A GROWING CONCERN: Here’s how to tend to your roses with care

FOR THE PAST two weeks, I have been pushing flowers and their prolific production, so let me tell you of my first job in the greenhouse.

A rose by any other name … would still require as much work at specific times.

A well-known verse holds the key: “Roses are red, violets are blue, bugs and disease love your roses, too.”

Roses are romanticized in my mind, since at age 4, my first professional duties in the greenhouse included weeding and tending the grafts of 3,500 blooming cut-flower roses.

My height, along with a nickel-an-hour wage, made me the perfect candidate for the labor-intensive chores roses demand.

Roses in the northern hemisphere appear with the first works of literature in Greece. They are dried in the tombs of Egypt, found in ancient Chinese paintings and share almost the same name in every European language.

Why? Roses are a perfect plant for anyone’s garden. They really are easy to grow, especially here on the Peninsula, provided the conditions they are placed in are ideal and you are willing to tend them.

Jobs and placement

So with that, I submit to you the jobs and placement of rose.

Roses require sun, lots of sun. For best results, it would be a spot wherein it’s optimistically sunny all day, but hopefully at least six to eight hours’ worth.

They next need a spot with good air circulation.

Planted too close to a building, behind a fence or in a sheltered patio where air movement is hindered, your roses become a petri dish for molds and mildew. Do not take this point lightly.

Their soil requirements are exact. Rose medium should be porous, well-drained, humus acidic soil with a pH of 5 to 6 (adding compost makes Olympic Peninsula soils ideal) and prepared and tilled deeply.

Roses with 24-inch-deep holes are vastly superior to roses in more shallow holes after two or three years. Remember, inadequate drainage in your soils severely stunts roses, too.

But now it’s summer, so let’s concentrate on the care and blooming of your roses.

Roses want plenty of water when the season is warm and dry. They like deep weekly watering that penetrates to the bottom of that 24-inch hole.

Water your roses at the soil surface to avoid getting water on the leaves. Molds and mildews need leaf moisture to breed, and like tomatoes use water moving across the foliage as their main conduit of migration.

So watering in the morning with a water breaker and watering wand (long handle) at the bush’s base will give you noticeable improvements.

Next, roses love nutrients. They are little fertilizer gluttons.

A weekly foliar feed (early on a sunny day) will increase vigor and flower count.

For granular applications, use fish meal, dried blood, compost and cottonseed meal for your slow-release nitrogen.

Phosphate rock, wood ash and greensand provide the organic phosphates and phosphorus. These products can be added monthly.

For store-bought mixes, get a specific rose food and apply throughout the season as recommended.

Next in line is a mulch covering for your roses. Mulches keep the soil cool and consistent.

Around your roses, a 6- to 8-inch mulch cover is ideal. Use slightly decomposed mulch.

Top dress mulch

You may top dress that decomposed black mulch with a half-inch of beauty bark for aesthetics if desired. Around each rose, craft out a depression for water collection (a handy trick for deep watering).

Now, let’s move to your pruners, fingers and actual mechanical care. First and foremost, pull off all dead or damaged leaves as they appear.

Every few days, you should look at your roses and cut or pull all damaged branches, stems or leaves. The No. 1 way diseases enter your roses is through damaged or dead organic matter.

With this link in mind, don’t leave any rose plant material on the ground. Remove all leaves and petals around the plant. In reality, this is where your problems lie: in the debris left about the plant.

Next, cut and prune away all dead branches. Dead wooding along with the removal of small gnarled, weak branches is done all summer long.

When harvesting your blooms (or deadheading), remember to cut your roses back enough.

All too often, people cut their blooms with too short of a stem (probably because their vases are short), and thus their plants get taller and taller with fewer flowers. Roses bloom on new wood, so hard low cuts guarantee new wood.

As a general rule, when harvesting blooms or deadheading, cut back one-third to two-thirds of that stem’s length.

Remember, the direction of the node left below your prune is the direction that stem is growing. So when pruning off flowers, cut at a node that points outward from the plant.

I want to continue on this all-important point because at this time of year, it is the best tip I can give you and is backed up by only 37½ years of experience.

Cut back those roses hard and down that cane a-ways, and your blooms will multiply.

Time your cuts

On this note, cut flowers after 4:30 p.m. Tests show late-afternoon harvest can produce flowers lasting many times longer than an early morning harvest.

The belief here is the sugars are at their peak in the afternoon and moving up the flower head.

Cut the flowers when one petal is unwrapping and you can see the exact center wrap of the petal has begun to open.

And finally (and for any cut flowers), re-cut your rose stems each day and put back in fresh water every day.

Roses callus off their wound, and microbes breed in old water and plug up the water transport tubes. A fresh cut and new water daily doubles or triples the staying power of your roses.

There is so much more about roses, and in late fall, we will get you to chop those babies down to 6 to 20 inches high (can you believe that?).

But for now water deeply, remove old and dying leaves from the bush or ground and cut them back as the flowers move forward.

And if you don’t own a rose, the shops are open today, a fine time to plant some.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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