The Q&A Archives: rose garden

Question: I would like to start a shrub rose garden this year. Please give advice on how to start and how to maintain! Thank you.

Answer: First of all start with roses that are best suited to your region. Whether you buy from a local or mail-order nursery, your best bet is probably any rose labeled "All America Rose Selection." These roses have been test-grown throughout the country and have been rated to exceed the quality of other roses in comparison tests. Also look for disease resistance -- roses are prone to many pests. You can also ask a local rosarian for their tried-and-true advice on rose selection and growing. You can hook up with a rosarian via the American Rose Society Web site at . I also recommend buying plants grown in containers or "balled & burlaped," so the roots are well protected with plenty of soil. For regular-sized roses, choose those in containers sized 2 gallons or larger. When you fill soil back in to the planting hole, be careful to keep the bud union up out of the soil. You should be able to see the bud union; if not, ask the nursery person where you buy the roses to show it to you. On your clay soil, you may run into drainage problems, even though you don't get much rainfall. You want to be sure the moisture you supply to your bushes doesn't puddle around the roots and cause problems. Planting in raised beds can alleviate this problem. A bed 6-8" deep is good for roses. Use masonry tiles or landscape timbers to frame the bed. Also, do you have to add iron to your soil, or does the pH just need adjustment? If your soil is very alkaline (pH of 7+), then lowering the pH just a few tenths will make iron more available. Check with your cooperative extension service or your favorite nursery to see what they recommend to acidify your soil. If your soil test results do show that you need to add iron, just follow the recommendations made in the results report. Roses need full sun for best performance, though in your hot climate, midday shade may not inhibit blooming. Your extension agent or rosarian can answer that question better. They need moisture year round, and drip irrigation is usually the easiest method. Though you do spend more initially, irrigation saves time and water in the long run. Use mulch to keep moisture from evaporating from the soil. As your roses put on new growth, provide them with fertilizer. If you had your soil tested, the results should include fertilizer recommendations. If not, use a 12-12-12 or 10-20-10 analysis fertilizer. There are fertilizers specially formulated for roses, and you're safe using those, too. That should get you started. You'll need to learn how to prune roses, too, as well as identify any pest or disease problems that crop up. I recommend that you purchase a book on growing roses, so you can do your best to keep these beautiful flowers looking their best, and to protect this investment you're making in your landscape. Your rosarian will probably have some recommendations for you. I can offer one title that NGA has copublished: Roses For Dummies, by Lance Walheim. Happy Gardening!

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