Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Roses: Hot, Cool, and Vicious

French Lace rose: my queen of roses
Dear ___________,

To me, roses are so beautiful that they might as well be the embodiment of souls on stems. I've always hoped that souls glowed though, so when scientists get around to creating glowing roses, I'll be the first in line to try one. If they can engineer glowing cats, then roses shouldn't be that hard. If you think I'm joking, google it. Glowing effing cats.

Roses get a bad rap. They are the cliche gardening specimen of an entire generation of avant garde, pseudo nouveau types that say "roses are so early 80s." In a few respects, I agree with them. Rose beds are unremarkable without other plants to frame and support the ho-hum foliage and singular blooms. Growing roses solo is mos def 80s. A man in my neighborhood grows only roses (plus one lavender, let's make that clear), and since traditional roses tend to be tall and gangly like a junior high student after a summer growth spurt, you get an eyeful of dirt. It's like that horrible dream when you walk down the street without pants. Dirt blows. Do people walk by and say "Wow! Nice dirt, dude?" No. No one wants to look at that crud for the aesthetic value. I'm the kind of gardener that prefers ninja dirt: it's there, but you don't see it. Like underpants. You just don't go around showing that stuff to people.

Seriously. Photo credit: my nine-year-old from a moving vehicle. Drive by.
Roses look best when incorporated into the mixed garden like people, and there are so many types and ranges of mental health issues. You got your heirlooms (your grandmother, because she can't get rid of anything), your knock-outs (bar flies: cheap and easy for the cads out there), your floribundas and teas (RuPaul and all other drag queens- gorgeous), the shrub-type roses (most of the middle class: slightly overweight), the topiaries (the queen mother), and carpet roses (straight up altar boys). Walk down the street and pretend everyone is a rose. That jerk driving like a entitled twit on the interstate in his Lotus? Probably not a rose at all, but a weed. But even dandelions/cads get into the mixed border sometimes. Yank it out before it sends out seeds (probably with the bar fly).

Mixed border: yellow rose and white lavender, but closer together. No underpants showing. 

Heirloom climbing rose and Echinacea 'Green Jewel.' A little underpants flashed.

See the cherry on top?
Red climbing rose, Digiplexis, Carolina spice bush, red barberry, achemilla
Taking care of roses isn't as time consuming as you might think. Climbing roses are easy. Just find something for them to strangle like a fence or trellis, maybe the side of your house, the deck railing, your worst enemy, George W. Bush, etc. I've read several articles that tell you to train the canes of a climbing rose to grow horizontally for more blooms per branch. The top bud sends down a chemical signal to dissuade buds below it that says "Hey, guys. I got this." But if you train them to grow sideways.... cheeky.  However, I've rarely had this problem, but I've seen it. My climbing roses bloom quite nicely: I feed them like a mofo. Plant something right in front of your rose (that one lavender plant, maybe), or else you'll be flashing your underpants. I've done this. I planted a shrub in front of the bare canes of my red climbing rose, so now I have a strange double scoop ice cream cone thing happening.

Tamed heirloom climbing rose on trellis with iris hiding the base.
Untended hose for effect.
Almost all roses (but not your climbers) will do best if they are cut back to around twelve inches tall in February or early Spring. This will keep them from looking like those anorexic teenagers going through growth spurts. Seriously, you want those babies to look like a brick house, and poorly trained roses are one of my biggest pet peeves. I walk my neighborhood frowning and shaking my head whenever I encounter a poorly pruned rose bush. Are we going for Slenderman here? They're creepy and they try to abduct you as you walk by. It's like the most horrible part of the fairy tale where the trees come alive and snatch the lost and wandering children. If you walk onto your porch some morning to find a herd of children stuck in your rebellious rose monster, call me. I'll bring the pruners.

Black spot and Felis Catus, also with black spots.
So, the problems with roses. Some of the older cultivars are susceptible to disease and fungal infections. Black spot (Diplocarpon rosae) is the bane of my rosy existence. I have one rose that wrestles with that crap every year. It will defoliate the whole plant, and since it's a fancy topiary rose (queen mother), I will fight to the death to save it for my country. I tried Neem oil since it's organic and wholesome and crap, but it didn't do much for the health of the rose, and it made the yard smell like a head shop. I dug through my arsenal (a perilously leaning shed that leaks and sometimes doubles as a raccoon nest) and found some seriously bad ass fungicide. I sprayed that rose every week in a last ditch effort to save it with full spectrum Immunox. I spent $60 on the rose, and it's still dying. The spray was worthless. I'm going to try a systemic fungicide tomorrow, which you water into the ground around the rose's roots. This morning I discovered the fungus has spread to two of my climbing roses. I'll let you know which one wins, but on the down low, my money is on the systemic fungicide. If you see the remains of the rose (or my body) in the compost, you'll know the outcome. In general I don't like spraying stuff because my neighbor has MS, and I like him. If I didn't like him, I'd spray everything. I also have kids and they eat weird things like dandelions and, you got it, rose buds.

Ladybug larva. Run.
Aphids. Lawdhavemercy. Aphids are psychotically obsessed with the new growth of roses. I know of no roses that are impervious to aphids. I used to spray organic and/or homemade pesticides every weekend on the buds of my roses (dish soap, castile soap, cayenne-peppered water, vinegar, you name it-- I had the whole pantry out there. By the way, soy sauce does nothing), but I got a stiff trigger finger from spraying so much and went with the systemic granules that you feed to the rose and water until you have to run inside use the bathroom. Systemic pesticide and fungicides are becoming my holy grail. It's practically a vaccine for roses. The pesticide lasts up to eight weeks, and I get a perverse joy out of watching the aphids take a bite, then wither and die like the garden vermin they are. Little bug corpses are so romantic on flowers. And with the pesticides, it's not as if I'm eating the roses (just the kids), and the bees are still alive and coming back to visit. I also employed ladybugs at some point. I've had both good and meh experiences with them. One year they stayed and had babies. Larval ladybugs are very creepy creatures, and I flipped out the first time I saw a horde of them marching onward towards dawn. Tiny. spiny alien invasion. However, four times out of five the ladybugs I bought flew away within forty-eight hours (and I've only bought five herds). Probably to breed and eat in someone else's garden. And no, they didn't fuel up on aphids before they flew the coop.

Rose 'Dr. Huey.' Hey, sexy. Photo credit: Nicole Juday
Roses gone wild. Some bitterly cold winters are either too cold for a rose, it's a pansy, or it's about to kick the bucket. Since many hybrid roses are grafted (much like peonies) onto a hardier root stock, aka the climbing rose 'Dr. Huey,' you will find that instead of the magnificent, flamboyant drag queen rose you planted a few years back, you have an illegal gin-distilling hillbilly in its place when Spring arrives. It's the root stock that has grown: the grafted rose has died. I had a rose that was fine for fifteen years before going wild. I've also had a peach floribunda rose that was still a toddler when it went on Winter break and sent a rangy redneck back in its place. While it's not a fixable problem, it can be disappointing to find a dirty-overalls-wearing, small-bloomed red rose in the place of the stunning drag queen you planted. Some people like that look. But out of twenty or thirty roses, only two plants have done this to me. Think of it as the perfect time to get a brand new rose. Go big or go home.

Many of the newer rose cultivars have been bred to resist the above problems. They still haven't been bred to glow, disappointingly. Knock-Out roses in particular are supposed to be impervious to the black plague and probably SARS, but I find them awfully plain without the whorls of petals. They look like evil souls. Maybe the jerk in the Lotus? So I don't grow them. But I wanted to at least mention them since they are the new hammer-wielding Thor of roses (I fancy Loki, FYI), and lots of get-out-of-jail-free types of gardeners are in love with them. No judging.

Blushing Knock-Out rose. Yeah, not so much. But you can by it from
Photo credit: Willoway Nurseries

Roses are always hungry. Plant food specifically for these souls is best since they have a preferred drink order. Martini: dry, shaken, two olives and a twist of lime. They also like different nutrients depending on the season and bloom time. But don't worry too much about that unless you're studying to become a member of the Seattle Rose Society (raise that pinky finger when you drink your tea). Just remember to look for the fertilizer that says "rose food" next time you're at the nursery. You could forgo the food and add compost like the backdoor of a hen house, but you can't make your own chellated nutrients- iron, phosphate, nitrogen- no matter how hard you try. I have added Epson salt to the mix on a whim, but I haven't noticed a big difference in foliage glossiness or greenness. I'll try again.

About that bad rap.... hopefully nothing above has told you not to grow roses. I've had roses that have been healthy, and as far as I know, my mother has never had to spray her roses, Aphids, sure, but never have I heard of fungal problems on her roses. And she's not nearly as neurotic about gardening as I am, so there's hope for the happy go lucky gardener out there. Maybe that's the key. Either way you decide to play it, post some photos of your souls. I promise my kids won't eat them.

Heirloom rose: grandma's pearls.

March onward towards dawn, my friends.



Nonnie said...

Hello Dahlin'
Can't remember which post it was that you were talking about how big to dig your hole...But, then I was looking at everything you put in pots...Why is it that you can cram a nursery into a pot, but, put those buggars in a tiny hole in a nice big bed and they struggle?

Bluntforcemama said...

Well, hey there. Six months later.... You wouldn't believe what I've been up to. So, your plants are not thriving once they're put into the earth. Without investigating or asking more questions, I'm going to say NITROGEN! Almost all soils are deficient in nitrogen, as it's one of those things (like heart medicine) that you have to keep up with. Now, what else can you tell me about your garden? Location? Weird things like toxic leaching? Possibly straight up anarchy?