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Article: Rose Gardening Tips with Denise Speer

Rose Gardening Tips with Denise Speer

Rose Gardening Tips with Denise Speer

After spending nearly 30 years as a dental hygienist, Denise Speer was ready to turn her passion into a profession. Drawn to roses since childhood, Denise has always had a rose bush, or two around. She began volunteering at the Mission Rose Garden in 2001 and started a small custom rose care business three years ago. In February Denise took the leap and began pursuing rose gardening full time. Upon first glance, clad in our DIANI Living apron, Outback Hat, Floral Twill Gloves and knee deep in rose bushes with a smile on her face, I couldn’t imagine Denise doing anything else.

I first met Denise at DIANI Living, a spot she frequents to restock on gardening gear, and after a brief chat I quickly learned about her love and talent for rose gardening. Her enthusiasm was contagious, which made me even more excited for our recent get together at the Mission Rose Garden to chat about her favorite rose gardening tips and tricks.

How did you first get into rose gardening?

I was first exposed to rose gardening while growing up, as my grandfather and father both had rose gardens. After I got married I bought my first two roses and put them in pots. Before I knew it, our patio was covered with over 20 rose bushes that needed to be transplanted into the ground so we could fit the bbq back into the patio!

What does your day-to-day look like as a volunteer at the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden?

I started as a volunteer in 2001. As a volunteer at the Mission Rose Garden (formally called the A.C. Postel Rose Garden) I am assigned to a particular bed of roses where I do weekly rose maintenance – deadheading, removing of diseased leaves, pulling weeds, and pruning as needed.

You also provide custom rose care, what does that entail?

When I thought about changing careers, I asked myself “what do I really love to do?” The answer came right away. I love working with the roses in the garden. In 2016 I started a small business providing custom rose care for clients. I start with a consultation where I ask what the clients’ needs/goals are for their garden and what challenges they have had. I look at the health of the roses, where they’re located, how much sun they are getting, how much water they are receiving, what they are feeding the roses and how often. Then I give recommendations based on their particular needs. I offer weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly maintenance, fertilizing, trouble shooting for pests and diseases, and winter pruning.

What is your favorite type of rose bush?

It is impossible to pick a favorite rose! It is usually the one I am working with at the moment. Although I really love a rose that has fragrance, and there are many!

When is the best time and where is the best place to plant a rose bush?

The best time to plant a bare root rose is during the dormant season. January and February are prime planting months for our area. For container grown roses the best time to plant is Spring, because they have will have the entire growing season ahead in which to get established. Although, they can be successfully planted as late as the Fall. The best place to plant a rose is where it will receive at least 6-8 hours of sun and preferably not under a tree as the tree roots will compete for space and water.

What are some of your favorite all natural pest controllers?

I like to choose organic methods for pest control. Starting with something as simple as Insecticidal Soap (a spray you can make yourself!) as well as organic products for insects and fungal diseases, such as Neem Oil and others you can purchase at Island Seed and Feed locally.

Which rose gardening tools can you not live without?

I cannot live without my Felco pruners, sharpening tool, Hori Hori garden knife (for weeding), and hand saw. Just to name a few.

Roses are blooming all over Santa Barbara County, what’s the best way to maintain them?

The best way to maintain your roses is to give them your love and attention very regularly. Assuming you have given them sunshine, water, and food. I also like to feed the roses with a good organic fertilizer. It can be found at Island Seed and Feed in Goleta. Just ask for the Dan Bifano Cocktail mix for roses. Dan is a local, master rosarian who created Oprah’s rose garden in Santa Barbara and is a great guy!

We love to display roses in our DIANI Living vases. Is there a certain way to cut the stems? And what’s the best way to keep them fresh?

For cut stems it’s good to cut the stem at an angle to expose as much of the stem as possible to the water. Change the water and re-cut the stems daily for longest vase life. You can also use a small amount of floral preservative each time you change the water.

Once blooming season is over, how do you recommend caring for your rose bushes?

In our mild climate roses will bloom year round. We like to let the roses “rest” in the late fall, meaning: we will not deadhead the roses starting in November and let them go to rose hips. We will continue to keep the garden tidy by pulling weeds and removing diseased leaves. We will then winter prune them in January or as late as February.

You also teach pruning and rose education classes, tell us more about that.

At the Mission Rose Garden annual winter pruning day, locals can get hands on instruction from local rosarians and help prune the garden. It’s fun and great for people wanting to learn how to prune their roses. Also, we are always looking for volunteers who are interested in helping out at the garden. It’s very rewarding, therapeutic, and a lot of fun. It only requires an hour a week of your time.

I like to teach people how to care for their roses and periodically give classes on how to prune, etc. I also teach clients how to care for their roses and some like to work with me while I’m in their garden.

What advice would you give for the first time rose gardener?

For people who haven’t grown roses before, I would recommend attending the local SB Rose Society Meetings where you can learn all kinds of great info about growing roses. There is also a website provided by the SBRS where you can find a lot of great info as well. I would also highly recommend buying roses that are disease resistant, so you will have less diseases and pests to deal with. Another good thing is to walk around our local rose garden and see and smell the roses to find out which ones catch your eye. You will also notice their growth habit (how tall and wide they get). They are all different.

Thank you Denise! It was such a pleasure meeting you and picking up a few of your rose gardening tips along the way. It’s people like you that make Santa Barbara such a special place to live and work. You bring color and joy to your visits to DIANI Living and to my blog and now to all our readers. We so appreciate the time you gave us and for all the wonderful things you do in the community and in the lovely world of roses. If you would like to learn more about Denise’s custom rose care services email


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