Roses in Pots
Growing Roses in Pots
AbeDarbyTrim Phot

Although I am only in my second year with the roses, I have been container gardening for 6 years. Plants thrive on attention; I've learned this from experience. I honestly don't know if you could put a rose in a pot, walk away and visit it every couple days--if it would flourish or not. 

I hire children to come talk to my plants and water them if I go away for 2 days even if my husband is here. Children don't mind following weird directions if you pay them. They're excellent garden workers!

( I have seen informal experiments showing that plants do, in fact, respond positively to sound. They might also benefit from being breathed on, for it makes carbon dioxide uptake easier. Both of these items suggest that talking to plants can be as good for the plants as it is for the gardener. - S )

What pots do you use? What are your thoughts on color and material of construction?
Choose a material that works with the floor and walls where the pot sits. 
1. On a concrete or flagstone greyish patio, I'd go with a stone or ceramic pot. two pots only for the first year to experiment with lighting/drainage/soil. You can forget about moving either one. 
Or if you want more pots.. I'd use green, black or white plastic. Consider color of fences and walls if close by.  Don't use black pots with a brown wood fence or deck in view behind the garden. Skip green if it clashes with swimming pool decking.
2. On a balcony: plastic in white, black, green or terracotta depending on walls/railing/floor colors. White railing: definately use white pots.
3. Because I am brick based I use terra cotta colored plastic.  I say no to metal, true terra cotta, foam (yep they have a lot of stone-looking big foam pots now) or wood. Why? Metal rusts and/or interacts with the soil. Terra cotta crumbles, too heavy and dries out too quick. Foam: way too flimsy. Wood rots.
Sizing: go large for stone or ceramic if you're only showing one formal rose. Plastic pot won't stand alone, visually. Use a bush rose or a large floribunda, no ht. they'll look puny.
My choice is the Plantera brand available nationwide. Prefer the classic shape. Plantera also produces a barrel shape which doesn't group well.
I would not recommend mixing pots, especially if you plan on more than 3 roses. Keep the pots exactly the same color, shape and size so they blend into the background. Use the same color pot for roses and use subtle variations in either size, color, or shape when potting perennials and annuals to complement the roses.  

Never put anything but the rose in the pot.  The size I recommend will work nicely with smaller versions of the same pot to build up a complimentary garden below/around the rose pot for a less formal effect.  As you know the ht is not that cute on its own--it needs some friends clustered near it. You also need to break up the vast expanses of the plain plastic pots, since you don't dare plant a draping allysum or lobelia in the rose pot.
Drainage is not an issue if you use the potting mix I recommend.  In fact, monkeying around with gravel, the bits of pottery ara all  a waste of time/pot space and might even detract from success.  If you chose a stone or ceramic pot, obviously you need a hole in the bottom to prevent it from self-destructing in a hard freeze.

You also might have to experiment a bit with the watering schedule as well as avoiding the tamping aspect of planting for fear of breaking the pot or your back.  No pots with saucers or wicking systems. The roses don't want their feet wet.

In what form do you buy roses?

I buy roses in pots. In my experience bare root is bad news.

[California does not really have a time when roses are completely dormant, so a bare-root plant can begin going downhill pretty quickly.]

I go to my local garden center during the clearance sales in October and poke around looking for roses that appeal to me. I'm surprised by how often I'll find three or four pots of one cultivar where one looks healthy and is blooming its head off and the others look a little anemic. I choose the good-looking one: after all, it's on sale like the rest of them.

Would you describe the potting process?

Wearing thick gloves, and using an assistant if possible, fill bottom of pot with potting mixture.  Set the original pot inside the new, big pot. Adjust filling on bottom of pot so that the top surface of soil in original pot will be 3 inches below the rim of the new pot. Remove the bush, with all original soil intact, from its container. Put 1/2 teaspoon of vitamin liquid and 1 teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer beads on the soil in the center of the pot.  Hold onto the largest center cane(s), while you complete thefollowing operations. Set bush gently into the new pot and fill in the sides with potting soil. Make sure the bush sits up straight, you may have to angle it a bit. Cover the top of original dirt with about 1 inch of potting soil. Pat down the soil and tamp the pot by lifting it up and setting it down firmly a couple of times to settle the plant and to eliminate any air holes in the soil. Fill in spaces created by the tamping.  About an hour later, pour about a gallon of water to the pot with the hose or a watering can.  Check the soil the next day, add new soil if the level has gone down. Poke finger into side of pot about 2 inches. Add more water if soil seems dry to the touch. Don't let the soil dry out completely, keep it a bit moist for the first week. Not wet, moist.

It sounds like you move the pots around. Isn't this back-breaking work?

I am a weakling woman and can move the pots ok.  I move them because of my special circumstances. There are dense live oaks overhead. Light patterns shift as the sun follows changing paths in the sky, according to the seasons.
Since I Can move them, I do move them! I bring bloomers up to the front. I quarentine sick mildew boys in the hospital. I move bushes to improve air circulation when their branches get too close to one another.  I move bushes to balance the composition of color or shape.

Is it only Mister Lincoln that expired? Did he die of thirst, fungal disease, or a bad theater experience?  

Lincoln is not dead, I am planning an assasination.  Most of my fungal troubles are related to the oak forest.  It's too damp at night and hot, breezy in the daytime with too much shade all the time.  Well, as you said, because I have fewer bushes than I might have in a garden and because I must water more often, I visit my bushes regularly.  This means I notice that aphids have arrived, the very day they show up. I can see a little bit of black spot, a touch of mildew. I remove the offending leaf. Yes, I am merciless, but it means that I spray far less than I might in a big garden. Also I have many birds, butterflies and bees so I must be careful about spraying.  I alternate with the baking soda spray. It works almost as well as a non-organic killer.  At worst I spray twice a month and usually far less.
With pots you need to fertilize more often.  I feed about every two weeks.  I've tried all different feeds and methods. I'm still working on that aspect.

What are the things people new to roses should be most careful about when they start growing potted roses?
Most likely mistake for a new rose grower: temptation to add a pretty little plant like allysum to drape over the edge on the pot, not realizing that delicate rose roots are close to the surface and stretch out toward the edge of the pot. I'm not going to poke into the pots to test this theory, but I suspect that because the roots are limited in how far they can go downwards, there may be even more roots close to the surface than a rose bush planted in a bed.  Also the frequent watering doesn't promote deep root growth.

Roses need attention.  You can't plant one and walk away.  Cactus are wonderful patio plants for the non-gardener. 

Study resources carefully to understand the cycles of care the rose will need. Make a calendar or keep a diary to remember when to feed, water, prune.  Check regularly for pests and disease. Garden roses or potted roses need the same kind of care. The difference between two is that potted roses need more frequent watering, better hygiene. They also allow their owners more flexibility than bedded plants.
You can't move a rose bush 3 times a month if it's in the middle of a bed. You can move your potted rose 3 times a week if you so desire.

That's the beauty of roses in pots. They become cast members of a kind of movable outdoor theater, or movable paints on an outdoor canvas.

And, the pots move their fine fragrance and beautiful blossoms nearer your face.

I'm Sold.

Thanks, Lynn, for sharing your extensive knowledge and experience of growing roses in pots with our friends at RoseFile.



Louis XIV, the Sun King, grew orange trees in large pots which were moved indoors for the winter. The large building dedicated to their storage was named the Orangerie, and it now serves as an excellently lit art museum. How often I have wondered, "if it can be done for orange trees, why not for roses of all sizes? Why not grow all kinds of roses in pots?"

During the last part of the ninteenth century as gardening was hitting is pinnacle in England, roses were planted in pots. Tony Lord, in Designing with Roses discusses a number of bold designs. At least among the rose-growing elite, growing roses of all sizes in pots was done extensively; and these roses were trained imaginatively.

But the potted rose is a plant that requires extra attention, and by the end of the second world war labor was too expensive to waste on coddling potted roses. A person could spend a whole day training a rose on a fancy pot-bound trellis and few feudal lords could afford the cost. The practice fell out of favor.


Potting Redux

Today, a number of forces conspire to cause a resurgence of interest in potted roses. There are a lot of people who live in apartments or town homes or on small properties whose yards are mostly paved over. For these, it's roses in pots or no roses at all.

There are a lot of people who live in suburban homes who have large areas of paving or deck that could be improved with rose plant material. And there are people who live where the weather is too punishingly cold to succeed. These people grow roses in pots in the same ways and for the same reasons as French kings did oranges.

In Minnesota, winters can regularly get to -30F or colder. And it can stay this cold for days. Alternatively, in spring there can be many warm snaps followed by bitter cold hard freezes that tease tender roses into leafing out then kill all the new foliage. This is a very effective way of killing good roses.

The traditional methods of dealing with the cold in the plains states have been to plant more cold-hardy cultivars, to prune roses just after the first hard frost, and to cover the roses with insulating mulch and special foam insulation covers.

The problem with insulation is that unless there is some microbial action that is generating heat beneath the insulation or there is plenty of geothermal heat coming up through the ground, long cold snaps will cause low temperatures to penetrate deep below the insulation, rendering it almost useless.

In the cold parts of north America where these weather problems persist, growing roses in pots can solve a number of problems.

The roses are planted in pots in spring and the pots are moved outside when the risk of hard frost is past. The roses stay outside in the fair weather and sunlight through summer and early fall. Then, when hard frosts threaten - November in Minnesota or January in Texas - the pots are moved indoors into a dark, cool space such as a basement or an attached garage.

In Minnesota where the roses must overwinter for six months or more it is ideal to have the temperature near 50F. In such a case, the roses do not need to be watered; the soil should not be too soggy when the roses are put away.

Where roses overwinter for shorter periods of time, a higher temperature might be satisfactory. Apartment dwellers or those who have no spaces that remain dark and well below 65F, should probably treat potted roses as indoor plants and give them light and water through the cold months. In such cases, one might try to get roses that will tolerate a bit of shade.

Why Pots?

Growing roses in pots makes possible a number of good things. One can:

  1. Grow roses on decks, pavements or patios.
  2. Grow roses too tender for your USDA hardiness zone.
  3. Move roses about to create new color combos.
  4. Sequester roses with diseases until recovered.
  5. Raise a rose 1-2 ft closer to the eyes and nose.

Roses Suitable for Potting

Which roses can you grow in a pot? All of them.

The most obvious class of roses suitable for culture in pots is the miniature rose class. The plants are small so the pots they require are small. A well tended one-gallon pot with good potting soil will be sufficient for many miniature roses. Pots this size are completely portable. In fact, one may wish to choose heavy pots so they are not blown about in high winds. Gardeners who aren't up to daily watering might use two gallon pots for well developed minis.

Floribundas are larger and feed more heavily. With good soil and good care, a floribunda might do well in a two gallon pot. In extreme conditions, a larger pot might be required. Pots up to the size of a half barrel will work fine for most floribundas.

Hybrid Tea Roses in Pots

Hybrid Teas can also be grown in pots ranging from two gallons to twenty gallons.

Lynn Duvall grows hybrid teas on a large stone-paved patio at her home in the California high desert.

Lynn has dozens of roses in pots and has experimented extensively with pots and potting soil. She recommends pots 14 inches high by 17 inches across for hybrid tea roses. She uses SuperSoil's WonderBloom potting mix. It's a blend of fir bark, redwood bark, sphagnum peat, perlite, and sand. It also contains sea kelp, bone meal, alfalfa meal, and cottonseed meal. She adds soluable fertilizer to her water - fertilizing her roses every time she waters.

She recommends the following watering schedule based on the daily high temperature in Fahrenheit.

50's: 5 days-weekly
60's:  4 days
70's:  3 days
80's:  2 days
90's: 1-2 days
100's:  daily with misting

The test is to "stick your finger into the soil three inches; if dry, water; if wet, don't water." This seems like an excellent guideline.

It is so good that one hate's to suggest modifications to the time/temperature rules: but, in places with high humidity or under some shade, one might not need to water quite so often. If the rose is growing vigorously as it might in the spring or after being transplanted, one might water a little more. If one is trying to harden off the rose for storage or indoor life, one might ease off a bit. High winds and large, leafy plants may increase the need for water. And if the plant is young or too small for the pot less water will be required.

Other Roses in Pots

One should be able to grow shrub roses or climbers in pots as well. Lynn reports success with Fourth of July. There are less compelling reasons to use pots for climbers and shrubs. Climbers are usually trained onto permanent structures and usually this is done in a permanent way. And shrubs are typically part of the landscape. Nevertheless, there might be special reasons for growing shrubs or climbers in pots.

Some of the smaller shrub roses could easily be grown in pots in the same size range as hybrid teas. Many Gallicas and Portlands would be fine in such pots. So would some of the smaller rugosas. Bigger shrubs would require bigger pots.

If one were to give a big shrub or climbing rose good soil and were quite attentive, it seems possible that one might succeed with large roses in pots 24 inches high and 24 inches across. One would hesitate to try this with the largest of ramblers, but many floribunda and large-flowered climbers and most shrubs should do well enough in pots this size. In fact, until a rose is several years old, even a climber will be 'over potted' in a pot this large. What follows is a question and answer session conducted by e-mail. Lynn Duvall, who has been growing potted plants in her garden in the California High Desert for a number of years has generously agreed to tell us all we need to know in order to share her high level of success and satisfaction with rose gardening in pots.

Which roses have you grown in pots?
St. Patricks Day, Paradise (2), Allelulia (most beautiful rose in the world IMHO) Citrus Tease, Lady Diana, Caroline de Monaco,, Honor, Mr. Lincoln, Sterling Silver, Brigadoon, Purple Tiger (trellised on a railing), Fouth of July climber (trained up on long bamboo poles..and guided onto a fence--horizontal canes run 12 feet--lateral canes about 10 feet), and a small collection of unidentified hybrid tea roses.
Sterling Silver has a longtime reputation as total crap rose. You would not believe the health, size, vigor of mine--my son who knows nothing about roses bought if for me as a gift. I nearly fell over when I saw it. I dont know who grew this old rotten rose but it turned out to be  a beauty.


Roses for Every Garden