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Home & garden.

1 October 2021

How to grow roses

Roses are one of the most-popular garden plants. Discover our best rose varieties and tips for how to grow them.
CT
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.

Key facts

PLANT TYPE Shrub

POSITION Full sun or part shade

SOIL Fertile, moist but well-drained

How to grow roses: month by month

January
February
March
April
May
June
PLANT BARE-ROOT
PLANT BARE-ROOT/PRUNE BUSHES
PLANT BARE-ROOT/ PRUNE BUSHES


FLOWERING
July
August
September
October
November
December
FLOWERING
FLOWERING
FLOWERING
PRUNE CLIMBERS AND RAMBLERS
PLANT BARE-ROOT
PLANT BARE-ROOT

Best rose varieties

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

Best Buy scented bush roses
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
75 x 60cm
With flowers in a striking shade of purple, healthy, glossy foliage, sturdy growth and a strong, sweet and spicy scent, it was hard to find fault with this new rose. The blooms weren’t that big, but they were grouped in very large clusters which had fantastic impact. The plants re-bloomed quickly after the first flush finished and were a manageable size and shape for smaller garden.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
120 x 80cm
This variety has clusters of up to nine stunning flowers and almost non-stop flowering for the whole summer. The scent wasn’t quite as strong as our other Best Buys, but it was consistently good, with the quality of the best old roses. The soft stems often bent under the weight of flowers, so we thought they’d look better if supported, as is often recommended for this variety.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
110 x 90cm
This was a big, bushy shrub rose with a scent described as delicious, which seemed fitting coming from flowers the colour of apricots. The rounded, cupped shape of the big blooms and the abundant growth of the plants had an old-fashioned, romantic appeal, but with the advantages of modern breeding, as this was a very healthy rose. Also, with successional flushes of blooms, it was in flower for most of the summer.
Best Buy repeat-flowering bush roses
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
75 x 60cm
We’ve grown this variety before, so knew that it could repeat-flower quickly and that it’s a real pleasure to grow. It certainly lived up to our expectations, with a fantastic display of its scented, golden-yellow blooms that followed on from the first full flush with a decent display of blooms non-stop throughout the summer. It was healthy for most of the summer, too, only succumbing to some blackspot in September.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
120 x 80cm
With the distinctive ‘eye’ of its parent, Rosa persica, this shrub rose combined natural good looks with vivid colour. It may not have had the same huge first flush that some of the varieties we grew had, but there were plenty of large blooms and it reflowered continuously until autumn. It was very healthy, too, with only the merest hint of blackspot on its glossy green leaves, even in September. It also had a really lovely sweet scent.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
110 x 90cm
The individual blooms of this variety were beautifully delicate and pleasantly scented, and the sheer mass of them was simply stunning. They were one of the first to come into flower in May with blooms held in huge clusters that covered almost the whole of the enormous, bushy plants. As that flush started to fade, a succession of flowers followed that lasted all summer. They were reasonably free of blackspot, too.
Best Buy climbing roses 
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
2 x 2.1m
We loved the combination of the flower colour, which changed from apricot to pink as blooms matured, and the light-red stem colour on all the new shoots of this variety. It looked delicate, but grew strongly and healthily with lots of long flower stems. You need to tie these in to keep it tidy, but we liked its upright shape. The scent was light, but carried on the air surprisingly well.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
1.5 x 1.2m
Proving that sometimes the best tunes are played on an old fiddle, this beautifully feminine rose from the early 19th century was covered in clouds of small blooms in two distinct flushes. It wasn’t quick to put on height, but was very bushy and looked best when neatly tied in to the arch in late winter, and then allowed to fill out naturally. It was very healthy and had a delicate, sweet scent.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
2.2 x 1m
Described as a ‘miniature climber’, this variety had small leaves and flowers but big impact. The combination of vibrant blooms, scent, red stems and dark-red new leaves was lovely from spring until autumn. It was ideal for an arch because the growth, although strong enough to reach over the top, was light  with an elegant shape that needed little control. It suffered from a touch of blackspot, but only late in the summer.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
1.5 x 1.2m
There were many things we liked about this variety, not least its light and graceful shape, which suited being grown on an arch very well. The flower stems were long and snaked around the plants fetchingly, but sometimes they needed to be tied in. There were at least a few flowers out all summer and they were strongly scented. It also resisted the blackspot that affected quite a few other varieties.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
2 x 1m
While this didn’t initially catch our eye in the way other varieties did, we started to take notice later on as it developed an open shape that was very easy to train onto the arch. The leaves stayed healthy and it kept on flowering non-stop from early to late summer. It didn’t have the showiest of flowers, but they were pretty, really nicely scented and, as a bonus, produced red hips towards the end of the year.
Best Buy patio climbing roses for pots
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
120 x 70cm
This pretty rose was the ideal shape and size for a patio pot, with growth that was bushy but easy to train. It had large clusters of dainty, semi-double flowers. They kept their bright colour well as they aged, and they had a strong and sweet scent with hints of sherbet. The glossy, dark green leaves set off the flowers nicely and were healthy, with just a touch of blackspot on one plant.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
105 x 60cm
One of the first to flower, the individual blooms of this variety were small but very attractive as they faded from light pink to white with age. It was the number of them that gave the plants real impact though, with large clusters covering the plants. They also had a lovely, sweet rose scent. The bushy stems were easy to train and healthy, with only one of the plants showing any sign of blackspot.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
90 x 45cm
The unusual marbled and streaked flowers were striking, but the thing we really liked about this variety was that it gave lots of colour but was so little trouble to grow. The size and shape of the plants were ideal for the pots and small obelisks we were using, and they only suffered a touch of blackspot. The plentiful flowers also had a strong and sweet rose scent, making this a great variety all round.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
70 x 50cm
An existing Best Buy from our previous trial of climbing roses, this variety came up trumps again with its vibrant colour, repeat flowering, and light but lovely scent. It took a bit longer to get going in this trial than it had done when we grew it in the ground, but the small plants worked well on the compact obelisks we were using. This variety gave a great display, and the plants were very healthy.
Best Buy roses for gifts
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
75 x 80cm
The glossy leaves of this rose were dark red as they started to grow in spring, and they stayed blackspot-free for most of the summer. The packed clusters of gorgeously coloured flowers covered the plant in July and there was another full flush in early autumn. Even though the flowers were semi double, they were loose and open, and bees were keen to visit. Bushy and low-growing, this variety would be welcome for any occasion.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
100 x 110cm
Everything about these plants was attractive, from the shape of the big bushes to the mass of flowers. It was a standout plant even when the initial dark-pink petal colour faded quickly to a lighter pink. The flowers had a light scent and grew from top to bottom of the stems, so they covered the big plants really well, and the glossy leaves stayed mostly free of blackspot until late summer.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
65 x 90cm
A pretty shrub rose, this variety had greyish-green leaves that looked good in combination with the pink flowers, which faded to white as they aged. The flowers attracted bees and had a light fragrance, and the petals fell like confetti when flowering finished. They were small enough to be planted in a pot and flowered all summer, although they did suffer from some blackspot late in the season.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
85 x 85cm
The classic flowers of this variety were some of the earliest in the trial to open and had the bonus of a lovely scent. There were two distinct flushes of really big flowers, each several weeks long; the first flush covered the strong, straight stems. The leaves were glossy and resisted blackspot for most of the summer, although it did affect them towards the end.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
100 x 80cm
The combination of great shape and classy blooms make this a terrific variety. The flowers, which changed colour as they aged, appeared in one enormous flush that lasted for several weeks. They went over all at once and then only appeared sporadically in later summer, but they were very impressive at their best.They didn’t really suffer blackspot, but they did get a bit of mildew.
Best Buy roses for small spaces
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
80 x 90cm
If you want something a little different but are limited for space, these dusky-purple roses are perfect. An old-style bloom with a modern colour, they’re eye-catching without being showy and the bushes had a very neat habit, so are ideal for smaller areas. The flowers are fully double and kept coming from the end of May to the end of September. They had a lovely, deep, almost musky scent.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
70 x 80cm
The very neat bushes of this variety were studded with flowers from the end of May to the end of September. The light pink blooms were a ruffled double that formed a pom-pom and they were shown off well by the dark-green foliage. They carried a light scent and deadheading kept them coming, making an attractive display throughout summer. This variety was also untroubled by fungal diseases.
What it looks like
Variety name
Height x spread
130 x 80cm
An absolute trooper when it comes to flowering, this variety started to bloom in May and gave 16 weeks of continuous colour. Rather than blooming in flushes like other varieties, it did so in succession, and was still going strong into October. The ruffled petals of these open, double roses varied from deep orange to pink-flushed-peach. The scent was delicate and floral, and carried some way from the plant. This one grew slightly taller than some other patio varieties.

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.

Pruning

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.

Growing climbing patio roses

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. 

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 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.

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.