Growing Roses in Atlanta

What does low maintenance mean?

Low maintenance doesn’t mean NO maintenance but it definitely can mean much less time caring for a plant that may otherwise require regular pruning or insect and disease control.   Roses have deservedly earned the reputation of being difficult and time consuming to grow but today there are a multitude of wonderful new varieties available that have been specially bred for insect/disease resistance and adverse climate tolerance.   Maybe you have noticed the ‘Knock Out’ rose along some of our roadways.   The ‘Knock Out’ thrives in places many roses would surely die and therefore has become one of the most popular choices for homeowners to plant in their landscapes.   These roses take very little care and bloom all summer long.   But, don’t think you are only limited to this particular rose for no fail results.   There are other low maintenance roses available too that have been specially bred and tested to grow well in our zone 7 & 7b climate and each year more are being released.   Roses that have been numerically rated by the ARS (American Rose Society) can help guide you in selecting the best rose for your landscape. The most important point to remember is that success (for any plant) begins with selecting the proper site selection and planting.    A properly prepared planting area with adequate sun, water, and food will result in success for even the novice gardener.

Rose Gardening Basics

The best time to plant roses is in the spring or fall.   Nurseries will start to carry them soon so be on the lookout!   Before you step into a nursery or browse a catalog, start deciding where you would like to plant your rose. You need to have an idea of how much space you have and how much sun it is providing.  Select a site that receives at least 5-6 hours of sun from spring to fall.   Less sun will reduce the quantity of blooms and plant growth. There are some shade tolerant varieties which are listed at the end. The most important thing to remember is that roses need good drainage, air circulation, sun and food.

How to make a selection

Roses come in all shapes and sizes so it is important points to consider these 5 points before purchasing your rose.
  • Growth Habit – Will it grow into a  shrub, climber, groundcover or tree form? Would you like to hide an ugly area with a large 6’ shrub form or do you just want a small 3’-4’ rose to accent your garden? Maybe you only have room for a container size rose.
  • Hardiness- Will it survive our hot and humid weather here in Atlanta (zone7,7b)?
  • Bloom Time- Will it bloom for a few weeks or all summer long?
  • Disease Resistance- Does it have a moderate to high disease resistance rating? A higher resistance rating translates into less chemicals, less expense and less time in maintenance.
  • Stem Length- Would you like a rose with long stems or short stems with clusters of flowers? Each will have a different presence in the landscape or as a cut flower.


Before planting, water your rose well to help it through the transition. Bare root roses should be soaked overnight. Because roses need good drainage it is important to either amend our native clay soil or consider planting them in a raised planter or container.   Hillsides or terraced areas also make good sites for roses since water will naturally drain downhill.
  • Dig your planting hole at least 2 times wider than the container and 14” to 18” deep.   Amend the soil if you are planting in our native clay soil.   To provide good drainage for your roses combine 1/3 compost, composted bark or Natures Helper and 1/3 coarse sand like builders sand (not play sand!), granite sand or expanded slate with 1/3 native red clay soil.
  • Plant your rose so that it is at the same level as the pot it came in but preferably an inch or so higher to ensure good drainage for the roots.  Spread the roots horizontally if possible.  Keep in mind the soil in your new planting hole may settle a little and you do not want your rose to sink below ground level.  If your planting a bare root rose you will need to mound your soil in the hole into a cone so the roots can be spread over it and then finish filling the hole with the amended mixture. If you have purchased a grafted rose make sure the bud union is 1” above ground.  Mulch around your roses well (3”-4”) which will provide moisture retention while keeping the roots cool during our hot summers. Keep mulch away from the stem to help avoid insect and disease problems. Water in your rose well at planting.


  • Watering guidelines vary according to location and weather patterns but typically 1”-2” of water per week at one time (a deep soaking) will suffice except during extreme drought or heat.   During these extremes you may need to water about every 3-4 days.   It is most important to monitor your watering during the first year while your plant is establishing new roots. Maintaining a good layer of mulch will help during extremely hot and dry weather.


  • Fertilization is important during the growing season. Roses are heavy feeders and will perform best if feed regularly.   There are several rose foods available that are granular or liquid applications in organic or synthetic forms.   Bayer Rose and Shrub Care fertilizer includes a systemic (absorbed through the roots) disease and insect control lasting several weeks making rose care very easy. Typically roses are fed about every 3-4 weeks from April thru early September.   Each brand of fertilizer will have different schedules so always read the label and follow the recommendations!


  • Prune roses while they are still dormant in the early spring. If your rose only blooms once a year then prune AFTER it blooms. Pruning will shape your roses and give them more energy for new growth and flowers. Remove all dead, diseased and crossing canes and cut live stems ¼” above a bud eye facing outwards allowing for an open growth habit. Pruning back approximately 1/3 will give more energy to remaining buds to produced larger healthier flowers. You can prune more or less, roses are forgiving and you will learn to know how much is right for your preferences. Grafted roses can produce suckers from the rootstock and they should be removed.

Going Organic?

For those who seek the challenge of organic care, selecting an old garden rose or one of the new disease resistant varieties can be the first step in making organic rose growing much easier.   In any case, organic care will require more regular monitoring of your roses. How much time that translates into can depend on your rose selection, planting location and overall plant health.    A rose with a low insect and disease rating will obviously be more susceptible to problems but unhealthy plants can also invite insects and diseases therefore it is important to give your roses the best possible growing conditions.
Here are some simple steps you can take to grow your roses organically. These are also good practices for those who are using non organic methods to growing roses too.
  • Select one of the more insect and disease resistant varieties of roses. ARS ratings are typically from 6-6.9 for fair to 9-9.9 for outstanding. The perfect 10 has not been created!
  • Make sure your roses stay healthy getting plenty of sun, food and water.   Remember that roses like water but do not like to sit in water so remember that good drainage is very important!
  • To reduce the occurrence of disease, avoid overhead watering.   If you water overhead, do so in the morning to allow the leaves to dry. Drip irrigation (or hand watering) is a good alternative especially in our period of drought.
  • Remove old flowers and diseased foliage.   Pick up old foliage and flowers and keep the area clean.   Keeping your roses clean will help prevent problems from arising down the road.
  • Identify your insect or disease problem correctly to ensure you are treating the problem correctly. Some organic products will kill the good insects too! If you are unsure of your diagnosis, contact your local county extension office and speak with a master gardener.   Try alternatives to using products first if possible like hand removal of insects (for Japanese Beetles) or a strong spray of water (for aphids). Below is a list of some organic products used for roses.
  • Organic fertilizers commonly used for roses: compost, rotted manure, fish emulsion, seaweed extract, bone meal, blood meal and alfalfa meal.  Rose Tone is an organic fertilizer available at most nurseries and box stores.
  • Organic products commonly used to control pests and diseases: neem oil, pyrethrins, sabadilla, rotenone and baking soda based products.

What are the typical problems to check your roses for?

Why so many people have avoided growing roses? Blackspot, Powdery Mildew, Japanese Beetles, Aphids and Thrips! Fortunately specialized breeding has made some of these problems minimal with the low maintenance varieties.  But the most common problem remains Blackspot, a waterborn fungus that loves our weather.
Here are a few simple steps to take to prevent Blackspot:
  • Select a disease resistant variety (#1)
  • Avoid overhead watering
  • Provide plenty of air circulation around roses by not planting them too close together and by proper pruning.
  • Make sure they get enough sun. At least 6 hours is best.
If you do notice Black Spot on your roses there are fungicides and organic remedies that can be used to treat the problem.   Also available are products that can be applied to treat the problem systemically (through the roots) which can last several weeks as an alternative to spray formulas that have to be applied every 10 to 14 days.
For the insects mentioned above, the most important recommendation is to check your roses occasionally and be sure to identify your insect correctly to know what product will be most useful in treating it. Sometimes a spray of water or a little hand picking will do the trick. Your county extension office is a great resource in helping to identify your rose problems.

Here are a few recommendations for the Atlanta area:

Shade Tolerant Roses

  • Apothecary Rose (Old Garden Rose) : ARS rating 9.3, fragrant, branches to 4’, mid summer bloom.
  • Madame Hardy (Old Garden Rose): ARS rating 9, white, fragrant, spring bloom.
  • Rosa Mundi (Old Garden Rose):  ARS Rating 9.1, striped red, pink & white, light fragrance, 3’ tall & a sprawling habit.
  • Honor (Hybrid Tea Rose) : ARS Rating 7.6, white, large clusters with light fragrance, tall upright grower.

Other Low Maintenance Roses with high disease resistance

  • ‘Knock Out’ Rose : ARS rating 8.6 , available in red , pink, and rainbow colors, shrub form to 6’ tall if left unpruned, high disease and pest resistance, very easy to grow. The Red Double Knock Out was introduced in 2005.
  • Iceberg (Floribunda) : ARS rating 8.9, white, scented double flowers in large clusters, long lasting bloom period. Great for a hedge and is extremely hardy.
  • First Prize (Hybrid Tea) : ARS rating 9.1, rosy pink, long stems, fragrant, good for cutting, medium height.
  • The Fairy Rose (Polyantha) : ARS rating 8.7, pink, compact (2 ½’ tall), slightly fragrant, large clusters of flowers, good for a small hedge.
  • Lady Banks Rose (Species): ARS rating 9, available in yellow or white, small 1 ½” double flowers in heavy clusters,  blooms in the spring, climbs to 25’, thornless.   Can get very large!
  • Madame Hardy (Old Garden Rose) : ARS rating 9, white 2 1/2 “- 3” double fragrant flowers, spring bloom, 4’-6’ T.
  • Royal Sunset (Climbing Rose) : ARS rating 8.1, apricot to peach, 4 ½” double blooms all season, vigorous to 10’, good on posts or fences.
  • Rise and Shine (Miniature Rose) : ARS rating 9, medium yellow 2 ¼” double flowers, continuous blooms, 12”-14” tall and vigorous.
These are just a few of the many roses available. Check your local nurseries this spring for these and other varieties that love our Southern climate!