Thursday, April 15, 2010

Roses for the Pacific NW

My garden is pretty large (and seems to get larger all the time) so I am starting to truly appreciate plants that are low maintenance. That being said, I must confess…I love roses! Their color, fragrance and increasingly blowsy beauty as the flowers expand are without equal. The trick to easier maintenance is to find, if possible, roses that are suited to your own garden.   Rose characteristics to consider would include disease resRosa Violettesistance, mature size, cultural requirements, season of bloom, color that will compliment your garden, and fragrance. You must also consider your own characteristics. How much patience do you have for plant divas? What is your stance on chemicals in the garden?  How averse are you to pruning? In February?

If you choose to put your money on one of these lovelies, make sure your site has good drainage and at least 4-5 hours of sun. If you don’t have full sun, your rose options are limited and if you have mostly shade, you will need to enjoy your neighbor’s roses, because they aren’t going to grow in your garden. (Perhaps you can barter some hydrangea blossoms for your neighbor’s cut roses!)

Water regularly and deeply; frequency will vary with weather conditions.  Soaking is better than sprinkling; if you overhead water, finish early in the day to provide time for the leaves to dry completely. It is a good idea to provide good air circulation and remove fallen leaves to help prevent disease.

Keeping 2-3” layer of compost mulch over the root zone of roses year round will help keep soil moist and cool during summer, prevent frost heave in winter, and lessen soil compaction andRosa Sterling Silver weed growth.

Prune established hybrid teas and floribundas around Presidents Day,  removing dead or small twiggy growth, leaving 3-5 strong healthy canes to a plant height of about 18”.  Try to prune back to an outward facing bud to maintain spreading, open growth. 

Don’t prune climbers until after the heavy spring bloom, then remove only the oldest canes and cut back the healthy, vigorous canes no more than 1/3.  Remove spent blooms throughout the season from all rose varieties, cutting back to the first 5 leaflet cluster.

Some rose growers are strong advocates for using Epsom salts, claiming improved plant health and stronger growth. If you want to try this, either mix ½ cup of Epsom salts into the soil around the rose bush and water well or dissolve ½ cup of the salts in water and use to water the rose bush. Do this in the spring, just as the buds are beginning to open. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate; both magnesium and sulfur are important trace minerals for plants. For optimum growth, roses need high levels of magnesium which tends to be lacking in the Pacific NW.  Testers have reported greener foliage, bushier plants and more blooms with Epsom salts over control plants.

The only pest I encounter on my roses is aphids. My quick fix is to spray them with a sharp stream from the hose. My long term solution is natural predators; my favorite is the hummingbird. Anna’s hummingbirds overwinter in our area so they are always on patrol. They eat a prodigious number of aphids and other pests-such as mosquitoes. Attract them to your yard by including plants they favor in your garden and putting out syrup for them.

Some gardeners prefer to put their roses together for ease of spraying and pruning. One disadvantage to creating a rose clique is that you set out a smörgåsbord for serious rose pests such as Japanese beetles. With so many host plants together, your pest population is likely to skyrocket. Similarly, diseases like black spot spread from one rose to another, so if they are close together, it is harder to control.  I preRosa Just Joeyfer not to use chemicals on my roses and I have a limited number so pruning is not a chore. I like to scatter my roses among the other shrubs and  perennials in my mixed borders. It is comparable to choosing between a dozen roses or a mixed bouquet, both are lovely.

If you have enough sun and enough patience, run for the roses. They are worth the trouble!

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