Written by Nellie Neal
My own roses are somewhere in between, mostly old rose shrub types and a few newbies like ‘Knockout’. Roses can grow in a bed of their own, or be sprinkled in any sunny situation where you’ve prepared soil that drains well and provide water.
Perhaps most important is choosing roses that will thrive in our climate(s). Hybrid teas don’t make my list because the vast majority of them require regular spray regimes to combat insects and black spot fungus. For a long-stemmed rose perfect for the vase, I grow ‘Aloha’, a very old tea rose with fine fragrance and no disease issues. Bred for the South, Noisette roses belong in the middle or rear of the rose view, since their form is quite upright and a bit gawky at times. My favorite of these blooms ten months out of the year. ‘Natchitoches’, a neat cabbage-type flower with deep rose outer petals and soft pink, clove-scented insides. I am a huge fan of ‘Red Cascade’ for its hundreds of dime-sized flowers on 15 foot canes sprawling down a ditchbank. ‘Martha Gonzalez’ (red) and ‘Caldwell Pink’ grace my space in tribute to the Texas Rose Rustlers who rediscovered them. ‘Cherokee’ pays homage to my neighborhood, Cherokee Heights, ‘Scotch pink’ honors one line of my heritage, and ‘Buff Beauty’ just blooms endlessly with apricot clusters that stop my heart. When choosing roses for your garden, look for local stalwarts with good reputations for disease resistance. Check out the Rose Emporium in Texas for a fine catalog filled with information about old roses, and Liz Druitt’s book on growing roses organically in the South for plenty of varieties and smart tips.
I’m moving a few shrubs, including roses, in what I hope is the final stage of recovery from the April tornado. My front garden lost a 60 year old red oak, so the bedspread of neat plants spreading around it went from plenty of sun to more than plenty. All day long, browbeating sun; including reflection and heat retention from the highway in front, it’s now the hottest spot on the place. With a simple soaker hose snaking its way around, everything from juniper to gardenia has outgrown its former modest space. The roses have bloomed incessantly, sometimes on top of the lorapetalum!
February brings rose pruning time, with this exception: don’t prune climbers until fall. That said, shrub roses should be pruned, especially those that bloom several times during the year. Cut old roses down to expose their base canes; a six foot bush can be cut back to two feet tall. Trim off all the twigs, crisscrossed or weak wood, and remove the oldest canes completely each year to keep new ones coming. Yes, it looks radical, but it’s necessary. Spray the canes with a horticultural oil spray and skirt each rose with mulch. Don’t let them dry out, nor become puddled – moderate is the key water word for rose beds. Begin fertilizing in a few weeks, and continue until buds are set. Resume after first flush, or after you prune the once-blooming shrub roses following their big show.
Newly released shrub roses don’t require the heavy pruning that the grand dames do. Knock out, for example, can be pruned hard if necessary to control it, but will bloom beautifully with only a ‘haircut’. Look at yours and if its shape and branching are fine, just clip a few inches off the tips. You should, of course, cut out any weak or dead twigs and one of any pair that are rubbing against each other.
I’ll prune the roses that need moving, then dig up a rootball wider than it is deep if possible, and take along as much soil as possible. I’ll transplant immediately, then water the roses in with compost tea or another starter solution. New mulch and my traditional planting speech: ‘Grow, dammit!’ and it’ll be done.
GardenMama Nellie Neal is a writer, photographer, and radio host whose new book, Organic Gardening Down South, will be released in September, 2008, by BB Mackey Books of Wayne, PA. She has been a member of Garden Writers Association since 1993 and is National Spokesperson for Multi Bloom and Mega Green, OMRI listed organic catfish hydrolysate fertilizers made in Isola, MS. Her website is www.gardenmama.com.You can see her member profile on the Mulch.