UPDATE: I no longer use Bayer products or any other type of herbicide or pesticide. I haven’t since 2008. As Maya Angelou says, “When we learn better, we do better.”
My friend, Dollybelle, sent me an email the other day, and I’ve thought about it ever since. Back and forth, we discussed our gardens and what was going on in our garden club. We’re both officers in the Central Oklahoma Hemerocallis Society (i.e., long name for daylily club.)
Her garden is a lovely one located in a town near here, and mine is rural. Yet, we grow similar things. We both like the English cottage style, and we both grow lots of roses, perennials and daylilies.
She might not realize it, but over the last three years, she taught me many things, including to use Milorganite on my daylilies. I was reluctant at first. Milorganite was expensive, and my garden was so large that I relied upon what I could achieve with leaf mold and manure. However, after touring her daylily garden, which was on the American Hemerocallis Society’s Regional Convention tour, and after she won two of the top prizes, I decided Milorganite deserved a try. My daylilies have never been more robust, although for the first few days, my garden smelled like a sewage treatment plant.
She was also the first person I knew who grew Rudbeckia maxima, an amazing coneflower which topped out at over six feet. I bought two plants at Bustani Plant Farm this year.
At the end of her email, this amazing gardener, for whom I have so much respect, asked me to tell her how I grow roses. What were my secrets?
I don’t think I have any, and I don’t always succeed. I have a new rose, ‘Mardi Gras,’ which is very unhappy. Although it’s an AARS winner, and I’ve given it every advantage, it may die. That’s the thing about gardening. It keeps me humble. Good or bad, some things just don’t survive.
However, in light of Dollybelle’s question, here are my best rose growing tips:
1. Plant your new roses in good soil. Don’t just use standard garden soil unless you have amended it for some time. I would suggest Miracle Grow Organic Choice since we can no longer find their rose soil locally. I mix it with my garden soil. Or, if I’m planting in a richly amended area, I use Back to Nature compost, assuming I’ve run out of homemade compost. Roses are extremely heavy feeders, so at the bottom of the hole, I also mix in some kind of flower fertilizer. I like Osmocote, but any long acting fertilizer is fine. I then backfill the hole with the amended soil. I tamp down the hole with my foot because you want good soil contact with the roots.
2. After I plant the rose, I top it off with alfalfa pellets, which I mix into the topsoil. This is a new addition for me this year. Then, I mix water with Garden-Ville’s Sea Tea (a mix of “Compost tea, Fish emulsion, Molasses, Humic acid, Phosphoric acid, Nutri-Leaf Soluble Fertilizer and Acadian Seaweed Extract”) in my watering can, and I water it in. I do not have a particular ratio. I just pour some on the bottom of a two and a half gallon watering can and fill it with water.
3. Following with more water, I watch for any holes in the soil around the rose. Holes mean air pockets, and you don’t want those. The Sea Tea helps with transplant shock or any other stress. In fact, I do this with all my transplants. Garden-Ville is this cool organic place in Austin and San Antonio. We went there on vacation when the head gardener at Antique Rose Emporium suggested I visit. We hauled the Sea Tea all the way home from San Antonio. Thank goodness the bottle didn’t spill. I’ve had the same gallon for several years. Apparently, it never goes bad.
4. I top it with some mulch. Mulch is essential for keeping roots cool and maintaining consistent soil moisture. It also keeps soil from splashing up onto the leaves. That lessens blackspot (a huge problem in Oklahoma.) One day, I’ll write a post about mulch, because I use several different kinds. I like those which degrade into the soil in a season or two. Just use whatever you like best.
5. For general rose care, I use Bayer All in One on my most demanding roses, the ones which should be in rose nursing homes like: ‘Madame Isaac Pereire,’ ‘Baronne Prevost’ (at left,) most of my David Austin roses, ‘Reines des Violettes,’ Mystery Rose I (apricot) and Mystery Rose II (pink.) This keeps me from spraying as much as possible. I usually wait out mildew, but if blackspot is horrible (and some years it is,) I spray Ortho Garden Disease Control (formerly known as Daconil.) I try to limit the use of both of these because they are chemicals and not organic. If you want to spray organically, you can try copper, but you’ll need a sticking agent. Otherwise, copper washes right off. In the early spring, you can spray rose canes with lime sulphur. It smells, but it helps to control blackspot and mildew. I’d like to try Rose Pharm, which is advertised as a natural insecticide, miticide and fungicide, but it has a lot of oil, which might burn the leaves. They say to apply it in the evening.
6. I water my roses with soaker hoses. Someday, I will get a irrigation system, but I will still not overhead water my rose beds with sprinklers. I will use bubblers because getting the leaves wet is the first step in blackspot and mildew problems.
7. I keep an eye on the roses by walking around every evening and deadheading. To deadhead, you clip off the blown (fully bloomed) rose at the first five leaf cluster. With some cultivars, like ‘Belinda’s Dream,’ you can snap them off instead of using clippers. Deadheading is important because it tells the rose to produce another batch of blooms if it is remontant. If it only blooms once, it stops the rose from producing rosehips which, although pretty, sap energy from the plant.
Much of garden care is just watching, observing the plants, seeing how they interact with each other and their climate. Right now, ‘Carefree Sunshine’ is crowding ‘About Face’ so I’ll probably need to move ‘About Face’ next February. It won’t hurt it this summer.
As to pests, I watch out for aphids, which I blast off with a shot of water unless there are ladybugs on the bush. Ladybugs or ladybeetles will eliminate the aphids for me if I give them time.
When I was a novice gardener, it was very hard for me to wait on anything. I wanted all colors blooming all the time, and I was terrified if I saw any kind of pest. Now, I’ve realized a border filled with only annuals makes for a boring landscape, and most pests take care of themselves.
That’s all my rosey secrets for the day. What about yours? Do you have any garden secrets you’d like to share?