Pruning Roses

Princess Alexandra.

I highly recommend Select Roses in Langley for Wet Coast-friendly rose selections. This weekend Mar 18-19 and Mar 25 2017) Brad Jalbert is doing a Rose Pruning session at the nursery, free-of-charge, just long enough to feel you’ve got useful information, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed. This is what Brad says about rose pruning:

This is, by far, the most feared yet easiest part of rose growing!
I would love to talk to the person who first tried to make it sound so difficult.
Come spend a half an hour with me, and you will return to your garden confident in your ability to prune any type of rose.


Rose ‘Octavia Hill’ in the rain.

If you’re not in the area, or can’t make it, I’ll be doing my own roses pretty soon, so I’ll document it all for you readers.

Stay tuned…

Roses Roses Roses

Roses Roses Roses

Roses, Rhodos and Peonies were my first loves–at least my first plant loves. And they still rank really high on that scale. But whereas rhodos and peonies are pretty self-sufficient once you start them off right, roses will almost always need a little more management.

It’s still “winter”, even tho’ most of the country would challenge my use of the word, but it’s the perfect time to start planning if roses are to be part of your garden design. I’ll explain shortly.

I have a small yard, and quite a lot of roses.

Rosemary Harkness

Rosemary Harkness

The very first one I bought, (and managed to sustain for about 6-7 years), was the one that bit me with the rose-acquisition bug. It was “Blue Moon” (sorry, I never took a picture of it), a hybrid tea with the most enticing fragrance of almost any rose I’ve had since. (Maybe my imagination has exaggerated its fragrance. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and all that…)

That was in the days when all I had was a roof-top deck to grow things, so everything grew in containers. (FYI, if you only have containers to grow in, stick to roses that are suited to containers. More on that to come.) I tried David Austin roses, shrub roses, hybrid tea roses, floribunda roses, Old Garden roses. Guess what. None did very well, least of all Blue Moon. They were stunted, got fungal disease, produced few actual blooms, and in the end, only a very few survived to move house with me. Jude the Obscure was about to be turfed quite a few times, Rosemary Harkness (above) resists being “shovel pruned” (aka turned into compost–because she’s got such a long root I can’t dig her out!), and Princess Alexandra is still short-listed for disposal. I keep giving her “one more year”.

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure–a David Austin rose. Just gets better and better every year!

Princess Alexandra.

Princess Alexandra. She hasn’t looked this good since her first year “in the ground”.

Here in coastal BC we have a lot of rain. And a relatively short hot-ish summer. And cool nights even when the days are hot. And unfortunately, these are all conditions that encourage the growth and multiplication of fungal diseases.  And of all the things roses are, susceptible to fungal diseases is what they are the most! (Bad, BAD sentence!) Black spot, powdery mildew, and rust.

There are lots of home remedies for these diseases, none are very effective. Of course, you’ll read in the Garden and Rose forums that Baking Soda solution, or a dilute milk solution, or corn meal, or sulphur will work–everyone has their preferences, seldom are any of them in coastal BC. The key is consistency–ie, treating about weekly or so, and removing ALL infected leaves, as well as giving the plant all the cultural things it requires–full sun, mulch, not-too-much-and-slow-release organic fertilizer.

But I have a much better solution: only buy roses that are KNOWN to do well in OUR climate. I can give you a start right now: Jude the Obscure (above), Octavia Hill and Julia Child. At the Stanley Park Rose Garden they have a few Queen Elizabeths that looked REALLY good (in August) when many others were fading.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more "shell pink" as the summer wanes.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more “shell pink” as the summer wanes.


Julia Child

So here are a  few rules to follow if you want to have roses in your garden, AND you want to treat them like any other garden plant–sustainably. Which means no pesticides (including allegedly “organic” pesticides), no chemical feeding, no inordinate amounts of water, no “baby-ing”:

1. Check local forums and nurseries for their list of the most disease resistant roses for coastal BC. (Of course if you live in the Sierra mountains or Florida everglades, you might want to revise that rule.) I highly recommend Select Roses for their list of top performers. When I started buying roses online, I diligently bought only those that were classified  “highly disease resistant” . Unfortunately at the time I didn’t realize that the Ontario climate led to different performance than our climate. So go LOCAL.

2. Plant them in full sun, in UNamended soil (like all shrubs and trees).

3. Mulch them with organic mulch, following rules for mulching trees and shrubs–ie, not deeper than 2″, leaving at least 3-5″ of bare soil around the stem/trunk.

4. Feed discreetly with slow-release, preferably organic fertilizer, or just compost, which is a nice light balanced diet. I’ve many times heard it said that roses are “heavy feeders”; I’m of the opinion that more harm is done following that statement than otherwise. If other plants and shrubs are doing well, why not just treat your rose in the same way, and if it doesn’t bloom as well as it should, then consider adding a little Alfalfa meal.

5. Containers–a whole new ballgame! Several rose breeders have developed roses that are really suited to the more limited environment of the container, and I’d definitely recommend looking for some of them. Kordes Veranda and Balconia series roses or others that are called “Patio Roses” are compact and bred for small spaces. Follow standard container garden rules. 

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month–it’s usually some variant of magenta. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

Roses Roses Roses

Why did I say early February is the right time to start planning your rose garden? Because, since you’re not going to just go out and pick up a rose at Home Depot, you’re going to have to find out where your preferred rose variety is sold and then get it from them. Pickering or Palatine or even Select Roses will already be selling out of some of their favourites. So get onto it right away for your best success! Just be warned: the more success you have, the more you’re going to want to have “just one more rose”.

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First Rose Bloom of the Season

First bloom on Julia Child

First bloom on Julia Child

Any first blooms of the season are exciting, And somehow, roses are up there with the best of them. I have quite a few roses, some I love more than others, but Julia Child, now entering only its 4th year in my garden, is the best of the best. Her growth habit is restrained and shapely–it doesn’t straggle all over the place, it doesn’t just grow straight up, and the size is very manageable.

Julia Child, about 4.5 feet tall May 17, 4 years old.

Julia Child, about 4.5 feet tall on May 17, 4 years old.

She doesn’t suffer from diseases–black spot is the bane of rose growers here in coastal BC–and she blooms reliably until frost. That’s about 5 months of flowering!

Her only downside is that she has no fragrance. I used to think a rose without fragrance was a waste of space, but I’m a little less dogmatic now. I have several roses without fragrance, which actually makes it easier to make a bouquet–mix a fragrant rose and a non-fragrant rose so there’s no competition.

Some thoughts on Roses

So I thought I’d write a little essay on roses. It’s a terrible myth that roses are hard to keep–too much tending, feeding, spraying, pruning (scary!), protecting. Well, all of that is true, and untrue. There’s almost no reason (one–I’ll get to it) you can’t successfully grow roses.

I’ve owned a lot of roses over the years. I’m not exactly Brad Jalbert of Select Roses fame, (although I’ve bought from him), but I’ve been trying to make roses make roses for me for about 20 years. My favourite rose (name lost to the sands of time) was almost blue, unbelievably fragrant, perfect in shape–hybrid tea, classic “dozen red roses” shape–and was such a black spot magnet that all summer it was pretty much just sticks having dropped all its leaves, and would only develop one or two blooms per year because it couldn’t keep leaves long enough to photosynthesize (make sugar). Another, Heritage by David Austin, another fragrance-rich rose, beautifully old-fashioned in shape, considered to be black spot resistant in our area, was anything but. I gave up because I couldn’t keep it looking good. Which leads me to thought #1:

Choose “very disease resistant” roses.

Roses that you might buy at Home Depot or Canadian Tire in little boxes are unlikely to be the best to invest time and money into. They buy them in  bulk of course, and will get the same product for all their stores across the country, regardless whether they are appropriate for the location or not. When you can buy a $5 rose at HD, why pay $25 somewhere else? The answer is “disease resistance”.

Black spot this early in the season bodes ill for the rest of the year. This rose is not long for my garden...

Black spot this early in the season bodes ill for the rest of the year. This rose is not long for my garden…

Now one little problem with choosing disease resistant roses is knowing WHERE they’re disease resistant. Disease resistant in Toronto where the cold kills overwintering diseases and the sun comes out reliably in the spring is not going to be the same as disease resistant here. There’s a rose breeder from Hamburg, Germany (which has very similar weather to ours) whose mandate is to develop roses that need no fungicide to stay disease-free,  so you can be sure that if you get a KORDES rose, you’ve got a VERY disease resistant rose in coastal BC. (On the Select Roses website there is a page of Top Performers that starts with Julia Child and includes several Kordes roses!)

Here’s another site that will give you a list of suitable David Austin roses for the Pacific Northwest. And since it also has Heritage in the list, just goes to show you can’t expect exactly the same results when there are so many variables to contend with.

Which conveniently segues to thought #2:

Give your rose LOTS of sun.

The best thing you can do for your rose is place it in a place where it will get AT LEAST 6 hours of uninterrupted sun. And sunlight before breakfast and after supper don’t count! So 8 am to 2 pm, or noon to 6 pm, or any 6+ hours in the middle are all good. The right amount of sun will inhibit disease, promote good growth, which together inhibit pests. More sun means more blooms, which means happier grower–you. So before you buy your roses, spend a sunny day identifying where on your property the sun is fully shining (not shining through the leaves of a tree) for 6 hours. If there isn’t such a spot, I’m terribly sorry, roses are not for you. Yes, there are some that say they will tolerate part shade, and I have several of them. They don’t bloom. Rugosa roses have a lot of advantages: disease resistant, fragrance, repeat blooming, and allegedly shade tolerance. But if they don’t get enough sun, they don’t bloom, so I guess you can see the dilemma. Don’t bother, get some other attractive flowering fragrant shrub instead.

Rugosa rose 'Agnes' didn't bloom at all in 4-5 hours of sun, so has been in a pot for two years waiting for a better spot. Apparently delightfully  fragrant, altho' I wouldn't know from experience. Maybe this year I'll find out...

Rugosa rose ‘Agnes’, described as shade-tolerant,  didn’t bloom at all in 4-5 hours/day of sun, so has been languishing in a pot for two years waiting for a better spot. Apparently delightfully fragrant, altho’ I wouldn’t know from experience. Maybe this year I’ll find out…

Feed the Soil, the Soil Feeds the Plant

And now, for feeding the hungry little buggers! I’ve many times heard that roses are hungry, and maybe if what you’re after is show-quality blooms on an extravagant scale, then yes, maybe roses can get hungry. But I don’t think you’re going to be taking your roses to a flower show, or you wouldn’t be reading this somewhat simplistic blog. You want roses that will perform without requiring daily attention. So, Feed the Soil, the Soil Feeds the Plant. Most plants will be satisfied with a meal that can be delivered by a smorgasbord of microbes and earthworms. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor there… “with a smorgasbord delivered by an army of microbes and earthworms.” How’s that? And go back to my post on  Soil Characteristics to learn more about soil health.) Now that’s not necessarily true of all PLANTS, but MOST plants. And most roses will be satisfied with heathy nutritious soil, not needing a lot of extra desserts. Top-dressing (that’s adding on top of the soil under the canopy of the plant, staying 1-2″ away from the stem) with 1-2″ deep compost 1-2 times yearly (spring/fall) will make your soil/microbes/earthworms very happy indeed, and they will feed your roses. Very easy, and pretty easy to remember as well.

Water Them Well the First Year.

You’ll read that a lot on plant labels and information sites. Roses are actually quite drought tolerant–you won’t kill your rose by forgetting to water it through a few weeks of our dry summers–except for the first year. Everything needs a good start, and one key way of giving it is to make sure your rose doesn’t dehydrate that first summer. Needless to say, once the fall rains start, you don’t have to worry about water any more. (Just make sure when you’re planting that you have good drainage, or you will be worrying about those fall/winter rains.)

So there you go, Sun, Compost, Water. Very Disease Resistant. All you REALLY need to know about having roses in your garden. There’re lots of other things you may WANT to know about growing roses in your garden, and likely I’ll be posting about some of those in the future. So stay tuned. Click Follow. Like my FB page. Comment. Ask questions.

Princess Alexandra. Resists dying!

Princess Alexandra. Resists dying!

Octavia Hill. Fabulous diminutive shrub with glossy leaves, no fragrance. I love it for the name as well--google Octavia Hill.

Octavia Hill. Fabulous diminutive shrub with glossy leaves, no fragrance. I love it for the name as well–google Octavia Hill.

Looks impressive, but this is the Ingrid Bergman that has such bad black spot already., But you can see why I bought her.

Looks impressive, but this is the Ingrid Bergman that has such bad black spot already. But you can see why I bought her.

Rosemary Harkness--so many lovely ladies. I tried to dispose of her last year--black spot--but she resisted my efforts and is growing again.

Rosemary Harkness–so many lovely ladies. I tried to dispose of her last year–black spot–but she resisted my efforts and is growing again.