Frequently Asked Questions

General Rose Questions

  • What is an own-root rose? An own-root rose is grown by rooting a cutting from a stock plant. It is more labor intensive to produce an own-root rose than it is to produce a grafted rose. Your own-root plant will make a fine rose bush and reach a mature height at three years.
  • How do own-root roses differ from roses at the local nursery? Own-root roses are started in our greenhouses in tree seedling pots, and then grown outside in their pots. Roses at local nurseries are grown in large fields, mostly in California. They are larger in size initially, but bigger does not mean better. Own-root roses arrive to greet you in the same pot in which they were propagated. Their roots are surrounded by soil and are not bared to the elements;  therefore, own-root roses will not experience the transplant shock that bare-root roses will.
  • What is a grafted rose?  These are roses propagated by grafting, a technique that involves inserting a cutting from a named rose variety into a rootstock from another variety. Eventually the cutting and rootstock fuse, creating a single plant with a thickening or knot in the central trunk. The tough rootstock provides the vigor that allows the less hardy, named variety to flourish. The advantage of a grafted rose is that the rose is a little older than an own-root plant and will provide the instant gratification that is desired by some gardeners. The disadvantage is they are not as winter hardy, produce suckers (canes from rootstock) that have to be cut out, do not bloom as much, and are not as disease resistant.
  • Do own root roses grow differently than grafted roses? The first year they grow somewhat differently. They produce vigorous canes of a smaller diameter than grafted roses. After their first pruning there will be little difference from a grafted rose.
  • Will my own-root rose bloom the first year? Just as grafted roses, own-root roses will bloom the first year with the exception of some old garden roses, ramblers, and climbers that bloom on year-old wood. Keep in mind that, because of the age of the own-root rose the first blooms may not be true to color, size, petal count, or fragrance. Those things will mature as the bush does.
  • Can rose virus spread from one rose plant in my garden to another? No. Rose virus, which in the long run can be a debilitating disease, can only be spread by budding or grafting. Since Heirloom Roses starts with virus-free roses and maintains that by growing only roses from cuttings, virus cannot be spread from an infected plant in your garden by cutting blooms or pruning.
  • My own-root rose is smaller than the ones for sale at the discount center. How long will it take to grow to maturity? Our own-root roses are smaller. They have plenty of vigor and are free of rose virus. More than 50% of all grafted or budded roses are infected with rose virus although they may not show symptoms for a few years. Our roses also experience no transplant shock. Within 2 to 3 years they will be as large or larger than the rose from a discount center.
  • Will any of my own-root roses "sucker"? Own-root roses may send up new shoots from the base from time to time but they will be the same variety of rose, not some unwanted root stock.
  • How much growth will my climbers put on in the first year?This will vary by the vigor of the variety. Climbers and ramblers will put out from 3 to 8 feet of growth the first year. Ramblers are the more vigorous of the two.

Purchasing from Heirloom Roses

  • What is the guarantee offered by Heirloom Roses? At Heirloom Roses we are committed to growing plants that exceed your expectations. We guarantee that our roses are healthy, grown on their own roots, virus-free and true to variety. We are so confident in our roses that we warranty them for one year from the date of purchase, as long as they are planted in growing zones recommended on our website and in our catalog. If your plant fails to thrive within a year, please let us know immediately and we will make it right. If the rose you purchased is no longer available, we will work with you to replace it with a rose that is well suited for your growing conditions. During certain times of year, we will not ship replacement plants to customers based on recommended planting dates related to frost. In this case, we will hold your plant and ship it on the recommended planting date for your area. Please understand that we cannot be responsible for abnormal or extreme weather conditions, neglect from the gardener, or roses that are planted in incorrect hardiness zones.
  • When is payment due? Payment is due in full and will be charged at the time of order entry. This will reserve your order and hold it until the appropriate ship date for your area. We accept a personal check, money order, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover. Oregon has no sales tax. All payments to be in US funds.

Soil Prep, Watering & Fertilizing

  • Should I fertilize my roses? What should I use and how often? Yes. If you plant your rose in the Fall, wait until Spring to begin fertilizing. Start fertilizing with liquid fertilizer at ½ strength or use fish fertilizer at full strength. If you plant in the Spring or Summer, begin fertilizing about one month after planting and continue monthly until August. Always make your last fertilizer application in August so that the roses may harden off for winter. The second year you may use granular fertilizer sparingly or liquid fish at full strength monthly until August. The third year you can use granular fertilizer. The third year, use all fertilizers at full strength.
  • What type of fertilizer do I use on more mature plants? On mature roses we recommend something like a 5-20-10 to 10-30-20 at ½ cup per bush. Spread out around the drip line 2 to 4 times a year depending on the natural fertility of your soil. We do not recommend a fertilizer with a systemic insecticide in it.
  • Should I use Epsom salts on my roses? Epsom salts contain hydrated magnesium sulfate, two trace elements crucial to plant growth: Sulfur is important to the inner workings of the plant and Magnesium, which can become scarce in soil, usually because of erosion or depletion of the top soil or pH imbalance. By providing Epsom salts for your roses you will encourage sturdier stems, richer green foliage, and deeper, rich petal colors. You can purchase it in quantity at a feed store if you have a lot of roses to feed, or you can pick some up at your local grocery store. The first year use just a teaspoon or two in the early spring. For mature bushes, use half a cup at the drip line.
  • Should I use Alfalfa on my roses? Alfalfa is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and it has the ability to fix nitrogen and improve soil structure as it disintegrates. Alfalfa yields an alcohol, triacontanol, which is a growth stimulant that produces basal breaks. Do not apply alfalfa as a heavy mulch on your roses. You only need to use 1 cup around each large rose bush, and less for minis. Use about three times a year.
  • Should I mulch and with what? Mulch helps to aerate the soil and prevent compaction. It will help in controlling weeds and conserve up to 50% of the water in your rose beds. During the hot summer months it can lower the soil temperature up to 15 degrees. Mulching can help to control some insects and fungal diseases by preventing splashing of fungal spores off hard ground onto rose plants. There are many types of mulch: bagged purchased from your local nursery, mulch that is bought in bulk, shredded newspaper, sawdust, grass clippings (make sure that there is no herbicide residue), compost, chopped leaves (only after they have been well-aged as they are said to contain phenols that can inhibit plant growth), horse and cow manure, which can be applied in late winter or early spring, and bark are a few. Make sure to use aged manure from a supply that has stabled the animals to eliminate undesirable weed seed. A 5-inch layer of mulch applied once a year is recommended. Or you can mulch in early spring and late fall with 2 to 3 inches. It can help in balancing the pH when fertilizers are added or depleted, as mulch’s pH does not fluctuate greatly.
  • What should be the pH of my soil? Why? Roses prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5-slightly acidic soil, but not too acidic. If you’ve never had your soil tested, consider doing so. A soil test will measure the degree of alkalinity or acidity in your soil. On the pH scale, which ranges from 0 to14, 7.0 is neutral. Above 7.0 is alkaline and below 7.0 is acidic. Your soil’s pH level has a profound effect on how certain nutrients are taken up by the rose. Alkaline soil ties up available iron, making it difficult to be taken up by the rose and results in yellow foliage and poor growth. If the soil is too acidic you can add lime to the soil; if it is too alkaline you can lower the pH by adding garden sulfur. Checking the pH at the start of each season will give you a good indication of what your roses need to provide the beauty desired.
  • Can I spread bark dust around my roses? Fresh bark dust is fine. Beware of old composted bark dust that may contain fungi. As bark dust breaks down it draws nitrogen from the soil, so just a little extra fertilizer may be called for.
  • The local nurseryman suggested using mushroom compost when I plant my roses. Is this okay? It is okay to put the mushroom compost in the bottom of the hole as a fertilizer when planting your roses. We hesitate to suggest using it as a top dressing, as customers have reported problems with fungi being introduced into the rose garden.
  • Which kind of manure is the best? First of all, manure should be well aged for a year or more to be safe. We do not recommend using manure around the roots. Use it in the bottom of the hole or as a top dressing around the bush. Manure is the best fertilizer of all and will produce great roses. Apply it on the surface of the soil, once or twice a year, so that it is 2 inches deep. We prefer horse manure. It is best obtained from stables that feed alfalfa hay and do not bed their stables with straw, which contains seeds that will germinate in your garden. Steer manure is also a good choice.
  • Can I use a root stimulant when I plant my roses? You may use a root stimulant, but it is not necessary.

Selecting, Placing & Planting

  • How do I plant my roses? Our recommendation for growing outstanding roses is to dig a big hole (2 feet deep and 2 feet wide). Fill the bottom 6 inches with well-rotted cow or horse manure. Save ½ of the soil that came from the hole and mix it 50/50 with a good mulch or peat moss. Refill the hole, plant the rose in the center of a 2- to 3-inch mound to compensate for the soil settling later. Water well. When your rose is shipped it will come with planting instructions.
  • Why am I instructed to dig such a big hole? Plant roots tend to stay inside the holes that they are planted in, so digging a big 2x2-foot hole will give your rose’s roots room to spread. The more area the roots cover, the better the rose can absorb water and nutrients.
  • How far apart do I plant climbers or ramblers? We recommend planting climbers and ramblers 6 to 8 feet apart. If you really want to grow a lot of them you can plant 4 feet on center, but you will have to deal with their vigor. Planting at wider spacing and training the canes horizontally will encourage more blooms from the lateral growth.
  • Can I grow my roses in containers? Yes. Most roses, except for large climbers and ramblers, can be grown successfully in containers. You have the flexibility of blending roses into their garden landscape as they are easily re-positioned.  For people with physical limitations, it is a great way to enjoy the beauty of roses and also a great way to spruce up drab areas. Make sure that the container is large enough to provide ample space for the roots to develop and produce a nice sized bush. A 10- to 15-gallon pot will provide a nice home for any rose. Place an inch or so of gravel in the bottom of the pot, making sure that it has good drainage. You want to plant in 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 peat moss or other organic materials, and 1/3 Perlite. Start fertilizing roses once a month with a water-soluble type, fertilizer the first season. Water regularly and deeply, as containers will dry out faster than roses planted in the ground. Do not use a black pot as it attracts heat and will be too hot for the roots.
  • How long can my roses stay in the pots that they were sent in? Our own-root roses may stay in the pot they arrive in for a month or so. You must keep them well watered so they do not dry out. Water every day in warm weather. If your ground is not ready for them, we suggest you pot them into larger pots.
  • Can I plant roses with other plants? Yes. Roses love the company of other garden companions. Pansies, foxglove, delphiniums, catmint, and poppies are just a few that can be grown with roses. Try to avoid bulbs that have to be removed or replanted each year.
  • Can I grow roses in the shade? All roses thrive best in full sun. Most will do well with at least 6 hours a day. You will want to avoid dense shade altogether, as the rose may produce fewer blooms and grow too leggy. The roses that do best in shade are Albas and Hybrid Musks.
  • Can I grow roses indoors? Heirloom Roses does not recommend it. A rose cannot use inorganic minerals; it requires the aid of soil organisms and bacteria to break down the fertilizer into a form it can use. Outside, these organisms are transported through the soil and air. Good air circulation is important for a rose. A rose breathes through their leaves and the pores (stomata), so indoors the leaves can become clogged with dirt and dust causing the rose to suffocate. Roses also need an occasional shower to wash the dirt and dust off the foliage. Pests can be a problem. Spider mites love low air circulation and constant heat and will multiply rapidly indoors. White flies can also become a problem when trying to grow a rose indoors, making spraying with a chemical harmful. A rose requires good drainage or the roots will rot and suffocate. Sunlight can become an issue, as a rose needs at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
  • How close to the house can I plant a rose? Factors to consider: As with planting anything near the house you must consider the available sunlight. Planting on the south side of a white house in warm climates may create an overheated situation. If you are planting a climber next to the house, keep in mind how you want to handle your rose when repainting your house.
  • I live in a very tropical climate. Which roses do well for my area? Most old garden roses need some winter chilling to perform well. The exceptions include: Tea roses, China roses, Noisettes, and Species from tropical climates.
  • Can I plant roses under pine and fir trees? We have a number of roses planted under fir trees; however, since they get reduced sunlight, they may not bloom as much.
  • Is it ever too hot to plant roses? Should I try to protect them from direct heat? Roses are very heat tolerant. During extremely hot weather give them plenty of water. With new, young plants, some type of shading using a shingle, cardboard, or shade cloth could be helpful. The major factor is to not let them dry out. Our greenhouses, on a hot summer afternoon, will sometimes reach 125 degrees with no damage to roses as long as they get plenty of water.

On-Going Care

    • How much should I water my roses? Roses love water. Provide 1 to 2 inches of water a week per plant. Ground level watering, early in the day, is best. If the weather is warmer you may want to increase watering.
    • I need to move a large rose bush. When and how is the best time to transplant? The best time is when the rose is dormant. First prune the roses back to 1 foot or less. After it is moved, it will have less top growth to support and will give the roots time to establish themselves. If you must move a rose during the growth season, do it the same way, but provide shade for a week or two after planting and water regularly. You should have 80-90% success.
    • I live in a cold climate where the ground freezes in the winter. How do I protect my roses in the winter? In cold climates, there are many methods of winter protection. The goal is to insulate them from the cold and drying winds. We suggest that you check with your local rose society, county agent, master gardeners, or nursery for advice on winter protection, as practices vary from area to area. Use the zone rating on our rose class descriptions. USDA Zones may to be found under Rose Information. When you plant the correct rose for your zone, it will survive with little or no protection.
    • My rose blooms only at the top of the canes and they are 10 feet tall. How can I make the rose bloom all over again? Train the canes horizontally to get more blooms.
    • How do I take care of hanging basket roses? Hanging basket roses need frequent watering during warm to hot weather, as they dry out rapidly. In areas where winter protection is needed you may bury the pot and all at frost time. Dig them up again in the Spring. You can also put them in a garage where the temperature doesn't drop below 28 degrees. Be sure to give them some water once a month during the winter.
    • How and when do you prune roses? There are many opinions on how to prune roses. Our methods are based on 60 years of combined experience and having pruned countless numbers of roses.

The reasons you prune are:

  1. To improve the health of the plant.
  2. To shape the plant.
  3. To renew the plant.

Repeat-flowering bush roses

  • Prune 2 to 4 inches of the tips back, just above a bud eye at planting time.
  • Prune back to 12 to 18 inches to an outward facing bud eye, from the second year on. Canes can be left longer if you wish. The longer the canes, the more blooms it will produce. The shorter pruned canes will produce larger but fewer blooms.

Once-blooming roses

  • Prune immediately after flowering. Once-blooming roses flower on old wood the next year.
  • Thin and remove dead or undesirable canes at any time.
  • The second year and thereafter, you may cut the bush back by a foot or two to shape it and encourage more branching. This will also keep size in check.
  • Every other year we prune our once-bloomers to 18 inches (only immediately after blooming has finished) to rejuvenate the bush with all new growth.
  • If you desire a larger bush, these roses will thrive with no pruning. Removing old growth, keeps plants healthy.

Climbing and Rambling roses

  • Pruning to remove dead or undesirable canes at any time, but it is best done in Spring before new shoots appear.
  • Prune so that only 6 to 8 canes coming from the base remain.
  • After the rambler or climber is 4 years or older, cut one or two of the oldest canes back to the base to renew the growth of the plant.
  • Much depends on how you have your climber or rambler trained.

Don't stress out about how to prune. Watch your rose grow. See what it wants to do. With your pruners "negotiate" with your rose and convince it to grow the way you want it to.

Diseases, Pests and Other Problems

  • I hear that own-root roses are disease free. Does this mean that I will never have to spray my roses? Own-root roses are just as disease free or disease prone as the same variety in a grafted bush. We test the roses we offer in our gardens and strive to offer the best. Roses may be grown in most climates without spraying if you don't mind a few blemishes. Southern regions of the country are more black spot prone.
  • My rose has grown a lot but has not bloomed. Have I done something wrong? Extra vigorous varieties, and climbers and ramblers, may put all their energy into growth the first year or two and not bloom until the second or even third year. The major cause for this after the first year is over-fertilizing.
  • How do I treat for aphids? While aphids may be disposed of by using insecticides, there are alternatives. Knock them off the plant with a strong spray of water. Attract birds to your garden to feast on them. Pick them off by hand. If you have only a few roses, picking them off by hand is very easy. The newest buds appeal to them the most. Run your fingers along the stem, squishing the bugs as you go. There are other insects that like aphids for a meal, but when you order these they always seem to end up in the neighbor’s garden.
  • The leaves on my rose bushes are yellow and falling off. What does that mean? It could be as simple as that the leaves are old and it is time for them to fall off. It may mean your plant needs more water or that you have black spot. Even a rose that has been nearly defoliated by black spot may be reinvigorated: Prune the plant back so that it is about 18-inches tall. Destroy the infected leaves and branches and do not put them in the compost pile.
  • The catalog said my rose was supposed to be fragrant but it isn't. Why? Sense of smell varies from person to person just as the sense of taste varies. Some varieties provide a fragrance that everyone may smell and others may be more subjective. A rose will not develop its full fragrance its first year.  Also, temperature has a lot to do with fragrance.  Warmer temperatures allow the oils to flow and the fragrances to develop more strongly.
  • My rose doesn't re-bloom like it is supposed to. What is wrong? If your rose doesn't re-bloom it could be a once-blooming variety. Check the variety description on the web page or in the catalog. It could be an extra vigorous variety that is being over-fertilized and is putting all its energy into growth and not bloom. It could be that you have the wrong rose.
  • How can I protect my rose from deer? Try mixing a deer repellent and spraying it weekly from Spring to September. In a blender, mix 1 cup of water, 3 eggs, 1/3 hot sauce (like Tabasco), 1/3 cup liquid dishwashing soap. A big dog and or an 8- to 10-foot fence will also do the job.