on your own.
Roses have a somewhat unfair reputation as being difficult to grow. Fortunately, a lot of this animus is mostly applicable to the hybrid teas – the aforementioned class of florist’s roses. Many of the roses in other classes – specifically the so-called “antique” or “old” roses, and the shrub roses – are easy-breezy, virtually trouble-free plants, with all the beauty of hybrid teas, breeders have pushed hard in recent decades to develop healthy, disease-resistant varieties more in sync with 21st-century gardeners and our eco-friendly, low maintenance attitude.
Excited? Great! Let’s get started!
Step 1: Site Selection
When it comes to growing roses in South Florida, the first step would be for the gardener to analyze their yard and make sure that existing conditions can accommodate these plants. The rose is a sun-lover by nature; a few varieties can tolerate light or partial shade, but none will succeed in dense, full shade. Too much shade greatly inhibits flowering and encourages fungal problems of all sorts.
Select a location in full sun, at least 8’ away from any small trees and 15-20’ from large trees. This will ensure that the roses aren’t shaded by nearby canopies, and will also prevent aggressive trees roots from sapping water and nutrients meant for them.
Poseidon: Copyright of Victor Lazzari
Step 2: Choosing Roses
Once a suitable area has been chosen, it’s time to decide what specific varieties you want to grow. Great local nurseries that stock Florida-friendly garden roses include: Galloway Farms (Miami), Living Color and NuTurf (Broward), and Cool Roses (West Palm Beach.) See the addendum at the end of this article for a list of good South Florida roses for cutting.
Choosing varieties may seem like an easy task, but in actuality may be the most frustrating and time-consuming part of the journey – garden roses here vary greatly in size. For example, if you love the deep crimson flowers of ‘Louis Philippe,’ prepare for a bulky shrub 8’ tall and 7’ across. By comparison, the soft lavender-gray blooms of ‘Poseidon’ come on a much narrower plant seldom wider than 4’ at maturity. I always bring my mobile device to nurseries, so that I can quickly Google a variety’s mature dimensions before purchasing it.
Be realistic with how many plants your space can fit – roses need good air circulation between individual plants and should never be crowded. The idea of having 20 different varieties in one bed may sound lovely, but if your space can only fit half that many plants, edit the list down to your top choices rather than trying to cram them all in.
Brian Michael: Copyright of Victor Lazzari
Step 3: Planting and Aftercare
For each rosebush, dig a hole approximately 16” across and 12” deep. Discard three-quarters of the excavated soil, and mix the remaining with a blend of equal parts topsoil, composted manure, and peat moss. Begin to backfill the hole a little, then place your potted rosebush inside the hole such that the soil line of the rose is level with the rest of the bed. Don’t be shy to add or take away soil from the hole until the two levels are equal – never bury your rosebush deeper than its current container level, nor leave it exposed above the bed’s existing grade.
Once leveled, begin filling the rest of the hole with your topsoil/manure blend, making sure to pack the soil down firmly so as to eliminate air pockets. After the soil has been backfilled and compacted, water the plant gently but thoroughly with a hose for a good 60 seconds. If you notice most of the water running away from the rose, create a small ring of soil around the outer perimeter of the plant to keep water in place. Continue watering daily, especially during very hot or dry weather, for four weeks. Afterward, as the plant becomes established, watering can be tapered down to once every few days or so.
Roses are voracious feeders and always do best with supplemental nutrition over the course of their garden tenure. Many garden centers stock pre-made “rose fertilizer” blends; or make your own using Epsom salt, bone meal, blood meal, and a slow-release all-purpose fertilizer like Osmocote. Apply at the manufacturer’s recommended doses. Coffee grounds from your kitchen are great as a topdressing!
Cut roses from my garden: Copyright of Victor Lazzari
Step 4: Cutting Your Roses
The best time to cut roses is either early morning or early evening. Cool, cloudy or overcast days are best, but if you must cut roses on a very hot or sunny day, try to do it as early as possible, ideally by 7 a.m.
Always use a sharp pair of secateurs (pruning shears with curved blades) to cut roses – this ensures clean cuts and will minimize any damage to the plant. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle directly above a growth eye (where a leaf connects to the cane).
Try to choose stems that are at least 7” or longer in length; shorter stems may be difficult to arrange. While fully open blossoms are always appealing, buds that are half-open will result in longer-lasting arrangements; the buds will continue to open after being brought indoors.
Gathering fresh-cut roses in a basket may sound dreamy, but this is actually the most harmful method for doing so: They will quickly dehydrate and will have a short vase life as a result. The best means of gathering is to bring a bucket of lukewarm (never cold) water out into the garden with you. Cut your roses one at a time, immediately plunging them into water before cutting the next one.
When you are ready to arrange your flowers, be sure to give each stem a fresh cut with your secateurs and remove any foliage that will end up underwater in the finished arrangement.
Victor Lazzari is a landscape designer originally from the hilly farm country of Maryland. He holds a BA in Landscape Design from University of Maryland, an MA in Landscape Architecture from Florida International University, and a Masters Certificate in Agroecology, also from FIU. His small company, JungleGymFL, offers landscape design, consultation and project management services all over South Florida.
Victor specializes in English-inspired plantings that thrive in the challenging climate of South Florida, and is passionate about roses in particular. In collaboration with the University of Florida, he is writing and publishing a book on the art and science of growing roses in South Florida, tentatively titled "100 Roses for the South Florida Garden." Look for this book in December 2021!
A Florida resident since 2007, Victor resides in Fort Lauderdale with his partner, Brian, and their two kids: Teddy, a young tuxedo kitten with dreams of world domination; and Tyson, a sycophantic black lab mix with an unhealthy fixation on tennis balls.
(call or text, seven days a week from 8 am to 10 pm)