How To Grow Roses Organically

Easy DIY advice on how to raise healthy, hardy rose bushes using natural methods

An open pink rose blossom

The best time to plant roses is during the winter

They may seem like fragrant, fragile flowers but despite the delicate petals and romantic reputation roses are hardy survivors.

One of the most versatile plants in the garden, they can be planted as standards, trained up a wall, used as hedging or grown in window boxes.

The flowers come in a variety of brilliant and beautiful colours from vibrant crimson and deep red to pastel pink, orange, yellow and bright white.

Once they’re established roses are pretty tough but the key to growing disease-free blooms is managing and preparing the soil efficiently.

Opting for organic methods

Synthetic quick-release fertilisers create a quick burst of new growth that attracts large numbers of pests. 

Organic methods ensure the proliferation of various natural micro-organisms essential for healthy soil and plants, plus attract beneficial visitors like bees, ladybugs and birds.

Skipping the chemicals also saves money as organic fertilisers can be up to 50% cheaper and the sprays are mostly homemade.

TIP  Organic sprays also help deter pests and make roses less prone to drought.

Buying the plants

The best time to plant roses is when they are dormant in winter. Buy them as bare-root plants that come wrapped in plastic or hessian and look like a bunch of sticks.

They are cheaper than the potted plants sold in spring and autumn, and don’t need time to adapt to garden soil so establish more quickly.

Select a specimen without green shoots and check the bark of the stem is not shrivelled or dried but soft, smooth and greenish in colour.

To get started prepare the soil. Roses thrive in a well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of 6.5 that contains about 10% organic matter and the substance known as black gold.

They need six hours of sun a day in a spot with good air circulation and protection from winds, and 20 litres of water a week until established.

TIP Avoid planting into beds where roses have previously been grown.

A healthy bare root rose with soft, green bark on the stem.
Check the bark of the stem is not shrivelled or dried when buying roses

What is black gold? 

There are two natural ingredients found in compost that are so rich in nutrients they’re called black gold by gardeners.

  • Black is for humus, the end product of compost, that provides the soil with carbon.
  • Gold is for glomalin, produced by a fungi called mycorrhiza, that keeps the soil rich in nitrogen.

Black gold feeds the essential micro-organisms, provides a stockpile of nutrients and keeps the soil pH level healthy so roots become stronger, enabling nutrients to be better absorbed by the plant.

Improving the soil

Soil that holds nutrients is able to store a reserve in the roots of a plant, ensuring minerals leached by water are replaced or exchanged.

  • To test the soil dig a 400mm hole and fill with water. If the water drains slowly or not at all, give the bed new soil up to a metre deep. If it’s absorbed after a day the soil needs improving.
  • To increase the permeability, dig in organic matter like compost.

Spray-on nutrients

Make your own nutrient spray for roses:

  • Pack fresh green plant material, such as chopped comfrey leaves and lucerne, into a large bucket to about two-thirds.
  • Fill the bucket with tepid water and leave the mixture to ferment at room temperature for three to 10 days.
  • Strain the mixture and dilute it with water in ratios of 1:10 or 1:5, decanting it into bottles to use every fortnight as a leaf spray or to soak the soil for the entire growing season.

General rose maintenance

Prepare roses for the next season when dormant. In beds, loosen the bushes and till the soil to about 150mm deep and dig in 100ml of quality compost.

Add a 70mm layer of mulch such as lucerne to protect bushes from frost in winter and drought in summer and assist with weed control.

When leaves appear, treat them every two weeks with an organic nutrient spray about an hour before sunset when the leaves are most open.

Pink organic roses in flower on a bushRose flowers come in a huge variety of vibrant colours

Pruning in winter

Roses don’t flower well later in the year if they’re not pruned correctly during winter. To encourage new growth, cut them back by about two-thirds.

The time to prune is between June and early August when roses are dormant but in cooler areas delay pruning until August to protect against frost damage.

TIP Failing to remove dead heads also inhibits flower production. When blooms die, snip them from the plant as if you were cutting them for a vase.

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