Roses 101

Four Steps to Rose Success

If you want maximum return on your bed of roses, four important requirements should be taken into consideration: (1) selection of the rose varieties, (2) location of the planting bed, (3) soil preparation, and (4) consistent care.

When choosing roses, always favor those adapted to your growing region. Our list may not contain all (or any, for that matter) of your favorites, but there will be plenty of roses to choose from, some of which are bound to become new favorites. The selection process is a very important step in the creation of a successful rose garden. By choosing naturally vigorous roses, very willing to grow in your area, you will dramatically decrease the amount of care they require.

A small bed of roses can function as the focal point of a yard, but don't let design considerations blind you to roses' specific needs. In the main, roses require a location that's sunny at least six hours a day. Ideally, the location should provide good air circulation and receive morning sun to help dry off leaves early in the day. Too much shade encourages disease problems. If the shade is produced by mature trees, their extensive root systems will rob nutrients from the roses, a situation that results in few flowers and weak plants. And if there are youngsters in your household, take care to locate the rose bed where an errant football or Frisbee isn't likely to wreak havoc.

Once you have outlined the shape of the rose bed, it's time to improve the soil--before planting the roses. Because roses are rather finicky about soil, it's a good idea to have your soil tested. Some large nurseries and most university extension services will do this for a nominal charge. Once the soil analysis is complete, you will know exactly what should be added to the soil and in what amount. This is not the time for skimping. Any extra effort you put into advance preparation will pay off in superior results for years to come.

Standard care includes watering, fertilizing, protecting against pests and diseases, and pruning. Roses need regular applications of water for top production of flowers. It makes no difference whether the water comes from a hose or from rain. Just make sure the roses receive enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 18 inches every week during the growing season. The easiest way to check this is with a long screwdriver or stiff piece of wire, such as a straightened-out coat hanger. Either device will be easy to push through moist soil, more difficult once it hits dry soil. In arid summer climates, consider watering your roses with a drip system that is connected to a timer.

At least two applications of fertilizer should be made, once when new growth first starts in the spring and again in midseason. Favor non-burning, natural formulations that feed the soil as well as the plant. Vigorously growing roses will be far less susceptible to attack from pests and diseases than those that are struggling. There are effective natural controls for virtually every pest known to plague roses. If you know of diseases that are a problem in your area (such as black spot, rust, and mildew), use a natural fungicide to combat the problem before it occurs. Diseases are impossible to eradicate once they make an appearance, although they can be stopped from doing additional damage.

Roses are not just for the grand formal gardens or the picket fences of Cape Cod. They have a place in every garden.

With their great beauty, tremendous variety, and luscious scent, it's easy to become passionate about those all-time favorites, roses. For many, roses are the symbol of a well-cared-for home, evoking images of that picket-fenced cottage awash with rambling roses. Like Oscar Wilde, who could "resist anything except temptation," those who give in to the temptation of roses are richly rewarded. In addition to being beautiful flowers for arrangements, roses lend themselves to a wide variety of crafts, providing everything from petals for creating potpourri, to the vitamin C-rich seed pods (called rose hips) for rose hip tea.

If you decide to plant a rose garden, do it with the understanding that, as with all temptations, there will be a price to pay. To do what they do so well--namely, produce quantities of beautiful, fragrant flowers--roses need special attention. Although it's possible to mix any number of roses in with a shrub border, it's far easier to be lavish with that attention if they are segregated in a small bed. Ten to 12 rose bushes will make a magnificent display, provide plenty of flowers for cutting, and require a bed only 8 feet by 12 feet or so. Any shape of bed will do, but generations of gardeners have favored the formal look of square, rectangular, or round beds, edged with stone or brick, often with a birdbath or sundial placed in the center for a little added interest.

When choosing roses, it's helpful to know some of the terminology and uses:

Hybrid tea roses. These are tall, long-stemmed roses ideal for cutting. They are usually the kind you send from the florist. In the garden, they are often featured as single specimens.

Floribundas. Developed during the last century, these roses are shorter and bloom more freely, setting clusters of blossoms rather than a single bloom on a stem.

Shrub or landscape roses. These can be tall or kept trimmed. They can be treated like a hedge and bloom from spring through fall. Their foliage fills in. They are spaced 18 inches apart in cool climates; 24 to 36 inches apart in warmer climates.

These roses have changed the way many people view roses. Landscape roses, especially when compared with traditional varieties, are impressive for many reasons: their natural disease-resistance, their willingness to grow in a variety of climates with a minimum of attention from the gardener, their compact growth habit (very little pruning required), not to mention the great beauty of their flowers, which are borne consistently over a very long season.

Tree roses. These elegant roses grow in a cluster at the top of a stake. Miniatures grow 18 inches high; patio varieties 24 inches; and full tree roses 36 inches high. Tall ones can frame a doorway or line a walk. Smaller varieties can be grown in containers on the patio or porch.

Patio roses. These grow two to four feet tall, bloom all season, and are well suited to growing in containers in small spaces. Sometimes they are planted in hedges as foundation covers. The foliage tends to be dense.

Climbers. Climbing roses can form dramatic cascades grown over an arched trellis or trained over a fence, pillar, or post. They are sometimes used to create a privacy wall.

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