As with any hobby, the more we dabble, the larger our collection grows. Gardeners can never have too many plants, and they always find a spot for those specimens bought on a whim.

Rose gardeners are no different, frequently adding new cultivars to their ever-growing gardens. Roses are such a diverse species, which allows the grower to try all shapes and sizes and work them into their landscapes and gardens in different ways.

Steve Lawson, the current president of the Winston-Salem Rose Society, has been growing roses for 15 years. His rose garden began simply enough, and quickly escalated into a passionate horticultural hobby.

“I bought a rose bush at Walmart for a dollar, planted it in the yard and I didn’t kill it. It actually grew,” Lawson said. “So I bought another one and another one and another one and the next thing you know, I had 10. So I decided I was going to take the roses to the fair and exhibit them. I won three blue ribbons, and once you win a blue ribbon, you’re hooked.”

Since his first wins, Lawson has won many more times over the years, as he exhibits his roses at rose shows all around the East Coast. When he’s not exhibiting, he’s serving as a judge for rose shows. This Saturday, he will be exhibiting at the Winston-Salem Rose Society’s 57th Annual Rose Show.

In a recent conversation with Lawson, he offered lots of suggestions regarding how to best care for roses, maximize their bloom and when to harvest for exhibiting. A rose show is not just for experienced rose growers, Lawson stressed, but is an opportunity for any home gardener to show off their garden’s glory.

“A lot of these folks follow the circuit, they’re big exhibitors and hybridizers. But also we have classes in the show for novices, people that have never won a blue ribbon in a show. They compete against other novices. And the whole idea is to encourage them to grow and show their roses.”

Anyone who has ever grown a rose knows that they need a little more attention than the average landscape shrub. They are heavy feeders and drinkers, and need to have a lot of food and water during the growing season to maximize their potential. They are also targets for pests and disease, which can easily be controlled with a maintenance schedule.

For the average gardener with just a few roses, there are 3-in-1 products to take care of fertilizer, damaging insects and diseases. These products are available at hardware stores or garden centers and couldn’t be easier to use. You just dilute the product in water and pour around the base of your roses.

More specialized growers, including Lawson, use their own spray formulas for pests and disease, which is more practical for hundreds of roses. As for fertilizer, Lawson relies on both synthetic and organics to feed his 250 roses. He uses a 18-9-9 formula, which he follows up with a combination of blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and fish meal. He also feeds weekly with liquid fish emulsion.

“It’s more important that they get a consistent source of food than massive amounts of food at once,” Lawson said.

If you’re interested in growing a diverse selection of roses but don’t have the real estate, consider creating a rose garden using containers. Lawson transitioned his roses from the landscape into pots, and has had great success.

“I have 250 roses. I live on the north end of town where the belt line is going, so I had to move them. I put some in containers and then the ones in containers were doing better than the ones in the ground. You can control the environment better in containers. And then when the winter comes, I get a cart and roll them into the garage to protect them.”

If you choose to plant roses in containers, keep in mind that you’ll have to water a little more, and give protection in the winter. Other than that, care is the same.

When choosing roses for your home garden, there are many different forms and varieties. There are climbers, minis, mini-floras, floribundas, shrub roses, David Austin roses and hybrid teas. And no matter which you choose, you can find a way to exhibit the roses. Lawson mentioned that the newer the variety, the more attention a rose gets at a show.

“Some (roses) I like to exhibit and some are old favorites that I grow just because I love it,” Lawson said. “For example, there’s a rose called Mr. Lincoln. Well, 30 years ago, it used to win the top awards. It doesn’t anymore, because judges want to see the newest and latest. But the smell is intoxicating.”

If you’re interested in exhibiting roses, you have to plan ahead. Most growers will look at the date of a rose show and prune their roses six weeks beforehand. For tomorrow’s show, Lawson pruned in mid-April to ensure that he would have plenty of blooms from which to choose. It’s also handy to know which classes you want to enter, to anticipate which blooms will best fit the bill.

As for harvesting roses for a show, Lawson said that form, color and integrity are best preserved within the first day of cutting. But quite often you have to harvest when you see the perfect rose.

“Bob Martin, former president of ARS (American Rose Society), he says the roses that win are cut within 24 hours of the show,” Lawson said. “What most people do, is they start cutting a week out. It’s a gamble, but if you don’t do it, you may not have that rose. I won the queen of the show with a rose I cut eight days before. That’s very unusual. Chances are you’re gonna win with a rose that was cut 24 hours before the show.”

Lawson and other local society members speculate that the hot temperatures the last two weeks will effect the entries in this year’s rose show. Roses don’t care for the extremely hot weather we’ve had the last two weeks, and prefer temperatures between 75 to 80 degrees. During periods of extreme heat, implementing a shade structure or moving containerized roses to a more shady site is helpful to preserve the integrity of the blooms.

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If you have a gardening question or story idea, write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101or send an email to her attention to Put gardening in the subject line. Find Amy Dixon on Facebook at

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