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Roses - Part 2

Roses - Part 2

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What is more evocative of mood and memory than roses? Absolutely classic, but beautiful roses may seem out of reach of the typical home gardener. Not so!!! Do not be intimidated by tales of spraying and feeding, of complexity and pampering, to produce reasonable roses. In truth, roses are among the toughest and actually easiest of garden plants. Really! What follows is a very basic overview, but by following these guidelines you can produce some amazing roses.

Buying Roses
Roses are available bare root or in containers. Bare root means the field grown plant has been uprooted, all the soil removed, and the bare roots held in a moist medium, such as wood shavings. They must be planted right away to avoid drying out. You also want to let it begin its growth in the ground, not in the sawdust. Bare root is the most economical, but be careful. You often "get what you pay for", especially if the bare root rose is on sale or at the end of the bare root season (later in spring, depending on where you live). Best quality is Grade 1 or 1 1/2 - Grade 2 is rather scrawny and will take longer to get a nicely performing rose.

Container roses are usually more expensive. They can be bought and planted almost any time of the year and are easily held at home until planting. For container roses in the nursery, a good size to buy is 5 gallons (size of a household bucket). An added advantage is being able to see the flower itself, unless the plant is dormant. Of course, miniature roses may come in smaller pots.

Avoid the Pitfalls
If the bare root plant is not cared for properly, it could either dry out or be forced into growth prematurely. Either way, the plant is not going to seamlessly grow into your garden - there will be a recovery period and may take an extra season to establish, if it lives at all. Check for drying by seeing if the stems are shriveled. They should be smooth and glossy. If buds are expanding, plant right away, but it could mean trouble if you get a late frost. If the bud is already becoming a leafy shoot, it may be too late.

Roses are propagated by grafting (budding) the desired flowering top onto a hardy tough rootstock. That means you want the roots to grow well and nourish the top. You do NOT want the rootstock to sprout up and take over the plant. It will have flowers, but not the type you thought you bought. In cold areas plant the rose with the graft union (where the top meets the roots) just below the soil so the top will be protected from extreme freezing.

In warm areas you want to plant with the graft union above the soil to discourage the rootstock from sprouting up. Freezing of the top is not a problem there.

Bare root plants should have the roots spread out over a "cone" of soil in the hole. Do not let the roots dry out while you are planting. Container grown plants should have the root ball intact with just a bit of opening the outer roots. Water well immediately after planting.

Watering and Fertilizing
Roses are tougher than they seem. Once established, they are actually pretty drought resistant. I personally feel drought resistance goes hand in hand with limited fertilizing. If a plant is well fertilized, it needs a lot of water to support the resulting flush of soft growth. On the other hand, too little water or fertilizer can inhibit flowering. Basically, water well when any stress shows and fertilize lightly with a low nitrogen "flower food". A by-product of this approach is that harder, tougher growth is lest susceptible to pests and diseases. The flip side is that a well-watered, well-fertilized plant will have more flowers.

We can simply divide rose pruning into 3 categories:
1) Pruning during the dormant season to encourage new growth.
2) Removing suckers (unwanted growth from the rootstock).
3) Pruning during the growing season to remove faded flowers and damaged or diseased wood.

Let's explore these:

1) Roses flower on new wood. That means you want to prune them before they begin growing in spring so an abundance of new growth will yield an abundance of flowers. Established roses should be pruned by having 1/3 of the previous year's growth cut back. Floribunda, Polyantha, or miniature roses need only be cut back by about 1/4 An established rose should not be cut back so much that it looks like a newly planted rose each year. In warm winter areas roses should be pruned in February.

2) Suckers are shoots sprouting up from the rootstock, as opposed to the desired rose from the graft union or above. Where the sucker originates is the key to tell whether the growth is a new shoot (desirable) or a sucker (undesirable). The problem with suckers is that they take strength away from the grafted part of the plant. Sometimes they can be so overpowering that the desired graft just dies, leaving behind a new plant from the suckers. Often the sucker will have different foliage, either in color or form. It may not be disease resistant, so mildew may be an identifying character. If allowed to bloom, the flowers may be smaller and a different color. Removal of sucker is easy. If you catch them young enough, just rub them out (but beware of the thorns!) or pull it out with a downward or sideways angle so the "bud" is removed too and the sucker will not grow back. Otherwise, they must be cut out. If the cut or wound is below soil level, let the cut area dry before covering again with soil.

3) Cutting flowers for the home is another form of pruning. Pick them before they are fully open for the classic rose shape. Leave at least two sets of leaves on the stem to promote good health. Don't forget, the leaves are the "energy factories" of the rose.

Speaking of energy, removing faded flowers is also important. Otherwise, the formation of fruits (rose hips) will take considerable energy from the plant that would otherwise go into flower production. In addition, when the fruits form a signal is given to the plant to stop flowering and use that energy to make seeds and fruit. Removal of the faded flowers prevents that signal from going out so the plant is encouraged to keep flowering.

Again, I emphasize, get varieties that are suited to your area. Ask a knowledgeable local nurseryman or your extension agent for ideas. By following these rules, beautiful roses can grace almost any garden with limited care and maintenance.

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