Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
April, 2008
Regional Report

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Pink Knock Out rose is truly a knockout with dark-leaved smoke bush and 'Tiger Eye' sumac.

Sustainable Roses?

At first blush, "organic roses" seems an oxymoron. Unfortunately and with good reason, many people associate growing roses with chemicals, fungicide, powdery mildew, black spot, thrips, and aphids. But times are changing and so are roses. There's a movement afoot (or a trowel) to make roses "green" as in sustainable and organic! That's right -- natural, chemical-free, and disease-resistant.

Cheers for Old Roses
Roses weren't always temperamental and susceptible. Old European Roses such as Rosa gallica (the Apothecary's rose, for example), Damask, Centrifolia, and Moss were lovely, fragrant, hardy, carefree, and bloomed once a season. In the 1800s, French Empress Josephine hired breeders to develop reblooming cultivars with more intricate flowers. Modern hybrids from crosses of old roses, China roses, and tea roses are beautiful and flower repeatedly BUT are less hardy and more prone to diseases and insects. These are grafted -- an aesthetically desirable upper variety attached to hardy rootstock.

Low Maintenance for the Landscape
Enter the contemporary landscape rose bred for low to no maintenance: 'The Fairy', 'Bonica', and the Carefree series, all grown on their own roots. William Radler's Knock Out rose has set the high bar. Cherry-red flowers bloom from June through November. Blue-green foliage resists black spot and powdery mildew. Even in part-shade with little water, Knock Out and its sport, Pink Knock Out, brighten gardens worldwide.

Sustainable rose varieties and techniques are in the spotlight. Recently the New York Metropolitan Rose Council honored Radler, Knock Out's hybridizer, with its 2008 Great Rosarians of the World Award. Radler recalled planting his first rose at age 9. By 16, he had 150 rose bushes in his backyard and was thinking "low maintenance."

The "green" theme was pervasive recently at the New York Botanical Garden where Paul Zimmerman, owner of Ashdown Roses Nursery in South Carolina, and Marilyn Wellan of Earth Kind and Buck Roses described their chemical-free practices and plants. They shared pictures of favorite beauties: 'Ispahan', 'Jenny Duval', 'Kathleen Harrop', 'Lynnie', 'Square Dancer', and 'Else Poulson'. Heritage Rose Foundation president Stephan Scanniello touted the qualities and conservation of Heritage roses such as the hybrid musk 'Lavender Lassie', and 'Russell's Cottage Rose'.

"Rose growing should be easy, fun, and clean. It's important that we go down the sustainable path," insisted Zimmerman. He walks the talk, running an "all-green" commercial nursery with more than 2,000 rose varieties, many rare and historic. He uses alfalfa and manure (from his horses) on 40,000 square feet of rose beds. Zimmerman, Peter Beales, and colleagues developed a Complete Natural Rose Care line of seasonal fertilizers containing endomycorrhizae and ectomycorrhizae microbes to enhance root growth.

"I believe we are witnessing a revolution in the way we grow roses," said Wellan. She noted Griffith Buck's 'Carefree Beauty' as an early leader in sustainability, followed by 'Square Dancer', 'Earth Song', and the Prairie series.

Development continues, Wellan explained, through Dr. Steve George's Earth Kind rose program at Texas A&M University. Via the Earth Kind Rose Brigade, amateur gardeners field test experimental rose selections without commercial fertilizers or pesticides. If you're interested in participating, go to: Be sure to state your USDA hardiness zone for appropriate rose selection.

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