Parker Memo

Sweet Fragence Rose, my garden, October 1st, 2020

Roses this time of year are beautiful. The cold makes the colors deepen, and become more vibrant. Insects are no longer a problem, and rose chores are coming to an end. For those who are up to the challenges, I’d like to share what I’ve learned. All plant growing information is local, and the information in this article is for those who live at elevations between 6000 and 8000 feet.

The rose varieties that grow most successfully at these elevations, are those roses grown from their own roots. Grafted roses are a combination of a cold-tolerant rootstock, below the graft, and a not so hardy budded rose, that develops above the graft. Unfortunately, the not so hardy budded rootstock can easily die back to the graft. The result is a rose that grows from the rootstock, and not the beautiful rose you bought. Roses grown from cuttings produce their own roots. They can die down to the ground, and come back true to the bloom you bought. At the the nursery, ask if the rose is own-root, sometimes the tag doesn’t tell you, and it’s hard to tell.

The roses I grow in my garden are all shrub roses, and all own-root. The Herbalist, a David Austin shrub rose, is in my semi-circle in the formal area. It has been there for 27 years. Sweet Fragrance, the shrub pictured above, grows in large containers that line the entrance into the garden. They have been in their containers for five years now. The NM native, Rosa Woodsii, and the yellow Basset Farm rose make up the border in the front of the house. They have been there over 40 years. My Robusta roses are climbing on a fence in the evergreen area and have been there for nearly 15 years. The Nearly Wild is a smaller rose, grown for just a few years in containers for the front of the house. My newest rose, planted this year, Above and Beyond, is a climber growing in my formal four-square. It has one fabulous bloom in late spring, and not much of a repeat bloom. As you can see, sustainablity is important to me, and I chose this particular rose for the hardiness of its canes. The pictures of it are insanely pretty, and I am planning on growing clematis up among it for summer interest.

When you buy roses, keep the tag. It will give its name, and tell you what kind of rose it is, helping you decide how to prune it in spring. Tags get lost over time, and names slip from memory, but try to hold on to it for a few years until you begin to know it. I prune shrub roses in stages. In April, I cut out all the dead canes. In mid-May, I open the middles, and cut out all crossing branches. The idea is to get airflow through the middle of the plant, and give each large cane space to grow. With own-root roses, no matter how much they die over winter, they will still come up from the root, even if we are surprised by a late spring freeze, which is just about every year.

Roses planted in the ground need:

Wind protection from all sides. Board fencing, adobe walls, or xeric shrubs can be used to provide shelter. I use Wilt-Pruf, a wax spray on the canes in October, and again in February, to keep the canes from drying out.

When planting your new rose, add peat moss. Mix one part peat moss to one part of your soil into the planting hole. Adding compost into the soil next to plant roots is tricky. If compost is not thoroughly composted, it burns the roots. Potting soil belongs in pots, not in the ground. If you do not have any soil, consider containers.

Roses need a layer of mulch two inches thick after planting. Large mulch chips take years to break down. Use the smallest chips, or other chopped organic matter you can find. Organic matter feeds your soil all year long. Rubber mulch, and plastic ground cover kill roses.

It is important to spread compost in fall, or spring over your mulch. Mulch is not compost, and compost is not mulch. Mulch is bumpy shreds of bark or leaves or straw that break down slowly. Compost is already broken down, and soil-like in texture. Compost will filter down between your mulch when watered. I use pecan hulls, and small wood chips for mulch, and Soilutions compost to spread on top. Please make sure all of your manures are aged properly, and throughly composted before using them on your plants.

I apply a liquid fertilizer once each month in May, June, and July after each bloom sequence. Roses are heavy feeders; they produce hundreds of blooms if you feed them. Organic fertilizers need to be applied weekly, no matter what they say on the box.

A strategy to help control insects and creatures is essential. The insect sequence is thrips, aphids , grasshoppers, and finally bud beetles. For thrips, clean up old leaves in spring, pick off brown damaged looking buds, and put the buds in a sealed plastic baggie. Thrips are only a problem for a few months. Aphids can be washed off with water. Kill the grasshoppers by hand. Kill the bud beetles by picking off blooms and drowning them in a bucket of soapy water. We don’t get all of these bugs every year, but we do get them. Fence your garden against deer, rabbits, etc. Trap and kill the mice, rats, and gophers.

Water in the summer and in the winter. Water twice a week in summer, and at least once a month in Winter. If you live in rocky soil you will need twice the water that I do. Wait for a warm day to water in winter. If you are watering every day, and your roses are still doing poorly, they need more water than you are giving them. Add more drippers, or water longer. I have heavy, clay soil, and the above schedule works for me.

Roses planted in containers need:

A container rose needs a large ten or fifteen-gallon plastic pot. Ceramic pots will crack over winter. I use ten-gallon plastic pots inserted into half wine barrels with small wood chips in between the containers. I also use the nice looking resin/stone pots that last for years.

Use a good potting soil. I like Fertilome. Do not add dirt from the ground into your pots. if you use too much it compacts the soil and prevents air from getting to the roots. This causes overwatering plant wilt. Container roses last for about two years before they need a root pruning and a new soil change.

Rose containers need to be watered every day in summer(yes, every day), and twice a month in winter. Wait for a warm day, and give them a 5 gallon bucket full.

Roses grown in containers need fertilizer. I put on a three-month slow release in April, then a liquid fertilizer every two weeks in May, June, and July. Slow release pelleted fertilizer does not activate until the soil gets warm, but releases just enough to get through April. It never seems to work as well or as long as a liquid feed.

Containers need protection from wind in all seasons, but particularly in winter. They can stand freezing temperatures, but not wind. They need an unheated garage or protected porch. Wilt-Pruf works on container plants too.

The above paragraphs are not all inclusive, but give the basics. If what you are doing is different, and it’s working, keep doing what works for you. Growing roses is a passion no matter where you live, and to get them to thrive is a tribute to the love and good care you give to them. If you live in the mountains, you can be very, very proud of yourself if your roses are doing well.


Monika and the Boys.