Commonsense answers to common questions.
By Teri Dunn, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Savor the delight the day you bury your nose in a beautiful, sweetly scented rose blossom that you grew yourself.
Who can resist a rose's beauty? Maybe the question should be: What gardener can "easily" achieve the full beauty of a rose?
If misconceptions about the fussiness of roses are holding you back, reconsider. The truth is that they're no more difficult to grow than other flowering shrubs or perennials!
Using roses in landscapes has been simplified in recent years. Gone are the stiff beds with carpets of bark mulch. Current trends incorporate roses into mixed plantings, where they bring a romantic, cottage-garden charm. This tack has the side benefit of thwarting some of those pests and diseases that mass plantings are prone to. Plus, because most roses cycle in and out of bloom all summer, your displays get a reliable source of glorious color from neighboring plants.
Just to dispel the last of your doubts, and to usher you into the joys that await you, we've addressed the most common concerns below. Don't wait—make this your Year of the Rose.
Q: Do I have to spray my roses?
A: Not necessarily. It's untrue that all roses are high-maintenance plants that become afflicted with every pesky bug or leaf disease known to gardens. Rose merchants are well aware that modern-day gardeners are reluctant and too busy to blast their plants with chemicals on a regular basis, so merchants have worked to develop, find or improve tougher roses.
Find out what the common rose maladies are in your area and, if you don't want to spray for them, seek out resistant varieties. You will be pleasantly surprised at the array of lovely choices on the market these days. Also remember, if you take good care of your roses, they are less likely to be vulnerable to problems.
Should you get smitten with a rose that is susceptible to, for instance, black spot, and are willing to spray to prevent or reduce this unsightly disease, do make certain you buy the right product. Read labels carefully and follow the directions about application method, dose amount and timing to the letter—thus keeping spraying to a minimum while making it as effective as possible. And act early, before a problem gets out of hand.
As with combating pests and diseases in, say, a vegetable patch, you can choose to tolerate minor problems. Oftentimes, you can pinch off and dispose of unsightly rose foliage without spraying and continue to enjoy the beautiful blossoms.
Timing Is Everything
Q: When is the best time to prune a rosebush?
A: Early spring. A plant recovers very well from cutting at that time. Roots are awakening, sap is starting to flow and the plant will respond by generating a burst of new growth. (This is why fall pruning is a poor idea, by the way. Fresh new growth is tender, and the coming winter would likely damage or kill it.) The other reason is purely practical—in early spring, no leaves, buds or flowers are in your way. So you can clearly see opportunities to shape your plant.
A Sure Thing
Q: What is an "own-root" rose?
A: This is a current—and who knows how long-lasting—trend in roses. You'll see these plants labeled as such at garden centers, in catalogs and on the Web sites of specialty rose nurseries. An own-root rose is simply a plant that is growing on its own root system, a rooted cutting, "entirely itself." When a rose is not labeled one way or the other, don't assume—ask.
To explain more: In the past, "grafted" roses have been popular, particularly hybrid teas. These are attractive rose varieties that have been attached to a different rootstock, then grown for a season or more to "meld" and mature before being dug up and offered for sale. The advantages include uniformity, as well as cold or disease resistance thanks to the hardier rootstock.
In colder climates, grafted roses can be a challenge. If you neglect to protect the plant up to and including the graft (visible as a bump down low on the plant, just above the root system) with sufficient mulch, a harsh winter could kill the top, more desirable plant. That could leave you with an inferior or mystery plant. Unwanted suckers emerging from the rootstock can also be an issue (though they're easy enough to clip off). So gardeners in cold climates tend to prefer "own-root" roses or they often plant the graft 2 inches below the soil surface, knowing that no matter what winter dishes out, as long as the graft lives, the rose they thought they had will return the next spring.
To date, most own-root roses are shrub and hedge roses, some climbers, old-fashioned or "heirloom" types, and minis. If you want an own-root hybrid tea, that may take some looking. The transition has been incomplete because some hybrid teas turn out to be inferior on their own roots.
Q: What can I do to help my roses produce more flowers?
A: Right from the start, you can do your roses a big favor by planting them in a sunny spot. Roses are sun lovers and thrive on a minimum of 6 hours a day. Insufficient sunlight and shade cast by nearby trees or buildings will limit the formation of buds and, thus, flowers. While you're at it, make sure that each planting hole is loaded with good, organically rich soil—roses love that.
Also, take good care of your roses during the growing season, and they will repay you with a good show. Ample water is key. Forming buds need moisture to become plump and to unfurl and last on the plant. In addition, fertilizing often boosts productivity. Every 4 to 6 weeks is a good rule of thumb (use a product especially formulated for roses and follow label directions). In any event, consistency is very important. If your attention is sporadic, a plant can get stressed and either won't form as many buds or may dry or drop them before they ever even open.
Best Planting Option
Q: What's the better planting choice, a bare-root rose or a potted one?
A: For the most part, this is a lifestyle decision for you, as both types are worthwhile. Bare-root roses—which look disconcertingly like a bundle of dry sticks—are sold for the early birds. They're mature plants (complete with starch reserves), which allows them to make a gradual transition into life in the garden as the soil and air begin to warm up. You'll literally be able to watch them come alive as the season progresses.
Potted ones are offered later, when spring is in full swing. They're already leafed out and may even sport a few buds or flowers. Although you may hate to do it, it's wise to clip off most or all of the flowers and flower buds so the plant can direct its energy into establishing its root system at its new home. There'll be new ones soon enough.
Rose aficionados usually prefer bare-root roses. There tends to be more interesting choices if you want a specific or harder-to-find rose variety. And they often seem to be more robust and to perform better their first year, perhaps for the simple reason that their roots were never crammed into a pot. But if you provide plenty of TLC, any healthy new rose should prosper and deliver beautiful results.