Growing Roses is Easy, Trust Me!

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Growing Roses is Easy, Trust Me!

As I tour gardens around the country, I’m often reminded that roses are one of the most feared plants to grow no matter where you live.

Some gardeners try and succeed at growing pristine specimens, while others wave the white flag before even getting started. Those that never try often believe they must wage chemical warfare and slave over each plant to have any chance at success.

It’s true; other than their beauty, roses are notorious for two things. First, they are famous for their susceptibility to certain diseases, namely black spot. Secondly, roses are a favorite cuisines of Japanese beetles and other chewing, sucking pests. These thugs can decimate a rose bush practically overnight.

Good News

Even with the fussiest of roses, with diligence and proactive measures, pests and diseases can be kept in check. Yet if low maintenance roses sound more to your liking you’ll love this. Great strides have been made in disease and pest resistance when it comes to shrub roses. Rose breeder William Radler found it overwhelming to keep up with his own collection so he began a mission of literally breeding the diseases right out of roses.

In 1988 his mission became a reality when the award winning Knock Out™ Rose was created. Since its introduction it continues to reinforce its reputation as a truly carefree, prolific blooming, disease resistant plant. More recently, many other breeders have unlocked the secret to low-care rose that are prolific bloomers as well.

Simple, Safe Rose Care Alternatives

But if you want to grow the more traditional varieties, you can still do so with great results. Clearly there is an arsenal of products available to battle every pest and disease known to roses, but at what cost? I strongly advocate exercising increased levels of tolerance before reaching for a chemical control. Even then, I’ll go for the most benign options first.

Through personal experience and interviews with experts across the country, I’ve made note of the most effective and environmentally responsible methods used at many of the top public and private gardens to keep their roses looking their best. This list includes some of my findings and offers more eco-friendly solutions.

Harpin Protein

This relatively new proprietary technology was discovered at Cornell University. It was called a “Major Scientific Breakthrough” by the USDA and awarded the Presidential Green Chemistry award by the EPA.

In nature, harpin proteins are produced by bacteria that cause plant diseases. Although harpin products have no direct effect on pathogens or pests, studies show that when plants detect harpin, they activate their own natural growth and defense systems to protect themselves. Harpin also activates the plants’ photosynthetic activity making an overall healthier plant.

Harpin protein is sold as Messenger through Eden Bioscience® Corporation ( The powder is mixed with water and sprayed on plants periodically during their active growth cycle.

Neem Oil

Although not new, neem continues to be a front runner as an effective pest and disease control; especially with roses. Neem is derived from the Neem tree native to India.

For controlling and preventing diseases on roses such as black spot and powdery mildew, neem has many fans. As an insecticide, neem is effective at repelling one of rose’s most notorious pests, the Japanese beetle. Neem can also disrupt the feeding cycle of certain other pests and suffocate others.

Neem is available as a concentrate or as a ready-to-use spray. Be aware some neem RTU sprays include other active ingredients (organic or synthetic) to increase the killing power. I prefer the concentrate without the extras as a more eco-friendly route. It breaks down quickly in the environment and is non-toxic to mammals.

Potassium bicarbonate

Potassium bicarbonate has been proven effective in over 200 university studies and nine years of organic agricultural use at preventing and curing many plant diseases including black spot on roses.

Unlike many other commercial fungicide products, potassium bicarbonate is even approved for use by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). It is currently available as GreenCure® (

Of course, good air circulation, avoiding the use of overhead watering and proper sanitation help to insure a healthy rose garden. But with effective, eco-friendly and timesaving options for keeping roses healthy, maybe it’s time to think about taking another look at adding them to your garden.