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Roses have a long and rich 35 million year history. There are 150 naturally occurring species of rose flowers and they are found all over the Northern Hemisphere from Alaska to northern Africa, in a wide variety of environments. There are so many different kinds of roses that it is difficult to list them all and the care and requirements needed to grow them vary by type. Cut roses are very popular in flower arrangements and steps can be taken to make them last longer. Even in ancient times, the rose flower was used as a symbol of love; there are many interesting stories and facts about roses.
Rose flowers were first grown in ancient Assyria and Babylonia; during the Roman Empire, they were widely grown in the Middle East. Romans used them for medicines, celebrations, scent, and decoration. The Chinese also started cultivating roses early on, about 5,000 years ago; however it wasn't until the late 18th century that Chinese roses made their way from China to Europe and forever changed rose history. In the 19th century with the introduction of these oriental roses, breeders started crossing the flower. Rose bushes from China, unlike European roses, repeatedly bloom almost continuously and Europeans crossed them with most other types of roses. This is why most roses today have Chinese roses as ancestors. The oldest rose is 1,000 years old and grows on the wall of the Hildeshiem Cathedral in Germany.
Types of Roses
The number of rose species and varieties are dizzying and it is impossible to list them all; however roses are generally classified into three groups according to the way they grow. Bush Roses, climbing roses, and shrub roses are the three types, and they can be subdivided into classes. Flower type, scent, hardiness, and disease resistance vary by species and variety.
Bush roses grow 2-6 feet tall, grow flowers at the top of the plant, and do not need supports. This group includes naturally occurring miniatures that grow from 6 to 24 inches tall and vary in flower and form, and tree roses, which are bush roses grafted onto long trunks. Major classes of shrub roses include hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras. Most of these are ever-blooming, meaning that they bloom throughout the summer, and most are winter hardy to some extent except for the hybrid tea roses. Hybrid tea roses are the most popular in the United States and are the kind commonly used by florists. They have high, long pointed buds on long stems and come in all colors except for true blue. Floribundas feature small clusters of large flowers, and make good cut flowers. Grandifloras are a cross between hybrid teas and floribundas, with flowers born in large clusters like floribundas, but with large flowers and long cutting stems like tea roses. Polyanthas have smaller flowers than grandifloras born in large clusters and are similar to climbing roses in form and size.
Climbing roses have long canes from 5 to 20 feet long that need supports such as fences or trellises, although they can be used as sprawling ground covers. They are subdivided into the classes of ever-blooming climbers, rambler roses, large flowered climbers, and trailing roses. Ever-blooming climbers bloom profusely in spring, intermittently through summer, and heavily in the fall. Rambler roses grow very quickly, as much as 20 feet in one season, with small flowers less than two inches across. They only bloom once per season in dense clusters on one year old wood. Large flowered climbers grow slowly in comparison and require heavy yearly pruning, bloom in early summer and early fall, and make good cut flowers. Trailing roses work well on walls or on steep banks, as they anchor soil. They have a sprawling habit and do not have showy flowers, but they do have showy hips which attract birds and animals.
This is a catch all category encompassing nonspecific classes of wild species, hybrids, and cultivars. This group develops large, dense growth with a well-rounded shape. They are often used as hedges or for screening. Most species and old fashioned roses bloom only once per season and are very highly scented. The flowers are not as fancy as modern roses, but plants are very hardy and disease resistant, needing little pruning and little care. This category includes the fragrant, cold hardy old European garden roses that are referred to throughout history and a few are of special note. Gallica roses were grown during the time of the Roman Empire. Flowers are fragrant, and are pink, purple and crimson but can also be striped and spotted. The leaves change to red in the fall. Damask roses are some of the oldest, also grown by Romans and used by monasteries for medicines. They have a very strong unique fragrance and were used to make rose water and rose oil. Centifolias are the large, cabbage rose flowers featured in famous Dutch paintings of the Middle Ages. Alba roses are known as Shakespeare roses and are associated with English castles with colors ranging from white to medium pink.
Rose Care and Maintenance
Planting and soil
When buying roses, select ones that are winter hardy for the area you will be planting in. Testing soil for the proper pH of 5.5-6.5 is important to ensure proper growth. Plant flowers in an area that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun. Also plant in soil with good drainage and if the soil does not have good drainage, amend it with compost or other organic matter, or make a raised bed. To plant, dig a hole at least 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide and water well. Be sure if the rose is grafted that you plant the bud union an inch or two below the soil. Mulching the plant an inch or two will help retain moisture. Do not plant close to trees or shrubs because they will rob the roses of light, water, and nutrients. Planting semi-hardy roses near a structure that provides shelter from north and northwest winds in the winter is a good idea.
Watering and Fertilizing
Water roses deeply at the base or with a soaker hose, not overhead as this can cause fungus on the leaves. A general rule is to water an inch of water every week. Roses are heavy feeders and should be fertilized in the early spring after pruning and again in June; some gardeners fertilize in August as well if weather allows. There are special fertilizers for roses; follow the directions on the package. Fertilizer should be worked into damp soil and then the plant should be watered well-avoid getting fertilizer on leaves or canes, which can burn them. Using a pesticide on a regular basis is a good idea; follow the directions given on the product's package.
Pruning requirements differ with the type of rose. Pruning is done to encourage new plant growth and flowering, and to keep the plant healthy. For all roses, weak, old, diseased wood and crossed canes should be removed in order to prevent disease and to maintain shape. Cut off dead canes at the base of the plant and remove damaged canes just below the damaged area and above the growth bud. Pruning should be done in early spring to avoid crowding branches and to create an open center for light to reach the plant and air to circulate. Leave at least three buds on each cane to insure good growth. For grafted roses, any growth below the graft should be removed; the stock of the plant has inferior flowers. Prune the plant until only 5 good canes remain. When pruning, use a slanted cut with clean, sharp pruners. Dull pruners crush the canes and damage the plant. Climbing roses require a little different method of pruning. Know the type of rose before pruning.
Winter protection needs vary with the type of rose. Some roses are very cold hardy and require little to no care, while others require quite a bit. Winterizing should be done late in the fall after plants are dormant. Plants should not be pruned at this time, as it could cause the plant to break dormancy. Fragile plants should have the base mounded up to 12 inches with soil and then be mulched on the top. Some gardeners form a cage of chicken wire around the plant and stuff with leaves or straw for additional protection, or cut the top off of a rose cone and stuff it with mulch. This is also called a collar. Canes can be tied together first. Sensitive climbers can be trenched, or the canes can be tied in place and wrapped in addition to mulching.
Interesting Facts about Roses
Rose flowers have been used as a symbol of love since ancient times. The Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is featured in paintings wearing roses. During the Victorian Era, roses were used as a means to communicate and a different meaning was assigned to each flower. Rose types and colors all had different meanings; for example, a red rose meant "I love you" while a dark crimson rose meant "mourning". In the late Middle Ages, roses were so sought after that they could be used as money. Of course they were used for their beauty, but they were also used to make medicines, rose oil, rose water, rosaries, and in cooking. They are still widely used in the perfume industry today, and are still used for cooking. Rose petals and hips can be used to make jams, teas, and vinegars. Rose petals are sometimes candied and used to decorate cakes, or petals can be added to salads for beauty.
Care of Cut Roses
If buying roses from a florist, look for firm heads and buds that have not yet opened completely. Flowers that have been refrigerated will last longer than those that have not been. If cutting a rose from the garden, cut in the early morning when it has the most moisture, and before the flower is fully bloomed. Clean all tools and vases with a bleach water solution. For both garden cut roses and florist's roses, keeping the flower well hydrated is the key to a long vase life. Ensure that the stem is not clogged with air bubbles or bacteria by cutting the stem at a 45 degree angle under the water. Remove any leaves that would be below the water line to keep them from fouling the water. Immediately place in a vase of water with a packet of floral preservative. Floral preservatives prevent the flower from fading and prevent bacteria from growing. Floral Preservative can be made at home with lemon juice, sugar, water, and bleach. Change the water every two days and remember to add preservative to the new water. Keep the arrangement out of the sun and drafts for the longest life.
Written By Ava Rose.