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Updated: 24 Jun 2022

How to grow roses and best varieties

Roses are one of the most-popular garden plants. Discover our best rose varieties and tips for how to grow them.
Ceri Thomas
Roses in a trug

Roses are a favourite of many gardeners, loved for their beautiful flowers. They can be grown in the border or even in pots on the patio. Breeding work has created varieties suitable a wide range of uses, including climbers and groundcover. Not all roses are scented and not all of them bloom for a long time. Similarly, some resist diseases, while others struggle. They all enjoy a spot in sun or light shade with well-drained but moist soil.

To find the best roses to grow, Which? Gardening magazine grew a range of popular varieties to see which would give us the best display of flowers and remain disease-free.


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Key facts

PLANT TYPE Shrub

POSITION Full sun or part shade

SOIL Fertile, moist but well-drained

How to grow roses: month by month

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune
PLANT BARE-ROOTPLANT BARE-ROOT/PRUNE BUSHESPLANT BARE-ROOT/ PRUNE BUSHES

FLOWERING
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
FLOWERINGFLOWERINGFLOWERINGPRUNE CLIMBERS AND RAMBLERSPLANT BARE-ROOTPLANT BARE-ROOT

Best rose varieties

Which? members can log in now to see the full results and detailed reviews of our Best Buy varieties. If you’re not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Full testing results for roses

Scented bush roses

Variety name Overall ratingHeight x spread (cm) Flowering duration Flower impact Flower coverage Pest & disease problems Plant vigour Scent strength and quality 
75 x 60
120 x 80
110 x 90
100 x 80
140 x 70
90 x 110
70 x 80

USING THE TABLE The more stars the better. SCORE Ignores price and is based on: flowering duration 20%, flower impact 20%,pest and disease 20%, scent 20%, flower coverage 10%, plant vigour 10%. Flower impact is an assessment of the effect of the colour and shape of the flower. Flower coverage is based on the quantity of flowers and how that was arranged. They were assessed separately as direct comparisons couldn’t be made on quantity of flower between hybrid tea (single-flowered) roses and floribunda (cluster-flowered) roses.

Repeat-flowering bush roses

Variety name Type Overall ratingHeight x spread (cm)  Flower duration Flower impact Flower coverage Vigour Scent Pest & disease resistance 
90 x 90 
80 x 100
130 x 120
80 x 90
75 x 100
60 x 90
110 x 110

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING The more stars the better. Rating is based on: flower duration 25%; flower coverage 20%; flower impact 20%;pest and disease resistance 15%; plant vigour 10%, scent 10%. Ratings are taken from the second year of the trial. a Height x spread are actual measurements taken in the second year of the trial.

Climbing roses

Variety name Overall ratingHeight x spread (cm) Flower impact Flower duration Flower coverage Vigour Scent Pest & disease resistance 
200 x 120
150 x 120
150 x 120
200 x 100
220 x 100
150 x 120
150 x 120

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING Ignores price and is based on flower impact, 20%; flower duration, 20%; scent, 20%, pest and disease resistance, 20%; flower coverage, 10%; vigour, 10%. Scores in the table are from the second year of the trial.

Patio climbing roses for pots

Variety name Overall ratingHeight x spread (cmFlower impact Duration of flowering Flower coverage Shape of plants Vigour and suitability for patio growing Scent Pests & diseases 
120 x 70
105 x 60
90 x 45
70 x 50
120 x 70
70 x 50
100 x 90

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING The more stars the better. Rating ignores price and is based on: flower impact 20%, flower duration 15%, flower coverage 15%, shape of plants 15%, vigour and suitability 15%, scent 10% and health 10%. Figures given are from the second year of the trial. a Height and spread taken at peak flowering in the second year of the trial. Eventual height and spread might be more.

Roses as gifts

Variety name Overall ratingHeight x spread (cm) Length of flowering Flower impact Health Scent 
75 x 80
100 x 110
65 x 90
85 x 85
100 x 80
70 x 90
90 x 60

USING THE TABLE The more stars the better

Roses for small spaces

Variety name Overall ratingHeight x spread (cm) Flowering duration Display (number of flowers) Flower impact Shape of plant Scent Rain resistance Pest & disease resistance 
80 x 90
70 x 80
130 x 80
70 x 80
60 x 60
80 x 110
130 x 90

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING Ignores price and is based on: duration of flowering 30%; shape and vigour (suitability for a small area) 25%; display 15%; flower impact 15%; rain resistance 5%; scent 5%; pests and diseases 5%.

How we test roses

We planted three plants of each variety at the Which? Gardening magazine trial garden in Capel Manor College in north London and grew them for two years. We fed all the plants with Vitax Q4, in spring in both years of the trial and we sprayed all the plants with fungicide to give some initial protection as they came into leaf. They weren’t sprayed after that so we could see the differences in susceptibility to disease. We kept records throughout the two growing seasons, making regular notes on when the plants were in flower and their health and vigour. We evaluated the scent at different times of the day and in different weather conditions, and asked several different assessors to smell them so we could get a range of opinions.

What does repeat flowering mean?

The term ‘repeat-flowering’ refers to a rose that flowers in flushes. Almost all roses have a large, initial flush of flowers in June that will last into July. A rose that doesn’t repeat-flower will then just stop flowering until the next year, while many ‘repeat-flowering’ roses goon to have a smaller, second flush in late August or September. Some roses repeat-flower more often, so the blooms come in waves from early to late summer, while a few, such as our Best Buys, carry on blooming in smaller numbers but pretty much continuously throughout the season

Caring for your plants

Planting

Bare-root roses cost less than potted roses and are grown without using peat. Plant bare-root roses between November and March. Plants in containers can be planted at any time of year when the soil isn’t frozen.

Plant in well-drained soil in sun or light shade. Dig a large hole that will fit the whole of the roots easily. The graft union (where the stem is joined to the roots) should be at, or slightly below, soil level.

Feeding and watering

Feed roses in spring with a balanced fertiliser, such as Growmore, or a high potassium feed such as rose food. Water plants during long, dry spells.

Deadheading

Deadhead the faded flowers regularly by cutting back to the first leaf below the flower. 

Read more about deadheading roses.

How to prune roses

Bush roses, including hybrid teas and floribundas, should be pruned in February or early March. Start by removing all weak, diseased, crossing and dead stems. Then declutter what's left by thinning some of the remaining stems - taking out the thinnest and congested, opening up the centre of the bush for light to penetrate. The remaining stems can be shortened by pruning to a third of their length to an outward-facing bud. The height of the cut will determine the eventual height of the plant. Mulch with garden compost or spent mushroom compost and feed afterwards.

Climbing roses from ramblers in that they have a semi-permanent framework for a number of years which is tied in and trained with occasional stems pruned out and replaced with younger stronger taking the place of older weaker growth. Flowering lateral shoots are produced from this framework. As flowers finish they are deadheaded and any time from the autumn to late winter these laterals can thinned if congested, and pruned back to one or two buds from which they will shoot and flower again.

Rambling roses flower on long whippy growth made last year. It’s easy to see what has flowered and what hasn’t – especially when the leaves are off and the plant is naked. The flowered stems have the remnants of flowering stalks or show lateral branching, whereas the new non-flowered wood will be long, branchless and arching. Rambler can be pruned any time from now through the winter before the plants starts to grow again. If there are hips present perhaps you delay proceedings until these have been taken by the birds.  Cut off all the flowered wood right down into the body of the rose until you come to the main stem or a worthwhile non-flowered shoot. Now and again a flowered stem may be taken right down to the ground so that regeneration takes place from ground level. Once all the flowered shoots have been removed, thin out the weakest of the non-flowered shoots leaving only the strongest stems. Tie these in along with the framework. If you want a billowing plant that spills out then only tie the framework in leaving the rest free. 

If there isn’t sufficient non flowered wood for next year’s flowers, then retain the strongest of the non- flowered wood, shortening them to the appropriate height. These will still have some flowers but not the long arching trusses that you’ll see on the non-flowered stems that are kept whole.

How to grow roses in pots

Use a large pot of around 45cm diameter and height, filled with a Best Buy compost for containers and mixed with a Best Buy controlled-release fertiliser at the recommended rate. 

For climbing patio roses, place the support, such as an obelisk or wigwam, over the plant straight away, before the shoots start to grow, and secure it in place with hooks or pegs if needed. Keep plants well watered after planting.

Water regularly during the growing season so the compost doesn’t dry out.

Train main stems of climbing patio roses by pulling them down at a low angle, winding them around the support and tying them in place. Tie in flowering shoots as they grow if needed. 

From the second year onwards, weed pots and topdress them each spring with more compost mixed with controlled-release fertiliser.

Prune in late winter, reducing flowered shoots by two thirds. Tie in new growth. If older plants get too bushy, cut out older stems at ground level.

How to grow roses from cuttings

Internodal, nodal, soft-wood or semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from roses during the summer. 

1. Tidy up the bottom of the cutting by using a sharp knife or a pair of secateurs, cutting above a node (the point where the leaves join the stem) for internodal cuttings and just below a node for nodal cuttings. 

2. Trim the leaflets to minimise water loss and insert the cutting into a pot.

Common growing problems

Blackspot

The mild but often wet weather we tend to get in summer in the UK is ideal for the fungal disease blackspot to take hold. It begins with small black spots on the leaves, which grow and spread until the leaves start to turn yellow and fall. If you decide to use a fungal spray to help control it, you should begin spraying as soon as the plants come into leaf. Otherwise, removing affected leaves quickly and clearing all the fallen leaves can help control its spread and recurrence in following years.

Read more about blackspot

Powdery mildew

Powdery mildew, a white powdery coating on leaves, is another common fungal disease, especially in late summer. Improving air flow around the plants by not planting too densely and pruning each year and by keeping the soil moist by mulching can help to prevent it.

Read more about powdery mildew.

Aphids

Squash any aphids as soon as you find them. In small numbers they do little harm, but they can occur in large masses on shoot tips and suck sap from the vulnerable young growth. This deprives the developing shoot of water and nutrients, so buds fail to open and foliage is distorted. 

Read more about aphids.

Rust

Rust may appear as small, bright-orange powdery bumps on the underside of the leaf. However, this early stage of the disease is often overlooked, and it is not noticed until later. 

Yellow-orange pustules appear in late summer on the undersides of the leaves, often matched by yellow spots on the upper surface. The pustules then turn black, and the whole leaf may die and fall early.

Read more about rust.