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Roses from A to Z Column 1
June 3, 2006

Rains help roses yield big blooms

Rose Care and Feeding

Rosa Phyllis Bide climbing an arch


By Carolyn Parker

IN PREPARATION for my Mother's Day Open Garden, I felt like the wardrobe mistress to a drama queen. The Queen includes all my roses. I'm not saying they're temperamental, but our record rainfall caused dramatic and over-the-top behavior in many.

Rosa PHYLLIS BIDE, a Polyantha climbing an arbor in my back garden, bloomed sparsely for eight years. The rain turned her into a voluminous cascade of peachy-cream flowers.

Several bushes lost every leaf to blackspot. In March, my Hybrid Tea DUET boasted the most exquisite shiny, deep maroon new leaves in the whole garden--in April they all fell off (defoliated) before she had a chance to bloom! At least 30% of my roses had unsightly blackspot on their lower leaves, but for most, thank goodness, lower leaf removal was all they needed to look their best.

And thanks to the rain, my roses bloomed later than usual and were in peak bloom to entertain over a thousand visitors on Mother's Day. Mothers from ages 24 to 94, accompanied by their beautiful families, strolled and even wheeled through the garden as the roses performed and gave their all.

Roses form the structure of my garden. A lattice fence, brimming with climbing roses, surrounds our sunny front garden to keep out the deer. The rose-studded fence is an elegant backdrop for masses of taller roses. Small roses (Polyanthas and Miniatures) edge the front of the rose beds.

All the roses are planted in color theme sections. The white area, near the front entrance, melds into red, magenta, and purple roses, and these curve into peach, orange, gold, and yellow roses. Surrounding the house, in eight-foot wide beds, are the pink roses. Matching perennials, flowering shrubs, vines, herbs, and ground covers mingle amongst the roses throughout the garden.

Visitors were surprised to see how closely the rose bushes are planted together, and they're amazed to see so many different kinds of plants growing among the roses. They had lots of questions: where do you buy your roses? What do you feed them? How do you plant them? How do you recognize a sucker? What do you do about pests and disease? How do you arrange them?

I have surprising answers to some questions--not always by the book. Since blackspot and fertilizing are on many of your minds, I'll use the space I have left to give you a few tips.


Each rose year has it's own special problems--this year it's blackspot, which is often accompanied by rust. In most years, record heat waves cause the roses to bloom too fast--not this year. Mildew has been my rose nemesis every year since I've grown roses--this year, I've had none. If I had a choice, I'd rather have blackspot than mildew. Mildew attacks the lovely new growth and blackspot attacks old growth and usually around the bottom of the shrub.

Don't worry about the blackspot--roses regenerate new leaves four and five times a year. DUET, the rose I mentioned above, already has her second set of leaves and she's full of buds. The diseased leaves should be removed from your rose bushes at some point. You can wait until the first bloom is over if you want. It's also important that you remove the tainted leaves from the bed to avoid further contamination.


Two things are more important than applying a chemical fertilizer. The first is to feed your roses and enrich your soil with a good helping of compost around each rose bush. It's not necessary to dig it in; just lay several shovels full on top of the soil. A thick layer of mulch is the second vital thing you can do for your roses and your entire garden. I use shredded cedar bark. As for fertilizer, simply buy a basic rose fertilizer and follow the directions.

I look forward to using this column as a forum for your questions and a place to share new and traditional information about rose culture and display. In the meantime, groom and enjoy your gorgeous roses!