Photo of “Bill Warrner Rose” by Irene Roth
Growing roses is a challenge. They are not easy and simple like so many annuals and perennials we commonly grow in our gardens. Just when one thinks the “magical formula” is in hand it eludes us again. Finding solutions in the garden is often like detective work. I discovered something about the manure I had been buying. It was no longer manure. On close inspection it was apparent that the ‘composted manure’ was in reality finely ground wood chips with very little actual manure in it. Some manure even had high levels of sand in them. I suspect that true manure from farms and livestock sources are of good quality and worth seeking out.
And this is just what I did. I found the local horse stables and bagged volumes of free horse manure. I had not used horse manure before but thought it was worth a try. Having spaded out the composted manure (aged underneath the layers of fresh material), I inspected closely and discovered rich, dark organic material. Another bonus to this type of manure is the almost odorless nature. And yes, this was the answer to my problems. My roses responded beautifully. It was as if they had been given a new lease on life. This last summer I had a lush, bloom filled rose garden once again.
There have been other mistakes and miscalculations in the rose garden. On one hand I have read that roses should not be pruned until early spring. And yet I have seen roses pruned by the end of November. Of course, once-blooming climbers should only be pruned after blooming. This is not the issue here. I only speak of the average roses that need pruning for health and vigor. I found out the hard way that roses are best pruned before winter. One year I had left the roses as were with the intention of a good spring prune in February. I discovered, after nasty wind storms and some heavy snowfalls, that many long and thick canes had broken off at their bases. I realized that had I pruned them down by one third at least before winter, they would not have been damaged so severely.
Another error in judgement is proximity of planting. The roses most closely planted together, especially in areas of poor air circulation, seem to develop disease problems. It is akin to a small room filled with sick people passing their bacteria to one another. Roses pass their fungal diseases (black spot, mildew and rust) along readily in poor conditions. In addition to proximity planting with one another is the problem of proximity planting with other aggressive plants. I discovered that roses planted near particular trees and shrubs began to decrease in vitality. Deciding to move them I found greedy tree roots intertwined with the more delicate rose roots in competition for the rich soil.
Regarding the various challenges involved in rose gardening, most problems have found solutions. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is still the “battle of the bug.” I prefer organic, pesticide-free gardening as I utilize my roses in various cosmetic and culinary preparations. I often do the distasteful thing: hand picking and hand squeezing. I have tried various concoctions of soap and mouthwash. They work for a short while but wash off in the rain. Ultimately I have learned the insect cycles and find that if I can pick them off at certain times, I can eliminate the problem. Thank goodness I have the assistance of the lady-bugs and birds
From simple beginnings nine years ago to a garden with over 50 species and varieties of roses, both old-fashioned and modern, I have come to learn about and appreciate the complexity and needs of roses. Through trial and error there is ultimate success and it is worth it. (By Andrea Grant)