Growing Roses in Containers

Ahhh . . . the enchanting rose! The mere mention of the word “rose” often evokes a plethora of sentimental emotions from the hearts of its many admirers. Roses have long been proclaimed by many as the “Queen of Flowers” – and rightly so. For centuries, people around the world have been captivated with the beauty, the fragrance, and yes – the romance of the beautiful rose.

A Few “Rosy” Sentiments

Almost since the dawn of history, the rose has held a special place in the hearts of people universally. Some of the first roses were cultivated by the Chinese. Confucius is said to have written about the gorgeous roses that grew in the Imperial Gardens some 500 years before the birth of Christ. Roses are known to have been cultivated for 2,000 years in China
before their introduction to European markets in the eighteenth century.

Roses were also cultivated by ancient Greeks who grew them for various medicinal purposes and for making perfume. The Greeks so greatly admired the rose for its outstanding beauty that they dedicated it to two of their deities: Aphrodite, their goddess of beauty and love; Dionysus, the god of revelry. Whenever festivals were held in honor of these deities they always featured garlands and wreaths created with beautiful, fragrant roses.

Single long-stemmed roses and bouquets of a dozen velvety red roses have long been presented as symbols of love to sweethearts, brides, and mothers the world over. This age-old tradition may have resulted – and still lives on – because the ancient Greeks dedicated the rose to their goddess of love and beauty. Whatever the reason may be, the rose has won the hearts of millions, including the hearts of gardeners.

Why Grow Roses in Containers?

Growing roses in various types of containers is very popular and for many different reasons.

Roses grown in containers offer gardeners the flexibility of blending roses into their garden landscapes as opposed to planting them in the ground.

Container-grown roses can be easily repositioned. If you need move to a different residence or city you won’t have to leave your roses behind.

Container growing is a boon to people who love to grow roses, but have only stark pavement or gravel surrounding their living spaces.

Being able to move container-grown roses to a sheltered spot if you live where winters are harsh is a great advantage.

Growing roses in containers can be very fulfilling for gardeners with physical limitations.

Decorating with beautiful, fragrant container-grown roses offers endless ways to spruce up drab areas, either indoors or outdoors.

Varieties, colors, sizes, shapes, and fragrances of roses that can be grown in containers are abundant.

Last but certainly not least, growing roses in containers can be equally as enjoyable as growing them in your garden!

Whether you decide to grow just one striking rose in a single decorative container or a “garden of pots” filled with a variety of beautiful roses, it can easily be done. However, to be successful in romancing your roses in containers, it is important that you first familiarize yourself with some basics.

Deciding which varieties of roses to plant in your containers may be your most daunting task. For starters, it helps to have some idea about how many container-grown roses will fit into your gardening plan. Drawing up a sketch of your garden, patio, balcony, stairway, or other areas where you want to grow some roses can often prove helpful. This should give you a fair idea of the number of roses and containers you will need.

Selecting Suitable Roses for Container Growing

For experienced rose gardeners, selecting just the right rose to plant in just the right container to place in just the right spot may not be that difficult. If you’re a novice rose gardener, however, this can be mind- boggling! Fortunately, there are resources you can turn to for help.

One outstanding resource for rose gardeners worldwide is the American Rose Society web site. Their site is loaded with information on growing roses. While visiting there, take a virtual tour through the gardens of some fabulous rose gardeners that will truly inspire you. Another superb resource is the Jackson & Perkins web site. This highly acclaimed company has specialized in growing roses since 1872. Striking photographs of their newest roses for are currently featured on their site. Hundreds of rose gardening books are also available, either for aspiring or experienced rose gardeners.

Roses have been described in three different broad categories: Old roses, modern roses, and species and species hybrids. Within these categories there are hundreds of different types of roses. Without a doubt, there are some types of roses known to perform better in containers than others.

Some of the more popular types of roses appropriate for growing in containers are briefly described here.


Floribundas (cluster-flowered) were originally produced from hybrid teas and polyanthas. These are bushy, vigorous plants with deciduous leaves of deep green. They sport fabulous clusters of flowers in colors of red, pink, white, lavender, yellow, and shades of orange. The blossoms and plants of floribundas are smaller than most hybrid teas, although some varieties bear flowers shaped like hybrid teas. Certain varieties of floribundas can have as many as 25 blooms per stem – more than enough for a beautiful bouquet!

A few lovely varieties of floribundas include Europeana and Royal William (red); Cherish, Sexy Rexy, and Sweet Inspiration (pink); French Lace, Evening Star (white); and Amber Queen (yellow).

Miniature Roses

These dainty little roses are almost replicas of floribundas and hybrid teas, with both foliage and blossoms being proportionately smaller. Miniature roses can be grown either indoors or outdoors in containers or window boxes. Six to eight inch pots are usually sufficient if grown as single specimens.

Miniatures also offer many different varieties and colors, including: Coral Sprite, Millie Walters, Pierrine (pink); Little Artist, Minnie Pearl, Party Girl (blends of colors); My Sunshine, Rise n Shine (yellow), and Snowbride (white).

Patio Roses

Patio roses are smaller than floribundas, but not as small as their miniature relatives. They are an excellent rose for growing in containers as most only grow to a height of two to three feet. Patio roses, sometimes called miniature shrub roses, have a compact growing habit. Deciduous green leaves offer a great background for their masses of colorful flowers that bloom through summer and fall.

Some favorite patio roses that thrive in containers include: Pink Pollyanna (pink), Amorette (white), and Yellow Jacket (yellow).

Containers are Critical for Romancing Roses

There are some great types of containers to choose from. Wooden planters, half barrels, decorative plastic pots or planters, synthetic terracotta pots, glazed ceramic pots (with drainage holes), windowboxes for miniatures or small hybrid teas. All are appropriate for “romancing your roses!”

All containers used for planting roses MUST have drainage holes. Most containers sold at garden centers and nurseries do have drainage holes. If not, you can make holes in most plastic pots using a small drill. If you choose terracotta or concrete pots without drainage holes, using a drill that has a special masonry bit works well.

Containers should be at least 14-16 inches in diameter and 18-20 inches deep for most floribundas or small hybrid tea roses. If your containers are larger, that’s a plus, as roses really do better in larger containers. Refrain from using containers that are too small, as your roses will become root bound, resulting in poor performance, or worse yet – death. It’s better to have one good-sized container to hold one beautiful specimen rose that will bloom for years, than to have a half dozen smaller containers that will only serve your roses well for one season.

A word of caution about placing plastic type pots with drain holes inside decorative containers without drain holes. You WILL need to regularly empty water that drains into your decorative containers. Roses face almost certain death from root rot if their roots are left in standing water too long.

When placing containers on any surface other than soil, position some “feet” such as casters, blocks of wood, or maybe some small bricks under them. This will help prevent the container from sitting in stagnant water, which your roses won’t appreciate.

Plant Your Romantic Roses Right

For optimum growth, using the proper soil is important. There are many soilless mixes that are ideal for growing roses in containers. You can find them at most nurseries or garden centers. These mixes are free of diseases or noxious pests that could harm your plants, and designed to retain more water than other types of commercial mixes.

Before placing soil in your containers, place several broken pieces of clay pots over the drainage holes. Then begin to add soil until your rose will sit in the pot at the correct height. Add additional soil to within 1-2 inches from the top of your container. This will give you the space you need for watering the rose. Press the soil down well to eliminate any air pockets. Finally, soak the soil thoroughly.

You may wish to cover the topsoil with good quality mulch after planting is completed. If your containers are quite large, consider dressing them up a bit. Just plant a few favorite colorful annual seedlings around the rose. Sphagnum moss or baby’s-tears are also great as topsoil covers.

Your containers should be placed where they will get a minimum of six hours of direct morning or midday sun. You may need to rotate your containers every few days if you find your roses leaning toward the sun. To prevent foliage burn from reflected heat, don’t place containers near light-colored walls.

Roses Need Water and Nourishment

Roses get very thirsty on hot days – just like people! Water your roses at least once a day during the summer. Check the soil in your containers every day to make sure they are getting sufficient water. If the soil feels dry just below the surface, you may need to water twice a day, especially if your outdoor temperature reaches 100 degrees or more. Always check to see that your containers are draining properly.

Roses also need nutrient supplements – just like people! Container- grown roses need to be fertilized more often than roses grown in gardens. There are many types of fertilizers available for roses. Always follow the label instructions when using them. Also available are slow- releasing fertilizers specially formulated for roses growing in containers. Again, follow label instructions.

Treat Those Pesky Pests!

Some pests that are apt to find a cozy spot to live with your container roses include aphids, spider mites, and thrips. Always treat these noxious pests early to avoid major damage to your roses. Either contact or systemic insecticides will take care of these insects. Be sure to follow label warnings and guidelines for applications. Many gardeners prefer to use organic substances for pest control, such as antibacterial soap sprays.

An After Word

Volumes have been written about the ephemeral rose. Only the very tip of the proverbial iceberg has been touched upon in this article. But perhaps it will have inspired you to begin your very own “Romance with Roses!”

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