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A Rosy Outlook

Tips for Rose Gardeners

I am a plant hoarder. Last year at this time I had 200-plus plants. But this winter after the third or fourth hard freeze, I just got lazy and did not protect my plants. I paid the price, and I lost 90 percent of my collection. The only thing that remained were a few bromeliads, two giant rosemary shrubs and a rose I dug up and brought back from my father’s beloved rose garden. He passed several years ago, and the beautiful red rose that once bloomed in Wisconsin now provides me no end of joy every time one of its buds turns into a glorious bloom.

While dealing with the carnage left from the winter, I decided my new plant consumption would consist only of rosemary and roses. With this decisive direction I began to find out all I could about roses. So I offer a few facts, some planting and care tips and some encouragement to avoid the temptation to plant all those tropicals again.

Rose species have been on the planet for some 35 million years, enduring climate changes and adapting to a range of extreme climatic conditions. One can find roses growing almost in every country in the world. Roses are divided broadly into two categories “old roses” and “modern roses.” Old roses are all those that were cultivated before the late 18th century, and all flowers cultivated after late 18th century are called modern roses.

“Old garden roses, the ones your grandmother grew, don’t require the fertilizing and pesticides that modern roses do,” says Maureen Detweiler, one of the founding members of the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society. “Modern roses just don’t thrive without a lot of care and spraying. I never use any chemicals. With the old garden roses, I don’t have to.”

When planting a rose choose a site with at least six hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day and plant in fertile, neutral soil. Roses like fairly heavy soil with a good mix of clay, sand and silt, as well as lots of organic material.

Roses are not drought-resistant. They need about an inch of water a week. Be sure to mulch your roses with approximately 3 or 4 inches of organic mulch. Another hint: If possible, use a soaker hose. This hose slowly seeps water into the ground directly to the roses’ roots. If you don’t have a soaker be sure to water early in the day and avoid splashing the leaves. It keeps the leaves dry, which helps your roses resist disease.

The two diseases to look out for are blackspot and powdery mildew. For more information about growing roses in Louisiana go to LSU AgCenter’s webpage and find “Growing Roses: A Challenge in Louisiana.” This site also has a comprehensive list of the best types of roses to grow in this area. Or if you want old roses contact the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society at countrysideroses.com.

Be sure to cut off faded blooms or “dead head” throughout the season. This also helps prevent disease and can encourage more blooms. Cut faded rose flowers back to the nearest leaf. Be sure to remove and destroy diseased plant material.

Do not be afraid of pruning. It’s not brain surgery. Prune roses in January or February. Since many “everblooming” roses have an extended bloom period in Louisiana, some varieties may need a second, lighter pruning in late August. In general, cut off damaged or dead branches and thin out the middle of your plant to increase air flow to that area. Prune your plant to about 2 feet from the ground.

You might also consider growing roses in containers. That’s my plan, my yard is shady, my deck is not. Most roses can be grown successfully in containers. Just make sure the container is large enough to provide ample space for the roots, a container no less than 15 inches in diameter will do. Clay containers provide a cooler condition for the roots during hot weather. They will do well for about two years and then will need transplanting. Also remember containers dry out more quickly than soil in the ground.

The single most interesting thing I learned in my rose research is that New Orleans is home to one of the world’s premiere antique rose gardens. A collection in Armstrong Park consists of 175 varieties of roses and is simply stunning with almost year round blooms.

“We have one of finest collection of antique roses in the country,” Leo Watermeier, curator of the antique rose garden says. “These are treasures that we would like to see planted in gardens again.” He often conducts tours of the garden and can be reached at leowatermeier@cox.net.

Roses are a very forgiving plant; even if you have a few problems here and there, they almost always come back to life, they endure. Plus they bring repeated summer blooms and fragrance into one’s life. I think I am probably now well on my way to becoming a rose hoarder.

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