By Erica Hofmann, Presented at the February 2006 meeting
Select a rose that will fit in with your garden, do you want it to blend in or do you want to make a splash---the rose you choose will be very different. On the other hand you can do like the rest of us and buy one because it appeals to you at the nursery and then try to fit it into your garden. There’s always room for one more!!
Web sites are a good starting point. Some that I like are the rose section in www.helpmefind.com, www.pickeringnurseries.com www.oldheirloomroses.com have good sites, with excellent search capabilities. Another interesting one is www.hortico.com. In these sites you can search by type, colour, scent; even if you don’t buy roses from the sites they are a good place to start looking. Look for roses that are disease resistant, there’s nothing worse than having your plant full of blackspot or mildew and losing it’s leaves half-way through the summer.
Another starting point is a friend’s or acquaintance’s garden. If they are doing well there, chances are they will do well in your garden as well.
You will have to decide is how much time you are willing to invest in growing roses, the hybrid teas and grandifloras need to be protected in the winter, the hardy roses do not. You do lose and gain with either choice, different flowers, not as much fragrance, but less maintenance. It’s up to you.
When buying at a nursery, look for strong, green canes if they are in a package, same if they are potted, and make sure the leaves look fresh and healthy, no spots or bugs.
Roses, like any other plant, like to have good soil. In order to bloom they also require at least eight hours of sun. Plant them in a place where there is some movement of air to keep down mildew, but not where there is a lot of wind, as this will damage them over the winter.
They are not averse to clay, but do want to be well drained. Since my garden is very wet, I have raised all the beds; even being 4 inches above the rest of the garden seems to help. When I made the rose bed, I removed the sod, piled on lots of compost, sand, calcium and peat moss. All this was dug over by hand, then I rented a tiller and went over it several times. I also added lots of lime, which was a mistake; the clay offset the acidity in the peat moss so I had to add sulphur. That was five years ago, and the bed is doing well. This past Spring I decided to make another bed along the pool. This time I took the advice of Larry Hodgson and simply dug a narrow trench outlining the bed, layered newspaper on top of the grass inside the outline and put eight inches of topsoil on it. The three rosebushes that were already there did not mind at all, they did really well.
The ultimate size of the bush determines the distance between them. Before planting a bush, if it is in a package, trim any broken roots, soak the roots in a bucket of water with a bit of fertilizer while you are preparing the hole. Potted plants do not need this, but they do need to have their roots spread out if they are growing in a circle in the pot. Roots can be teased out gently by hand, or if the plant is very root bound, a couple of slashes with a sharp knife will do the trick. Remove the pot; even if it is peat, it will take years to dissolve (if ever). Dig a hole at least a foot across and deep enough so that the graft is 4-6 inches below soil level. This will protect the union during the winter months. Own root roses should be planted at the same depth as in the pot. Mix the soil you have taken out of the hole with peat moss and fertilizer, or with one of the commercially available planting mixes, put a handful of Epson salts in the bottom of the hole, (Epsom salts contain magnesium which roses need to bloom), add some of the mixed soil, place the rose bush, gently add earth all around. Hold on to the bush, compact the earth around it with your foot and add water mixed with a soluble fertilizer. Wait until the water has been absorbed, then add more of the mixed soil. Tamp it down again (but not too much). Trim any weak or broken branches to an outward pointing bud and wait for it to bloom.
Roses love to be fed, a shovel or two of compost a couple of times a year will do wonders. Rose food helps too. When I spray for bugs or disease in the summer I add soluble fertilizer to the mix. Do not feed after the end of July, to avoid having the bush put out shoots that will not harden before winter. After a year or so I occasionally dissolve a half cup of Epsom salts in a bucket of water and feed that to the bushes. Try to avoid wetting the leaves when watering, this encourages fungi to grow. A soaker hose is a good investment. If you must sprinkle, do it in the early morning so the leaves have a chance to dry.
I spray with dormant oil and lime sulphur twice a year, in the early spring before the buds break and again in the very late fall when the leaves are off (or not). I have only one bush that is really affected by black spot, and I keep it separate from the others, it regularly loses its leaves in the late summer, in spite of being sprayed, but comes back each spring. I’m too busy to spray regularly, so I rely on roses that are said to be healthy. If they don’t live up to my expectations I get rid of them. Baking Soda mixed with water and a bit of oil is also said to be a prevention for blackspot.
I check them every couple of days, to make sure there are no aphids, if I see a few I squash them or knock them off with a stream of water, if that doesn’t work I use one of the available sprays. Dropped leaves are removed; I have tried mulch, but found it to be a nuisance. I prefer to hoe the top of the soil every couple of weeks to keep down the weeds. Since there are maple trees on our property, I also dig the bed every second year to remove the maple roots. I stay about a foot away from the bushes with the spade.
In the late fall at the end of October or middle of November, I start to prepare the bushes for winter. Mostly this consists of tying the branches together so they will not break. Roses store nutrients in their branches over the winter, so the more branches you can over-winter, the stronger your plant will be. Any that are not hardy are protected once the ground is frozen which could be in December, or when I lose patience, or when a snowstorm is announced, whichever comes first. The large bushes are protected with leaves around the base and that white fabric, available at the hardware stores. The smaller ones get a rose cone, the plants do need to be cut back to fit into the cones, so I buy the larger size cone. A brick keeps the cones from flying away, and I make sure that the air holes are not blocked. It is very important to wait with putting the cones on until the last possible minute, since you do not want mildew forming inside. For that reason I also remove them very early in the spring, as soon as the snow allows me to do it.
Once the weather is warmer, usually in April, and before the buds break, I trim out any weak or crossed branches, and any dead wood. As I said before, always trim to an outward pointing bud, the plant should have an open centre, for air circulation. After that I spray with the dormant oil and lime sulphur mixture mentioned earlier. It cuts down the number of over-wintering insects dramatically.
Once the bushes start to produce leaves I check them again and trim any branches that are not alive.
Often what seems alive in April will have died by May.