In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
Peggy Martin rose gears up for her third set of flowers this year.
Deepest South Roses
Not every rose bush can make it here, but those that do are easy to grow and the rebloomers among them are showing off now. What does it take for a rose to grow in our regions? Nothing much, except disease resistance plus tolerance for heat and humidity, for starters. Thick leaves that will not wilt easily, petal colors that stand up to sunlight, and the ability to shrug off insects help a rose survive here, too. For too long conventional wisdom held that really pretty roses just cannot stand our conditions without weekly sprays and frequent replanting. It seems we were dreaming when we saw roses blooming without any apparent attention in cemeteries, on miles of fences, and crawling all over old houses long abandoned. Nowadays there are plant societies in every Southern state devoted to so-called old roses, but a better way to think of them now might be as garden roses. People will always grow temperamental hybrid tea roses, and more power to them. The rest of us have discovered old, antique, found, own root, grafted and newly released roses that have all the necessary attributes and bloom for much of the year to boot. If they have a brush with black spot or insects, they shrug it off and recover quickly.
Classic types include China roses and their descendants such as tea roses, noisettes, polyanthas, Bourbons and Bermudas (in sandy soils). It was the power of China roses to rebloom and their willingness to cross with old European roses that started their rise to popularity. The roses in these families are known as old or antique. Found roses are those with little or no pedigree. For example, we know that the polyantha 'Clotilde Soupert' was introduced in 1890, but the polyantha 'Peggy Martin' made no such debut into society. She was found, still in bloom, in 20 feet of water after Hurricane Katrina. Own root roses are not grafted, and that description fits many in the various families. Roses are grafted to enable their survival in unsuitable soils, as some of ours certainly are, and the Rosa fortuneana and Dr. Huey rootstocks are very successful. Good candidates for our gardens among newer releases include Knockout roses and Flower Carpet roses, both bred for durability and repeat blooming.
These are the roses blooming now, without routine sprays. These roses are garden plants to grow in the landscape and do not require a separate garden bed like hybrid teas. Their care is not complicated and involves a simple routine. To enjoy roses all summer, plant in winter, prune in February, fertilize then and again after the first flush of flowers. Keep the plants mulched with organic matter such as ground bark that will decompose in 6-12 months. It is essential to maintain well-drained soil. As the mulch rots, dig it into the soil and replace it on top. Water roses regularly, especially in summer. Whenever possible, soak the roots without wetting the leaves to prevent disease development. Deadhead the roses after each flowering to promote more blossoms, but let some flowers remain to form hips for the birds to enjoy or, if you grow organically, for your tea.
A major reason more people are growing garden roses these days is because they are becoming widely available. Garden centers that sell hundreds of tea roses annually often have a section of old roses or stock the newest releases that suit our needs. At this time of year, many are available at reduced prices as summer begins in earnest. You may want to grow such finds in pots until more favorable planting conditions arrive in late fall.
There are dozens of good roses, but here are some of my favorites from each group. In the old or antique group, I grow China 'Old Blush', tea 'Aloha', 'Natchitoches Noisette' and 'Crepuscle' noisette, polyanthas 'Clotilde Soupert' and 'Peggy Martin', Bourbon 'Maggie', and Bermuda 'Smith's Parish'. 'Yellow Knockout' and Flower Carpet 'Amber' perform as well or better than the old roses in my gardens in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The word bulletproof is often used in speaking of these roses, but perhaps a better adjective would be loyal. They are so sweet that if they were puppies, they would curl up at our feet.
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