Reviving Rose Bush


I moved into a house a few years ago. There is a rose bush that appeared dead for the first year (bark with no green underneath, no new growth), grew a single rose the second year and is now showing some new leaves the third year. What should I be doing to take care of it? I have never applied any fertilizer or watered on a regular basis


Thanks for bringing us this question.  It looks like the previous owner had pruned the rose hard, likely in the fall, and a cold winter almost killed it.  Such vigorous pruning should be done in the early spring just as tiny little buds are forming on the stems, and only if the bush has been failing (poor flower production, mostly old stems etc).  Otherwise milder pruning is often all that is needed.  Fortunately it appears that the new shoots are thriving and in a few years and with some nutrition and appropriate pruning  you will have a lovely rose bush.  Btw, once it grows you may wish to determine what type of rose it is by examining some of the links I have included at the bottom of the page.

To begin, you need a good sharp, clean, pair of secateurs.  Also you should do this now before hotter weather arrives.

I suggest you cut back to slightly under the ground the old dead stems to improve the look of the shrub.  Next, cut off any dead stems (dark brown or grey) in among the new shoots.  If part of a stem is dead and part is showing life (buds or leaves), cut at an angle just above an outward facing bud or leaf.

Look carefully at the new shoots.  It looks like you have quite a few.  You need to encourage two or three shoots to grow into strong stems.  Too many shoots result in weak stems and poor flower production.  Choose three of the strongest stems to keep, and cut off the others at ground level.

Now feed your rose with good quality manure or compost.  Place manure around the rose leaving about 5cm of space between any growing part and the manure. ie don’t cover the rose’s young stems at this point.  Because your rose is new and has been through a struggle you many want to purchase a slow release chemical fertilizer made for perennial flowers and use according to directions.

Roses need water-  more than the average plant.  Water deeply (ie at least one minute) once a week.  You may need to water more often in hot summer weather.  Remember that an hour or so of rain may not be enough for this rose.  Roses flower better in cooler weather so you may notice less blooms in the heat.  That’s normal.  And to encourage growth, you may want to feed them with compost, manure, fish emulsion or appropriate fertilizer twice more in the growing season (stop fertilizing in August).  Before winter, lightly trim off any dead flowers and stems and cover the base of the plant with about 20 cm of manure or mulch to protect it from the freeze-thaw cycles that commonly occur here in Toronto.  Spread out this mulch in the early spring.  It is quite normal to have some die back on rose stems each spring. Remove this and some of the young shoots to encourage the development of strong stems.

Keep an eye out for common rose spot

7 keys to Rose Pruning video