Tropical Gardening: Roses grace up country gardens

  • Photo by VOLTAIRE MOISE An old rambling rose variety espalier against a sunny wall and protected from rain to avoid fungal diseases. Palms in the foreground are Trachycarpus fortunei. This is a hardy palm that will tolerant temperatures below freezing and can be grown even in upland West Hawaii and Volcano above 4,000 feet elevation without cold damage.

Roses are popular throughout the mainland and normally planted in spring after the weather warms. In Hawaii, spring is anytime after winter solstice as days get longer.

Growing roses is always a rewarding challenge to the gardener. Roses are cool climate plants that do best at elevations of 1,000 feet or higher. At lower elevations, insects and disease problems are aggravated. At best, roses require specific care or they will not do well.


Roses come in two main classes — dormant and container grown.

Dormant rose plants are usually shipped in from the mainland in the early spring. Container grown plants are available after nurseries have given them a good start. Rootstocks vary, but research in Hawaii suggests roses grown on Rosa fortuniana rootstock are best for low elevations. Other rootstocks used are Dr. Huey, manetti and multiflora.

Select a site in a sunny location. Prepare the planting site prior to securing the rose bushes. If the soil is sandy or rocky, remove rocks to a depth of 15 inches and replace with compost of well-rotted leaves, aged manure, peat moss and cinder soil.

For best growth, be sure the replaced material is on the acidic side. Roses do better in soils that have a generous amount of organic matter.

Be sure the planting holes are large enough to accommodate the roots without crowding. In the bottom of each hole, drop a handful of garden fertilizer. Dip the roots of each plant in a bucket of water just before planting. Install the new bush so the root system will stand at the same level at which it stood in the nursery container.

Keep an eye out for diseases such as black spot, brown canker and powdery mildew. Insect pests that might harm the bushes will include aphids, thrips, scale, red spider mites and assorted night-feeding rose beetles.

Your garden supply store has specific insecticides and fungicides available. These will need to be applied on a regular program. Garden shops also have fertilizers labeled as “rose food.” These should be applied as directed on the container. If you want to avoid chemical sprays, consider natural pest control materials such as neem, pyrethrins and tobacco products.

Since roses require continuous feeding and pest control, they are placed in the high maintenance category when compared to the care required for the average flowering shrubs. The requirements also include regular grooming by removing unwanted or unsightly parts from rose plants to improve their growth and appearance.

Let’s take a closer look at this matter of grooming.

What is included in this inspection and trimming of rose plants? Why is grooming the plants considered a regular part of their care? And how often is grooming needed?

Roses bloom throughout the year in Hawaii. Of course, this does not mean they are constantly covered with flowers, but there are five to seven periods during the year when many flowers open on a plant at one time. These peaks of flower production, or flushes of bloom, are separated by periods of four to eight weeks when flowers are opening. It is after each flush of bloom that we find rose bushes to be in need of grooming.

Approach the grooming job armed with a pair of sharp pruning shears and a portable basket or container to carry away unwanted parts trimmed from the bush. Spent flowers should be removed by cutting just above a well-formed leaf. Just as in harvesting flowers for indoor use, this trimming to remove spent flowers must include consideration of the development of the new flowering shoots. Making a clean, sloping cut just above the leaf will permit its best possible future growth. Long or ragged stubs should be avoided.

Preventing fruit development is one of the reasons for grooming the rose plant after each main period of flowering. If left on the plant, the base to which the petals are attached will usually enlarge, forming a small apple like fruit called a rose hip. By removing the faded flowers, nutrients needed to form the fruit can be diverted to production of additional flowering growth.

At the same time spent flowers are being removed, the bush should be inspected for the presence of any dead wood, which can serve as a reservoir for parasitic organisms that cause dieback of rose canes. Dead wood should be cut from the plant whenever it is found. Also, any shoots developing from the rootstock below the graft union should be removed.

Picking off yellow or brown leaves is the final step in the practice of grooming. Since these spent leaves will soon fall off naturally, their removal is of less importance than removing dead wood, spent flowers and root suckers. However, picking leaves that completed their life span and are ready to drop will improve the appearance of the plant.


Grooming, pest control and fertilization are time consuming practices, but your plants will respond by giving you loads of flowers in return.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For Further information, contact the UH Master Gardener Helpline in Kona at 322-4893 or 959-5199 in Hilo.