Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2006
Regional Report

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Introduced in 1932, 'The Fairy' is still one of the most outstanding roses, with its profusion of tiny pink blooms and bright green, pest-resistant foliage.

Kinder, Easier Roses

Perhaps no other plant strikes such a dual chord of adoration and intimidation in the hearts of gardeners as roses. Roses are evocative of romance, beauty, love, and the most idyllic of gardens. Growing them, however, strikes fear into the hearts of many, conjuring up images of untold insects, diseases, sprayers, pesticides, and fertilizers, not to mention intricate pruning and winter care.

Magazines often have articles on the "15 Best Roses" or some such, yet after a little research or hands-on experience, you once more find out that more care is needed than you expected. So what's the "average" gardener to do?

Texas A&M to the Rescue
The Department of Horticultural Science at Texas A&M University has attempted to solve this dilemma with a rigorous statewide program of testing and evaluation of roses by a team of horticultural experts. The roses found to possess a high level of landscape performance coupled with outstanding disease and insect tolerance/resistance have been designated EarthKind roses.

The roses so designated have been found to do very well in almost any soil type. Although the EarthKind roses are not immune to pest problems, their tolerance to pests is such that even though a few leaves may drop occasionally, plants survive without the use of chemical pesticides.

The Web site for EarthKind roses ( does not state how many of the some 15,000 roses in commerce have been tested so far, and, not surprisingly, the list of thirteen EarthKind roses is strongly represented by shrub and polyantha roses. Still, all the roses on the list bloom from late spring until frost and more than half are fragrant. What more can you ask of a garden shrub?

Although a few types are not hardy beyond Zone 7 (most notably the two Chinas, 'Spice', and 'Mutabilis'), the list of EarthKind roses does provide a great service to gardeners far beyond Texas.

It should come as no surprise that 'Knock Out' is on the list. For once, the hype and billing has proven true. Bred in Wisconsin by Bill Radler, former director of Boerner Botanical Gardens, 'Knock Out' cleanly drops its petals, requiring no pruning before it sends out new growth and more buds. It is also highly disease and insect resistant. 'Carefree Sunshine' and 'Rambling Red' are two other Radler roses you might want to consider, plus more are in the works.

Besides the above-mentioned roses, the others designated as EarthKind include: 'Marie Daly', 'The Fairy', 'Caldwell Pink', 'Perle d'Or', 'Belinda's Dream', 'Else Poulsen', 'Katy Road Pink' (also known as 'Carefree Beauty'), 'Duchesse de Brabant', 'Climbing Pinkie', and 'Sea Foam'.

The horticultural experts at Texas A&M are realistic enough to provide some growing tips to get the best out of the EarthKind roses. Don't panic, though, the growing suggestions are not much different than anything you would do for the rest of the garden.

If you're really enthused, you can join the EarthKind Rose Brigade, a volunteer group of dedicated amateurs interested in advanced field testing of experimental roses. Participants purchase the roses, grow them without any fertilizer or pesticides, and provide reports.

Look North for Other Roses
The EarthKind roses are certainly not the only ones that have the potential of being easy to grow. Among the ones to look for are the Explorer and Parkland Series of roses from Canada, which are especially hardy and pest resistant. One of my favorite books on roses, Rose Favorites (Lone Pine Publishing, 1997; $15.95), is written by Lois Hole, a Canadian garden center operator and author who provides a very realistic look at growing roses. Many of the roses developed by Griffith Buck at Iowa State University are also very cold hardy and pest resistant.

If Pest Control is Needed
Last year, the Institute of Ecosystem Studies ( in New York compared blackspot controls. The results indicated that both compost tea and Messenger (a harpin protein that boosts a plant's natural defenses) were as effective as, or more effective than, conventional chemical fungicides. For more information on compost teas, go to: Neem oil is another good organic solution for control of both insects and diseases on roses.

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