I often hear people say they can’t grow roses without chemicals, and to them I say “phooey!” Actually, I say, “of course you can!” All it takes is a little intelligence, and really not much effort at all.
The main thing is to start with root-grown roses, which is to say, roses that haven’t been grafted on to a different rootstock. If they die back, the roots will produce the same rose that died, not some random thorny rootstock. My best source is The Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. They rock! But my favorite rose comes from my mother in law’s garden. Because hers are old and root-grown, I’ve been able to transplant many into my garden. The smell is divine (in fact, an antique-rose specialist identified them as Belladona).
Roses also love compost, and horse poop, too. Plop some around the plant’s base every spring, if you are feeling up to it. Planting a little garlic around the base never hurt, either—it is said that garlic keeps vampires away, even from roses!
Most pests on roses are either weather-related or health-related. Black spot is kind of like blight—it’s caused by too much dampness and rain. Cleaning up dead leaves and pruning back dead branches in the spring will help keep your roses pretty and fresh. If you have Japanese beetles, just pluck them off and drown them in a jar of soapy water. If you have aphids, spray them off with some soapy water or a hard spray from the hose. Again, apply compost and make sure your roses are fully fed a good organic meal and planted in a happy spot—not too much shade.
That’s about it. Here are some pictures of roses from my garden this year. They are blooming earlier than usual—must be global warming!