Growing Roses

Preparation of the soil for growing roses

MUCH has been written on the adaptability of the rose in varying types of soil; nevertheless, the Queen of Flowers has her likes and dislikes. As can be appreciated, she prefers one of good depth, well-drained and fertile, but as few soils are naturally so, the first necessity is to strive for this happy condition. In mentioning depth of soil, it is not intended to endorse the fallacy that roses can only be grown successfully on a heavy clay soil— this is far from being correct. True, one of clay generally has depth, and it can with extensive cultivation be made excellent for roses, but it is one of the most difficult to work. If the reader ever has the choice, let him select a soil with a loamy top spit containing only about 50 per cent, of clay and, for further preference, with a gravel subsoil, thus eliminating possible trouble with drainage.

These latter remarks, however, are probably for the most part superfluous, other considerations rather than the nature of the soil determining the purchase of a home and garden, most gardeners having to make the best of the plot that falls to their lot. Adverse soil conditions, however, can be improved.


The first essential is to get the soil into good heart, and the way to do this is to take off one’s coat and dig. Whatever its nature the soil for roses requires to be dug two spits deep and the top soil kept at the top. The lower spit should be well broken up and, if heavy, a generous dressing of hydrated lime worked into it at the rate of 3 lb. to the square yard. Lime may not be needed on light soils, as they are often alkaline, but if there is any doubt as to this, it is easily determined. Take a little of the soil, damp it and then pour over it some hydrochloric acid. If lime is present it will effervesce freely; if there is little or no response, then it requires lime.

The usual way of making a bed after marking it out is to start at one end and take a layer of the top soil, about 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep, and wheel it away and deposit it at the other end of the bed. Then the subsoil thus exposed can be broken up and the top spit from the next 18 inches put on top of it, and so on until the other end of the bed is reached. The top soil deposited there then fills in the final section.

Supplying Humus to the Soil

The next job is to work in some humus with the top spit, as whatever the nature of the soil it will benefit physically from the application, and in addition it will provide nutriment for the trees to be planted. Organic manures are best, such as well-decayed farmyard manures or chopped turves, well-decomposed compost, leaf-mould, etc., but if these are in short supply, they can be eked out by mixing them with peat. An alternative is hop manure, which is easily purchasable, and this, too, can be eked out with peat.

The mixing in can be done with the initial digging, but if time permits it is an advantage to apply it with a second digging of the top spit to ensure that the soil gets turned over more than once. There is no doubt that ‘cultivation’ of this kind is highly beneficial, and as many diggings as possible should be given. Before planting, however, at least a month must elapse to allow for consolidation.

The addition of the organic matter to the beds will raise them above the level of the surrounding paths. In a heavy soil this is an advantage, as it will assist drainage, but with a light soil it would be advisable to remove some of the subsoil first, so that when the bed is completed it is level or even below the surrounding surface. This will assist in conserving moisture.

Possibly the most heart-breaking soil to deal with is one on chalk, and the success to be achieved depends entirely upon the initial preparations and the amount of humus dug into the top spit. Unfortunately, however, humus only has a limited life, and thereafter there develops a continuous struggle against the effects of the excess of lime, which causes a disease known as chlorosis. If the expense can be afforded, more lasting results are obtained by replacing the existing soil with imported soil more congenial to roses. Mix in with this the organic matter to which reference has been made.

02. May 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Propagating Roses, Pruning Roses, Rose Care, Roses | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Growing Roses


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