The Q&A Archives: Roses in the Desert

Question: I would like to put roses along a wall in my Arizona (hot) yard that faces east. The plant would probably get shy of half a day of sun. I'm looking for a vigorous bloomer, with sustained blooming periods. I'm open to a climber or hedge type that reaches about 3-5 ft. I would like something with a high petal count, something that makes a nice cut flower. Is it ok to plant now or should I wait till next January? Where can I find these?

Answer: Roses actually do very well in the low desert, and have two sustained blooming periods, one in the spring (March-May) and another in the fall (Sept-Oct), when temperatures cool. Most people are surprised to learn that Maricopa County grows about 40 percent of all the rose plants sold in the U.S. However, we're at the end of the planting season. Roses do best planted from November through March. They're moisture sensitive, so trying to plant once the weather heats up is more problematic. If you still want to try planting now, be sure to mulch heavily to help the soil retain moisture and lower temperatures. Check the moisture level in the soil regularly. (Push any pointed stick or rod, such as a long screwdriver, into the soil. If it moves through easily, the soil is moist. When the probe stops, it's hit dry soil.) You want to keep the soil uniformly moist, not wet, to a depth of about 2 feet.

Walls really soak up the heat in the summer, but your eastern exposure should provide some late afternoon shade, which will be particularly important for the roses' first summer.

As far as varieties go, there are literally hundreds to choose from and matters of taste vary from person to person. I?d suggest that you check out some local rose beds to see what?s attractive to you. Two great places to look at varieties include the rose garden at Mesa Community College (Dobson & Southern) and to see old garden or heritage roses, the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Heritage Rose Garden (4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix). Both are open daily at no charge.

The book, ?Roses in a Desert Garden? (ISBN 0-9625961-1-6) by Hallie Beck provides all kinds of growing information, as well as varieties that do well here. "Roses for Dummies" is a great, all-around reference book on growing roses.

And finally, April is a terrific month to drive by the growers' fields. They are wholesalers only, so you can't buy directly from them, but the color show from your car is worth it. (You can?t go into the fields. They are found roughly in the area bounded by Litchfield Road, Loop 303, Estrella Parkway and Indian School Road.)

Good Luck!

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