Some Suggestions for Growing Roses in Containers

abraham-darby-rose-in-a-container

‘Abraham Darby’ seen above. Many of David Austin’s roses are small enough to grow happily in a container if given winter protection in cold-climate areas.

I’m extremely cautious about giving actual gardening advice here because I am fully aware I am anything but an expert. However, I’ve been getting asked a lot recently for tips on growing roses in containers and to save time decided it’s best to break my own rule a little bit and talk about what I do in an official post. Just promise me that you’ll understand this is just my technique and there are lots of others that I’m sure work just as well, if not better! I don’t want an angry mob situation on my hands with enraged gardeners showing up at my door waving pruners and shovels. 😉

3 important factors to keep in mind:

1.) A container rose is completely dependent on you to provide all of it’s water and nutrients, and it will need a lot during the growing season.

2.) Are you able to provide winter protection if necessary?

3.) All roses require basic regular maintenance, some more so than others.

The majority of the roses I purchase are rooted cuttings, or “bands” that are still in their first year of growth. This is a more affordable way to build up a rose collection, not to mention there is an bigger variety to choose from. It takes about 1-2 years before they begin blooming. But once they take off, look out! I purchase the majority of my banded roses from: Vintage Gardens, Heirloom Roses and Rogue Valley Roses.

And now some things to ask yourself:

1.) What kinds of roses do you like? The long-stemmed florist variety with blossoms tall and pointed like urns?

2.) The lush, romantic roses that have strong scents and full blossoms?

3.) An easy-care, no fuss, no muss rose?

From left – right: ‘Mme Hardy’, ‘Mme Ernest Calvat’ and ‘Grüss an Aachen’ planted in 3 gallon containers. This was at the beginning of summer, 2011. By the end of summer, they were all transplanted again to 10+ gallon* containers and their size tripled!

For me, I grow roses in containers because I have to. When my husband finishes his time at university, we may stay or we may move and that uncertainty has determined that I want my collection to be portable if necessary. Also, it allows me the time to nurture my rooted cuttings (or “banded” roses–see above), since it generally takes them a few years before they really take off. However, I’ve discovered that having a rose garden in containers has been an unexpected joy. You can underplant them with cascading annuals, move them around to showcase certain ones in bloom, and as the blooms are raised up, it makes them easier to enjoy. I currently have about 60 or so in a container of some kind but you don’t have to do that, of course, because even I can recognize that that’s just crazy. {EDIT: We ended up just going for it and planted out most of our container roses into the garden last fall. It was a lot of work moving them in and out of the garage and we hardly had room to park in the driveway anymore! I still plant my banded roses in containers first, though, and leave them in there for about a year before planting out into the garden, and we do still have about a dozen or so roses in containers. }

A view of the container garden. Behind the bench are some of those roses I mentioned earlier which were transplanted into 10 gallon* nursery containers. The middle rose is ‘Mme Ernest Calvat’ which reached heights of 5 feet or so last summer and needs support for her long, arching canes. Black plastic nursery pots are not the most attractive thing in the world, but they are affordable and can be disguised with trailing plants.

Some suggestions for getting started:

1.) Find a large, plastic or wood container with adequate drainage holes. I do not like to use ceramic or terracotta because it dries out too quickly. Most of my containers are nursery pots made of plastic, some are wood that my husband recently started building for me. The wood looks nicer, obviously, but I was able to find some faux stone plastic containers at Big Lots that look pretty good. Important: They should be around the 5-10-15 gallon* mark as far as size goes!

My husband built this container with attached trellis for ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ to have a happy home. Now if only I can convince him to make about 60 more of these. 😉

2.) Use a good quality, organic potting mix or blend your own as I like to do. I start with regular potting soil (without the slow-release fertilizer) and mix it with a generous amount of compost, composted cow manure and handfuls of amendments. Admittedly, these amendments included bone meal and blood meal, which I would like to replace with vegetarian alternatives next year but I need to do a little more research. If you can hang tight, I’ll share my recipe this spring when I put it together. By the way, the reason I do not use time-released chemical fertilizers in my container mix is because it inhibits the growth of Mycorrhizal Fungi which helps a rose fight off disease as well as it’s ability to intake water and nutrients. Chemical fertilizers are also harmful to young roses just developing their root systems. EDIT: You might like to try my potting soil mix for roses found HERE.

3.) Drip irrigation is best, but I water my roses the old-fashioned way–with a hose. It’s best to water your roses in the morning so the leaves have time to dry off. Container roses need a lot of watering. Sometimes a few times a day if it’s really hot out! I have the luxury of working from home, so when I need a break from my desk, I go out and water my garden. However, you may consider adding water absorbing crystals (I’ve even heard some gardeners place a clean diaper at the bottom of their containers) into your soil mix. About once/week, during the growing season, I water my roses with compost tea. You can make your own if you have a compost bin, but my roses especially like the tea I purchase from Haven.

4.) Be vigilant with inspecting for pests and diseases (this is another post I think I’d better write). Deadhead as necessary. Here are some tips for when to stop deadheading and fertilizing.

Underplanting container roses with trailing annuals is a great way to keep the show going even when the roses are in a period of rest. It also shades the roots from extreme temperatures and disguises less-than-ideal containers. These flowers are Calibrachoa which also attract pollinating insects.

And now the good stuff! Some suggestions for good container roses:

I especially want to stress that the following is absolutely my opinion only and based on my experience. Take it with a grain of salt!

1.) If you live in a colder climate (zones 6 and below), I recommend staying away from Hybrid Tea roses. In point of fact, they are my least favorite class of roses, but I understand that some people love them and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. To me, they are incredibly susceptible to disease and winter dieback, and if that wasn’t bad enough, towards the end of summer they start to look leggy and weird. However, I accidentally purchased a HT last spring and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. ‘Sedona’ is making a nice container rose. You can find ‘Sedona’ and other Hybrid Tea roses from Jackson & Perkins.

With the larger of the containers pushed to the back, and the smaller raised up on makeshift benches, I’ve found a way to store the more tender of our container-planted roses in our garage for winter. 

2.) If you’re like me and love the Old Garden roses, then a good place to start with those is actually with some modern hybrids bred to have the OGR charm but with the added benefit of repeat bloom. There are lots of hybridizers introducing wonderful achievements in this regard, but it’s no secret that I am a big fan of David Austin’s collection and many are suitable for containers. Admittedly, some of his roses can be susceptible to disease. Before I purchase any, I look them up on the HMF database and see what other gardeners have to say about them. My favorite David Austin rose so far has to be ‘Abraham Darby’ (see 2nd photo down from top) which blooms and blooms all summer and looks lovely in a container (better so than in the ground!) For help with rose selections, David Austin has compiled a helpful reference.

3.) Miniatures, Floribundas, Polyanthas, these are also good choices for containers. I particularly love ‘Grüss an Aachen’ (a floribunda) which bloomed all summer and maintains a tidy size. Are you interested in trying your hand at some Old Garden Roses? I adore Gallicas, such as ‘Apothecary’s Rose’, but keep in mind they only bloom once. All of my Gallicas are in containers, and you can find my complete list HERE. Hybrid Perpetuals, Portlands, Damasks, Albas, Noisettes, can also be grown in containers, but you have to check their mature size as some can get incredibly large. We’re going to have our hands full in a couple of years when my OGR’s outgrow their homes! On that note, it’s best to stick with a rose that doesn’t get much larger than 4 feet if you’re planning on keeping it in a container.

4.) Roses that are kept in containers can live happily there for several years if their needs are provided for. Top off regularly with compost and move them to a protected location in the winter if you live in a cold climate. After a few years, you may need to remove the rose from the container and do some root pruning, or move to the garden into a permanent location.

What started out as a necessity, the rose container garden is now my favorite place!

* EDIT: I just realized I had a typo in the original post which stated “5 gallon” where I meant to say “10-15 gallon.” I apologize for the mistake. It has since been corrected! 🙂

19 thoughts on “Some Suggestions for Growing Roses in Containers

  1. Thanks SO much Lara! Bookmarking for a little closer to spring. I would love to add one or two roses to get my collection started this year. This will be so helpful!

  2. Thanks for the post and the lovely pics! If I might ask a followup question or two – I’ve been thinking of buying some band-sized roses, but I’m wondering about growing them to full size. Does starting them out in one gallon containers sound about right, or is that a bit big? Any advice about how many times I might expect to repot them before they end up in that 10/15 gallon container? It’s especially nice to see the larger roses growing with other flowers in the same container, I was hoping that was possible despite the advice I was seeing saying it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done – looking at your results, clearly, you are doing it just fine!

    1. Hi Roberta! Yes, I transplant my banded roses to a 1 gallon size container initially. (If you purchase them from Rogue, Vintage Gardens or Heirloom they will arrive with very specific, helpful planting instructions.) Some of my roses grew incredibly fast and needed to be transplanted again in the same season to a 10 gallon container, such as ‘Arcata Pink Globe’ which you can see HERE but others, such as ‘Golden Moss’ are still chugging along in their one-gallon pot so I guess it depends on the rose. The bareroot roses I purchased from David Austin and Jackson and Perkins were much larger, of course, and so were immediately planted in the largest containers I could find and I underplanted them with Calibrachoa, ‘Wave’ Petunias, Lobelia, and Bidens which did a nice job covering up the base of the container and provided color season long. About the ‘Wave’ petunias, I won’t do those again because they actually engulfed the rose they were planted with. The Calibracho and the Bidens were my favorite, especially the combinations of purple and yellow. I’ve never seen that underplanting the larger containers (I didn’t do this with the 1 and 3 gallon pots) with annuals couldn’t be done and I’m glad I didn’t or I might never have tried it. It worked for me and I hope it works for you! Good luck! 🙂

      1. Thanks, Lara! I probably should have known that I would get instructions with the plants, but nope, didn’t occur to me. I’m not sure how many bands I will be getting, because the day after I posted this I found a nursery just north of here that carries 600 (600!!!) different roses, but even so there were a couple they didn’t have, so I guess I will still be ordering a few. As for the annuals, thanks for the tip on the hazards of Wave petunias! Several sites I found while looking for info on roses in containers were adamant that one should never plant anything in the container except the rose, but gave no reason for it. It seemed like one of those many gardening myths out there, so I was especially glad to see that you were doing it so successfully with those lovely calibrachoa. Who needs/wants/likes giant swaths of bare dirt? Bleah….

        1. Wow, a nursery that carries that many roses would be really dangerous for me, haha… You’re going to have so much fun this spring! Let me know how everything works out! 🙂

    1. Hi Jessica, I’m so glad you asked that question because going into last winter, I was wondering the same thing myself. Basically, I kept a good eye on them and did not allow them to dry out completely. We had a relatively warm winter and I ended up giving them each a little bit of water–just enough–about 2-3 times. I think it will probably depend on the situation and the type of winter you have.

      1. Well when do you feel the need to repot in a bigger pot? Are the roots visible at the bottom? I am planning on getting much bigger pots anyways but just wondering 🙂

        1. I suppose you could check for roots but you would probably notice the rose not doing as well before that even happens. I’ll tell you what, though, I recently planted Mme. Calvat in the garden because it was so big I thought surely it needs to get out of it’s (10 gallon) container. But when we took it out, the root ball didn’t even extend to the bottom of the pot–there was a good 6 inches of soil below the roots. I’m finding one of the biggest things that might lend to a rose’s decline in a container is actually poor drainage. But I’m still learning here, too. So take everything I say with a grain of salt!

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