Everyone loves roses, and it is impossible to have too many in your garden. Except for the work, right? If you think that way you probably grew roses a while back, because a lot has changed in the rose world since the new century began. As 21st century gardeners, it’s time to take advantage of what this new century brings us and move your rose growing dial from ‘difficult’, to ‘easy’, by taking advantage of the newer hybrid roses that are available. While looking at some of these great plants, I had an idea of how to enjoy them in an exciting way, that makes the best of what they offer, and that will produce a look guaranteed to amaze your family, friends, neighbors and even yourself – two level rose growing.
No, this doesn’t involve putting roses in boxes on your upstairs windows, but it will create a rich, lush look in beds or planters that is straight out of the professional playbook and make you into an overnight garden influencer, instead of a follower. Best of all, it’s easy to create and easy to care for. For its success it relies on using two of the very best of the new roses – the Knockout Rose and the Drift Rose. These very different plants share some things in common. First and foremost, they are easy to grow. They are resistant to the common rose diseases of black spot and mildew, that kept old-time growers out each week spraying chemicals around – you can forget about that chore. Secondly, they grow so vigorously that even the regular pests can’t take hold, so they shouldn’t bother you either. Result? Beautiful blooms without nasty sprays.
Best of all though is how these new roses keep on blooming and blooming from late spring, right into the fall, without letting up. It is this endless succession of blooms that has drawn us back into rose growing, after many gave it up as too unrewarding. With some simple care you will always have blooms on your bushes, and your two-level roses will always look fantastic
What is Two-level Rose Planting?
Here is what we are going to do. The Knockout Rose is available as a beautiful tree that stand on a sturdy trunk about 2 feet tall. With a 3-foot bush on top, that gives you a perfect, eye-level 5-foot tall plant, constantly smothered in blooms. The Drift Roses grow about 18 inches tall, so we are going to plant them beneath the Knockout Rose trees, to create a fabulous two-level look that is a solid, 5-foot wall of roses – wow!
An alternative, not quite so dramatic look can be created by planting regular Knockout Roses, which grow to 3 or 4 feet tall, behind Drift Roses. This still creates a fabulous ‘split-level’ planting, and it has the advantage of more color choices, since the tree Knockout Roses normally only come in pink or red.
Speaking of color, as you will can see immediately, this planting approach gives us some great possibilities for color arrangements. Classic color combinations like red and white are easy. Solid colors of red and red, or pink and pink will always be winners. More sophisticated combinations might be pink and peach, or red and creamy yellow. Look at the many varieties of these roses available and see what stunning combination appeals most to you.
How to Create Your Two-level Rose Planting
You can do this arrangement in a small way, with just one Knockout Rose Tree, and 3 or 4 Drift Roses, in a bed, or in a planter. You can have a beautiful pair of planters to frame a doorway or entrance, or at the end of a walkway. You can also go for a bigger scale, and create a row along a fence, or bordering a walk or driveway. The spacing you use when planting in beds is important, and it will affect the final look. If you space the Knockout Tree Roses on 3-foot centers, the effect will be like an elevated hedge. Wider spacing – up to 8 feet apart, will make more of an avenue, with each plant standing proudly visible. For the Drift roses you want a solid ground-cover effect, so go with closer spacing. Most of the drift roses have a wider spread than their height, so 2 feet apart will give you a very solid drift, but you could go as much as 3 feet apart, and still have a good, flowing look.
For container planting, you need a good-sized box or large pot. Planters that are 24 inches in diameter would be excellent, and they would accommodate one Knockout Rose Tree and three Drift Roses for a round planter, and four in a square one. Plant the Drift Roses close to the edge, so they spill over the sides. There is a rule for planters used by the professionals, called ‘thriller-spiller-filler’. One exciting plant, trailing plants, and bulky plants to fill the planter. This Knockout/Drift combination satisfies all three, since the Knockout Rose Tree is the ‘thriller’, and the Drift Roses are both ‘spiller’ and ‘filler’.
Care of your Two-level Rose Planting
Roses are ‘heavy feeders’, so use slow-release rose food for garden plantings. These save the work of regular feeding, as they last all season, but you can also use regular rose food, in a granular or liquid form. Mulch your plants in fall or spring with rich organic material, like compost or rotted manures – roses love this.
Regular watering is important too, as roses will stop blooming if they become dry at the roots, even though the bush itself will survive moderate drought, once established. For a row planting, putting a trickle hose along the row will make watering easy. Overhead watering is not so good, as it can damage the blooms, but it is better than letting your plants dry out.
For containers, add about one-third garden soil to regular potting mix – preferable one designed for outdoor planters – as roses like richer soil. Water when the top inch of soil has dried, which could be daily during very hot weather. Liquid fertilizer will give the best results in containers, feeding every two weeks through the season, but stopping in early fall to give your plants time to prepare for winter. In colder zones, once the leaves have fallen from the bushes, store containers in a cold place, like a shed or garage, as the roots are more sensitive to cold than the branches.
In spring, some trimming of your planting will help it grow beautifully in the next season. For your Knockout Roses, remove any very weak branches, and trim back the main stems to an outward-facing bud. Be careful to only prune the crown of your bush, and don’t cut back into the trunk, which is another type of rose. Don’t allow that trunk to sprout either – rub off any sprouts as they occur. The Drift Roses just need some light trimming, leaving the strongest branches with a few inches taken from the tips.
Now you can gaze out on your planters or beds and see a beautiful two-level rose display from late spring into fall – beautiful roses for so little work!