Growing Roses in Iowa

Roses (Rosa sp.) are the quintessential garden plant.  Their beautiful blooms come in many shades of pink, red, yellow, cream, white, and all the colors in between.  Many are wonderfully fragrant and bloom from early summer to frost, forming colorful hips (fruit pods) in the fall.  They make excellent cut flowers.  The blooms make beautiful edible garnishes, can be dried for things like potpourri, and the hips are used to brew aromatic tea. 

Rosa Knock Out Series Pink Knock Out 'RADcon'
Pink Knock Out Rose (Rosa 'RADcon')

Many species are native to Asia, but some are native to Europe, North America, and even parts of northern Africa. These different species have been highly hybridized, creating hundreds of cultivars that make great additions to the landscape.  Roses have been cultivated for centuries.  They have served as a symbol of love and have been frequently referenced in art and literature ("A rose by any other name...").  The ancient Romans and Egyptians revered them, and their culture dates back 5,000 years in China.  Roses are the state flower of Iowa, as well as New York, North Dakota, and Georgia, they are the floral emblem of the United States, and the national flower of England.  

It's easy to see why we love roses.  Learn more about the types of roses best suited for your garden and how to grow and care for them to keep them healthy and colorful all season.

Care  |  Types  |  Uses  |  Pruning  |  Overwintering  |  Planting  |  Propagation  |  Potential Problems  |  FAQs  |  More Information


Site Selection

Roses should be grown in a location that receives full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day).  When grown in too much shade, plants will not bloom as well and are more prone to certain diseases, such as powdery mildew. 

Ideal soils are moist, well-drained, fertile, and loamy.  Incorporating compost in the garden bed prior to planting or building a raised bed can help provide better soil conditions if soils are heavy, poorly drained, or infertile.  


Modern roses, such as hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras, require watering during hot, dry weather.  The frequency depends upon weather conditions and soil type.  In most gardens, a thorough watering every 7 to 10 days during dry weather is sufficient.  If possible, apply the water directly to the soil around each plant.  Overhead watering wets the foliage and increases disease problems.  If overhead watering is unavoidable, morning is the best time to water roses.  Morning applications allow the foliage to dry quickly. 

Other types of roses, such as shrub or landscape roses, are more tolerant of less-than-ideal soil moisture conditions but will still bloom and grow best when they receive consistent moisture provided by the gardener or Mother Nature.

Rosa 'Folksinger'
Rosa 'Folksinger'


Natural or synthetic fertilizers in granular or liquid forms can be used on roses. Most natural fertilizers, like fish emulsion or composted manure, have a lower nutrient analysis and will have to be applied at a higher rate than synthetic fertilizers. Apply any fertilizer according to the label directions.

Apply fertilizer around the base of the plant in a band 18 inches wide, approximately 6 inches out from the base of the canes.  Lightly incorporate it in the soil, being careful not to damage the rose's shallow roots.   

Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, Floribunda, Polyantha, and Miniature 

To encourage vigorous growth and abundant bloom, modern roses should be fertilized two or three times a year.  Fertilizer applications can be made in early spring (immediately after pruning), during the first bloom period, and in mid to late July.  Do not fertilize after July 31.  Later fertilization will produce succulent new growth which may not harden sufficiently before winter.  An all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, is suitable for roses.  Apply at a rate of one pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet or sprinkle 1/4 cup of fertilizer around each plant per application. 

Shrub Roses and Other Types

Shrub, landscape, species, old garden roses, and climbing roses do not need as much fertilizer as modern roses to grow well in the landscape.  One application of all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, in the spring, just as the new growth begins to emerge is adequate.  Apply at a rate of one pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet or sprinkle 1/4 cup of fertilizer around each plant per application. Slow-release fertilizers are also good options for these types of roses.  Apply slow-release fertilizers as directed on the label.


Deadheading or removing faded flowers is done to encourage additional bloom on modern and other repeat-flowering roses.  

Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, Floribunda, Polyantha, and Miniature 

Modern roses, such as hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, polyantha, and miniature types, should be deadheaded to conserve energy and encourage repeat bloom. During the first growing season, remove the faded flowers above the uppermost 3-leaflet leaf. Removing a larger amount of foliage reduces the young plant s ability to manufacture food and may slow its growth.

When deadheading established roses, the stem may be cut back to a 5-leaflet leaf. Retain at least two 5-leaflet leaves on each shoot. Using hand shears, cut about 1/4 inch above the leaf with the cut parallel to the leaf's angle. Stop deadheading modern roses in late summer (late August or September). The development of rose hips (fruits) slows plant growth and helps prepare the plants for winter.

Shrub, Landscape, Species, and Old Garden Roses

Shrub or landscape roses rarely need deadheading, but doing so may improve the appearance and promote even more blooms throughout the summer.  Species or old-fashioned roses can be deadheaded to improve appearance if wanted, but there is usually no need to deadhead these rose types as many are one-time bloomers. Plus, the hips of some are quite attractive.

Climbing and Rambling Roses

Most climbing roses will bloom heavily in early summer with a light rebloom throughout the rest of the season.  Deadheading can help promote more blooms throughout the summer.  Once finished, remove the flower clusters back to a 5-leaflet leaf on the stem. Some climbers and ramblers can get quite large, so it may not be practical to deadhead, or it may be difficult to deadhead canes higher up.  While deadheading will improve appearance and promote the formation of more flowers, light rebloom will usually still occur without deadheading, and leaving the faded flowers on the plant allows for the formation of attractive rose hips.


While not required, disbudding can promote the formation of fewer but larger individual flowers. It is especially beneficial for growing roses as cut flowers.  Remove the side buds by pinching when the buds are very small.  Leaving the top bud and removing all others allows all of the energy to be used to produce one flower rather than spreading that energy across multiple buds.  Side buds must be removed as soon as they are visible.  If the side buds are larger when removed, it will not promote a larger top flower.

Weed Control & Mulching

Hoeing, hand pulling, and mulching are the most practical weed control measures for home gardeners. Small weeds are relatively easy to control by hoeing and hand pulling.  Be sure to cultivate lightly so as not to disturb the plant's shallow root system.

Mulches are an excellent way to conserve moisture and control weeds. Spread 2 to 4 inches of mulch around each rose or over the entire bed.  Possible mulches include:

  • wood chips
  • shredded bark
  • pine needles
  • cocoa bean hulls

Formal Rose GardenTypes of Roses

Roses are grown by millions of gardeners throughout the world for their beautiful flowers. To reduce the confusion of selecting between thousands of rose varieties, roses are classified into various groups.  In Iowa, the major groups of roses that can be grown include: 

  • Shrub or Landscape Roses
  • Species Roses
  • Old Garden Roses
  • Climbing Roses
  • Modern Roses
    • Hybrid Tea
    • Grandiflora
    • Floribunda
    • Polyanthas
    • Miniature

Each one of these groups has hundreds of species, hybrids, and cultivars.  Some roses may be classified into more than one of these groups.  Some bloom once each year, and others will bloom all season.  Some, particularly shrub or landscape types, are winter-hardy, disease-resistant plants and can be grown in a wide range of conditions with minimal care.  Others can be a bit more labor-intensive, especially those classified as hybrid tea, grandiflora, or floribunda. 

Learn more about the many different roses you can grow in your landscape, including the Buck Roses developed at Iowa State University, in this article: Rose Types and Cultivars for Iowa.

Using Roses in the Garden

With so many different types of roses available to the gardener, selecting the best rose for your growing conditions is important.  Factors like the amount of sun, soil moisture, soil fertility, and winter hardiness are important considersations in selecting the right rose cultivar.  

Roses also have many uses beyond beautiful garden plants.  Their fruit, called hips, is ornamental and edible.  The plant has several culinary and herbal uses and they, of course, make wonderful cut flowers.

The best plants to grow alongside roses are those that prefer the same growing conditions - full sun and well-drained soils. While any plant that grows well in these conditions can be grown alongside roses, there are several perennials and shrubs that make great companions to roses in the garden.

Learn more about rose uses, selecting the right rose type for your garden and great companion plants to grow alongside roses in this article: How to Select and Use Roses in the Garden

Rose hips
Rose Hips


Pruning is important for roses to improve their appearance and promote healthy growth that will flower well.  The pruning of different types of roses looks slightly different.  Learn more about pruning roses in this article: How to Prune Roses.

Overwintering Roses

Most modern roses need protection to survive the cold winter months in Iowa.  Hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda, as well as some polyantha, miniature, and climbing roses, are not reliably winter hardy and must be protected.

Most shrub, landscape, species, and old garden roses are winter hardy and require no additional work to survive the winters in Iowa.  Although they can benefit from moderate winter protection to reduce the likelihood of winter dieback on cane tips.

The process for preparing roses for winter can be found in this article: How to Overwinter Roses in Iowa.


Roses can be purchased as container-grown or potted plants from the garden center or as bare-root plants from the garden center or mail-order source.  Dormant, bare-root roses should be planted in early spring (late March to mid-April in Iowa). Container-grown roses can be planted from spring to mid-summer.  

Learn more about planting roses in this article: How to Plant and Transplant Roses in Iowa.


There are several ways roses can be propagated.  The best method depends on the type of rose and what is most comfortable for the gardener.  

The most effective form of propagating roses for home gardens is by cuttings.  Roses can also be propagated by layering, division, and seed.  Each type of propagation has its advantages and disadvantages.

Learn more about propagation techniques to use at home in this article: How to Propagate Roses.

Rainbow Knock Out Rose  Rosa 'RADcor'
Rainbow Knock Out Rose  (Rosa 'RADcor')

Potential Problems

Roses have a number of potential problems that can make them more difficult to grow.  Planting them in a good garden location and selecting a winter-hardy and naturally disease resistant cultivar is the best way to avoid many potential problems.

Learn more about the potential disease, insect, and animal pests that can affect roses and how to manage them in this article: Pests and Disease of Roses.


More Information

Last reviewed:
June 2023