Rosy Disposition: How to Grow Roses in Florida

While long admired for their dazzling presence, roses have a reputation for diva demands. Perhaps no one knows that better than Geoff Coolidge. In 1994, he purchased four rose bushes from a grower in Okeechobee, planted them in his West Palm Beach backyard, and promptly killed them all.

He went to the American Rose Society to learn what he was doing wrong. After correcting course, he began successfully cultivating roses and selling them online. Today, he and his wife run Cool Roses, a premier rose purveyor that works with customers locally and around the world. The couple also designs and maintains some of the most opulent private rose gardens in South Florida.

To help dispel the myths surrounding rose growing, Coolidge gave us the dirt on the not-so-thorny undertaking.

PBI: What is the difference between growing roses in South Florida versus other parts of the country?

Coolidge: In the North, there is a dormancy period for roses. They pop up in the spring, you get two or three flushes of bloom, then it’s cold again and your roses are dormant from around late September until spring. Down here, they grow year-round, so there’s no real time off for roses. They will flower all year, but you get your best flowers from October through May. Planting them in the summer is not good because they’re stressed by the heat. They will still flower, but they don’t last as long and aren’t as big when they bloom.

Popular varieties include hybrid tea roses like the Dainty Bess (above) and English roses, such as the David Austin (below).

What are the ideal planting conditions?

Roses need sunlight. The more sun, the more flowers you will have. The rule of thumb is about five hours of direct sunlight in order to have a good bloom. If you have less than that, then you will just have a green plant; you won’t get many flowers. You also need better soil than we have here, so you must amend it to hold more moisture and more fertilizer by using a compost-type material or a little topsoil mixed with the sand.

How can you successfully grow roses in a pot?

Roses grow great in a pot; [the technique] is a little different, however. You’ll need a bigger pot than the size of the rose you’re planting. If you have a good-sized root, you can go with the size it will be when it’s fully grown. If you buy one in a 4-inch pot, then you want to [use] a 10-inch pot. Any bigger and it would hold too much moisture and hurt the plant. You have to use potting mix as opposed to the heavier soil you’d use in the ground. Also, the ground is more forgiving. If you grow roses in a pot, monitor the water because they will dry out faster.

What type of maintenance do they require?

The best way to kill most plants is not to water them enough. Roses like to be fed. You will have more flowers if you have good soil and feed them. [But] the biggest problem with roses in Florida is black spot, a fungal disease on the leaves that can be prevented with spray. The florist-type roses, such as hybrid tea roses, that everyone seems to want are usually more susceptible to fungal disease. They require spraying once a week or every two weeks to prevent black spot. Alternate using various fungicides readily available at places like Home Depot.

There are more than 150 rose species, including the Mr. Lincoln.

What are your favorite roses?

Everybody loves the long-stemmed hybrid tea roses, like the Chrysler Imperial and Mr. Lincoln. I like the ones that produce the most flowers, such as shrub roses. I’ve grown David Austin, which are English roses, for four to five years and they’re an old-fashioned, very fragrant, big flower.

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