The Q&A Archives: Rose hedges

Question: Just in the past week or so, I have been asked to take over the landscaping work at a friends estate. Along the south perimeter, he has a rose hedge that refuses to gain any height. In my fifty years of being around, I have heard from all of the old timers that sheep droppings are the best fertilizer for roses. Is this accurate? Also, should I do a soil test? They have been using a 10-10-10 fertilizer. I have been pruning them back to the first branch with five leaves after flowering, but I am not getting very many new buds. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Many dedicated rose lovers have secret recipes for rose fertilizers that border on black magic, but we have found that most commercial rose foods and organic fertilizers produce good results. The important thing about any fertilizer application is that plenteous water will be wanted; both to dissolve the fertilizer into a form the rose can use and to clean any residue off the bush. Chemical fertilizers can burn or even kill a plant if over-used, as many of us know from having killed a favorite rose through generosity. Read the label, and when in doubt, remember less fertilizer is better than more. Always water heavily after feeding. We admit to preferring organic fertilizers (such as fish emulsion or manure) for their beneficial rejuvenation of the living organisms in the soil. Healthy soil grows healthy plants. Organic fertilizer can be combined with slow-release pellets (such as Osmocote) to keep container grown roses at their peak. For those who simply want to keep their roses healthy and vigorous, one feeding in spring and another in early fall should suffice. For maximum performance, begin feeding about 2 weeks before the last frost date for your area and continue at 4 to 6 week intervals until 6 weeks before the earliest frost date for your area. For the last feeding of the year, you might want to use a high phosphorus compound (12-24-12) so that your plant will shift to a slower, tougher growth in preparation for cold weather.

I sincerely believe that mulch is the key to happiness - at least in the garden! A several inch thick layer of mulch applied 2 or 3 times a year means fewer weeds, less water stress, less heat stress, richer soil and healthier plants. We use decomposed pine bark on our beds. However, pine needles, leaf mulch, or any weed free material will do the job. Rose varieties that have survived for many years are usually drought tolerant, but your plants will look much better in your garden if they get a good deep soaking every 7 to 10 days. This is much better than frequent light watering which encourages the roots to grow near the surface where they are vulnerable. Deep watering will encourage your roses to hold their foliage and bloom better in the summer months. A soaker hose or a form of drip irrigation works especially well to minimize water waste through evaporation and to keep the rose leaves dry. We suggest soaking the ground until saturated (several hours or overnight).

Shrub roses need only light pruning. In fact, they can sulk and refuse to bloom if pruned too hard. Just a light touch of sharp pruning shears is all that is needed for them to respond beautifully. A good rule of thumb is to remove all dead canes and clip back no more than 1/3 of the remaining bush, thus encouraging full foliage and heavy bloom without destroying the vigor and natural attractive form of the plant. When a rose bush, like any other healthy shrub, is cut back, it responds by putting on a spurt of growth. This tender new growth can get frost or heat-burned, so avoid mid-summer and late fall pruning. Everblooming varieties can be lightly trimmed or ?tip-pruned? several times a year since they flower on new growth. Roses that bloom but once annually are best pruned after they have bloomed. Their flowers come from wood that has hardened over a winter, so early spring pruning will reduce their display. Rose hedges can be shaped easily with hedge shears and roses in a natural or wild setting can be left completely alone unless a hard winter produces some unsightly dead canes.

Just FYI, sheep droppings have a ratio of .70 nitrogen, .30 phosphorous, and .90 potassium. You'd need a lot of manure to come close to the commercial ratios! While the manure would also add organic matter to the soil, you can achieve the same results with an organic mulch over the top of the soil.

Best wishes with the rose hedge!

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