The key to growing roses of any kind is to give them a proper home. They need a planting site that gets at least six hours of sun a day and offers rich soil with good drainage. If you've got the sun but not the soil, you'll have to do a little amending. And here's where I begin to over-simplify things, much to the chagrin of rose devotees. No homemade rose mixes here.
Buy some professional rose soil. It comes by the bag or in bulk, and it's labeled "Rose Soil." This is normally a perfect mix of soil, sand and humus for a rose garden. The next simple step is to make a raised bed with the rose soil. It is recommended that it stand wight to 10 inches tall, full of rose soil. Rose roots grow laterally and shallow, so making a raised bed of the right kind of soil is key. Another trick of the trade to help abate weeds and unwanted grass, is to lay four to eight sheets of newspaper on the ground where you make your raised bed.
ROSE CARE PRACTICES Now let's care for them. And let's over-simplify this segment, too. Since I wanted to write this article about pruning, let's start there; then I will discuss the feeding, fungal controls and insect controls as well. Pruning controls the size and shape of roses and keeps the modern varieties blooming repeatedly all summer long, as they flower on new growth. Well-established varieties of modern rose bushes such as hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras, should receive a major pruning each spring after the winter protection has been removed and just as the buds begin to swell. For us, that's usually about Valentine's Day. (Roses ... Valentine's Day ... it's a perfect correlation, if you ask me.) All that's needed otherwise during the growing season is to remove and destroy any diseased foliage or canes, and to "dead-head" or remove the faded flowers, cutting their stems just above the first leaf with five leaflets. Most old-fashioned and species roses, as well as the climbers that bloom only once a year, flower on wood from the previous year's growth. They are pruned right after flowering. Annual heavy pruning is essential to ensure the prolific bloom and long life of a rose bush. There are two times a year when you prune more seriously, spring and fall. But pruning of roses is actually done year round. Every time you cut off old blooms and remove twiggy growth you are actually promoting new growth. Explaining the concept of rose pruning without a live bush on which to demonstrate is difficult, but try to visualize the following steps.
The first step in the spring pruning of hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas and climbing roses is to remove any canes that are dead or just old and non-productive. These canes are usually gray in color and scaley. To prune hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, follow certain principles including:
- Prune high for more flowers earlier, or low for fewer, bigger flowers later
- Prune to remove weak and crisscrossing canes
- Remove growth an inch below a canker
- Cut damaged, dead or broken canes back to healthy growth
- Remove sucker growth as close as possible to main root.
Cut back canes and growth to a point where you have five or six healthy canes 12-18 inches long that, together, form a "vase-like" structure.
Floribundas are usually not pruned as severely as hybrid teas. Even so, be sure to cut any dead, broken, damaged or blotched branches back to where the pith, or center of the cane, is white and healthy looking. Next, remove weak, spindly canes, canes growing toward the center of the bush, the weaker of two canes that crisscross, canes that grow out then up, and suckers. Finally, trim all remaining canes back to one-half their former height.
Miniatures - In the spring, it is best to cut miniatures almost down to the ground (i.e., 2-3 inches). Moreover, if they are over three years old, it is a good idea to divide them by cutting the whole plant in half or more. Be sure to leave some roots on each division.
Old-fashioned (Antique) and shrubs - Remove any dead canes, and lightly trim the remainder of the bush, removing about a third of the growth. Mass blooming is the aim with these roses. Additional light grooming throughout the year is encouraged, since ever-blooming varieties flower on new wood. Varieties that bloom only once during the season should be pruned AFTER they have bloomed, since they bloom on old wood.
PEST- AND DISEASE-CONTROL Many gardeners avoid planting roses because they've heard the plants suffer from dreaded pests and diseases. To some extent, that's true. But you can take steps to prevent problems before they ever start. Pest problems can be controlled with routine applications of insecticidal soap, which kills most of the insects that attack roses, including aphids, leafhoppers and spider mites. You can also prevent attacks by many of these bugs by using a systemic insecticide (unless you're organic in your practices) or by feeding them a systemic rose food, which I'll discuss later. Fungal diseases such as black spot, powdery mildew and rust can do serious damage to roses, but regular treatments with fungicides, beginning just as the buds begin to swell in early spring and continuing throughout the growing season, will prevent them. Many rosarians in Houston use over-the-counter fungicides like Funginex on a weekly basis. Others, like Fertilome Liquid Systemic Fungicide and Alliette, need only to be applied every two weeks. And there's always the homemade recipe: Mix one tablespoon of baking soda and 2½ tablespoons of highly refined horticultural oil in one gallon of water. Spray a little on lower leaves before covering the entire plant to make sure it doesn't burn the foliage. If it does, use half as much baking soda. That's it. Apply once a week for optimum control.
FEEDING For simplified feeding, just remember this: roses are HEAVY FEEDERS! Don't use bloom-boosters or super-phosphates on roses. They actually do fine with balanced food. Feeding is done once a month from March through September. Just read the label instructions for amounts. If you don't practice "organic" rose gardening, there is a product on the market known as Systemic Rose Food ... use it to feed the plants and prevent bugs in one step. And don't be surprised to find rose foods with a higher nitrogen (first number in the ratio) than what you think is necessary. Just remember that you need leaves to get blooms and the more nitrogen in the ratio, the better the plant's ability to produce green leaves.
This segment is in two parts. First, there is a description of rose. Second are suggestions from the Houston Rose Society for suggested varieties that consistently do well in the Houston area. It's hard for me to imagine a garden without a least one rose. But which rose? The choices today can be mind-boggling. Nurseries and catalogs offer hybrid teas, polyanthas, floribundas, grandifloras, climbers, miniatures, tree roses and shrub roses. It's easy to be confused and wonder which are best for your garden. Here's a rundown that might help.
Hybrid Teas - These are the classic among all kinds of roses; they are often called monthly or ever-blooming roses. They are the result of crossing two old-fashioned rose classes, the hybrid perpetual and the tea rose from China which gave the repeat-blooming trait.
Floribundas -The floribundas originated from crossing the hybrid tea with polyantha roses. They're compact plants that produce more flowers per stem and tend to bloom all summer long, which is why they are very popular now. There are very few polyanthas on the market today because floribundas seem to have more appeal.
Grandifloras - This is a relatively new classification which resulted from crosses between hybrid tea and floribunda varieties. Grandifloras are usually very vigorous plants. Queen Elizabeth is probably the most popular rose in this class.
Climbing and Pillar Roses - Many of the popular varieties of the classes previously described have climbing forms. But it's interesting to note that climbers don't actually "climb." They do, however, produce canes that reach 20 feet in length, and those can be attached to walls, fences, lattice and trellises.
Old Garden Roses - This is really more of a generalized grouping than a class of roses. Included are China, hybrid perpetual, tea, moss, damask, bourbon and moisette roses. Recent years have seen considerable interest in many of these plants. Part of their popularity is due to nostalgia and interest in historical plantings. Old-rose enthusiasts quickly point to the superior fragrance, hardiness, growth-habit and disease-resistance of some of the old varieties that may have been lost or weakened in the hybridization process of newer varieties. Miniature Roses - Most of these plants are pint-sized versions of full-size plants that produce a profusion of flowers all summer long and do extremely well in containers. They grow no more than 16-36 inches high.
Houston Rose Society Suggested List
HYBRID TEA/GRANDIFLORA ROSES
Crystalline - White
Double Delight - Red
Elizabeth Taylor - Pink
First Prize -Pink
Gold Medal - Yellow
Moonstone - White
Timeless - Pink
Mister Lincoln - Red
Peace - Yellow
St. Patrick - Yellow
Touch of Class - Pink
Uncle Joe - Red
Veteran's Honor - Red
Angel Face - Purple
Euopeana - Red
First Edition - Orange
Iceberg - White
Playgirl - Pink
Sexy Rexy - Pink
Sunsprite - Yellow
Summer Fashion - Yellow
Child's Play - White
Fairhope - Yellow
Peaches & Cream - Pink
Rise & Shine - Yellow
Peggy T - Red
Starina - Orange/Red
OLD GARDEN ROSES
Archduke Charles - Red
Marchesa Boccella - Pink
Prosperity - White
Mutabillis - Yellow
Mrs. B. R. Cant - Pink
America - Pink
New Dawn - Pink
Don Juan - Red
By no means is this THE list. Or is it an all-inclusive list. That would be impossible, considering there are thousands of varieties available these days. These are just suggestions from The Houston Rose Society. For information on the organization, see www.houstonrose.org You may also wish to attend the society's monthly meetings on the second Thursday of each month at the Houston Garden Club in Hermann Park.