I didn’t realized how long it had been since my last blog post…I’ve been busy this past week with other things. Other than looking through the seed catalogs that are starting to pile up, it’s hard to think of gardening right now. It’s so gray and well, ugly. That is, until I had some old slide film developed and found some rose pictures that cheered me up.
These are the roses that line our back steps. They’re actually our neighbor’s roses. She wanted to pull them out…she thought they were too unruly…but we begged her to leave them and she agreed, so long as we let the roses use our stair-rail as a trellis. These aren’t very special roses I think–just some plain old garden-variety creepers. (Get it, garden-variety?)
Garden variety or not, roses have long been valued and admired for their beauty, fragrance and symbolism. That’s why for so many home gardeners, beautiful roses are the “holy grail” of the garden. Beautiful roses may seem to some like the result of a lot of hard work—or is it just good luck? It may well be a little bit of both. But there are a few tips to ensure beautiful and productive rose plants.
Start out with a good growing medium. If your soil is like mine–sandy soil that dries out very quickly because it lacks an abundance of organic material–you’ll need to add a soil amendment that’s high in organic matter. Good examples are compost or manure—just make sure it’s not too fresh or “hot” as it can burn your plants.
Roses like acidic soil. It doesn’t matter how much you fertilizer you add—if the soil is too alkaline or too acidic, the nutrients will be bound in the soil and won’t be available to flowers. In soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0, important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are easily available to the plants. If you aren’t sure of your soil’s pH, have it tested and take the necessary steps to make sure its pH is in the ideal range.
Once you’ve worked a good helping of compost into your soil and made sure it has the right pH, you’re ready to plant. The best time to plant is early spring or summer. Time to start thinking ahead to warmer weather!
With roses, you shouldn’t settle for second-best—buy the highest quality plants that you can afford. This means that you’ll save yourself a lot of time, energy, and disappointment if you drive past the big-box discount nurseries and buy roses from a reputable, high-end nursery. Excellent quality roses are available via mail-order as well. So scout around and know and trust the source of your rose plants.
You must plant your roses where they’ll receive at last six hours of sun each day—eight is preferable. If you’re a shade gardener, there are a few tricks that you can try. Rose varieties with fewer petals will tolerate shade better than those with heavy petals. And since the amount of sun affects the rose’s color, vibrant roses tend to look washed-out in shady areas.
Rose bushes should be planted between 12-18 inches apart; climbing roses can be 8-12 inches from each other. Mulch well after planting to help the soil retain water. Mulch also adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down.
In general, roses are hungry, thirsty plants. They need fertilizing throughout the growing and flowering seasons. A general purpose fertilizer with a NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 provides a the best balance of nutrients. Organic rose fertilizer is available as well.
Feed an established rose bush a cup of fertilizer once a month, starting at the beginning of May and continuing through August.
Because the soil here is so sandy, it drains very drain so easily. So it’s hard to over-water roses here. As with most trees and shrubs, water roses deeply, once a week. Plan on giving each plant around five gallons weekly. Use your best judgment—they may need more in a drought or heat wave.
If you’ve chosen what’s known as a repeat-flowering rose variety, you can extend its flowering season by removing (deadheading) the spent flowers. Pruning is not done until late winter or early spring—before spring growth.
Much is made of the variety of fungi, molds, and other diseases that attack and feast on roses. Black spot, powdery mildew and downy mildew are common rose diseases in this area. Black spot is characterized by round, black leaf spots that eventually cause leaves to turn yellow and drop off. A powdery white or gray coating on leaves that causes them to distort is the primary symptom of powdery mildew. Overly moist conditions can cause downy mildew, which is distinguished by purple, brown or red blotches on leaves, stems or flowers. Eventually infected areas will turn yellow and fall off.
The best defense against these and other rose diseases is to plant one of the many disease-resistant rose varieties that are now available. If you’re trying to protect an existing rose plant that’s not disease resistant, try an organic method of control. The most important thing to do is remove the infected parts of the plant as soon as you notice a problem. Some gardeners use a spray of baking soda and soap to control mildews.
Many insects can be removed from roses by spraying regularly with soapy water. Non-insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are also available.
Growing beautiful roses involves a little work, a little luck, and a lot of knowledge about what kinds of conditions roses need to be healthy and happy!