With Preparation and Care, Blooms Will Beautify Your Garden for Months
I want to grow roses but I worry about mildew because of our high humidity. What do you suggest?
A: Roses are a great choice for home gardeners here in North Florida, because they bloom nine or 10 months of the year, depending on how chilly a winter we have. Our humidity can cause lots of problems for roses, including the mildew you mentioned, but some roses can handle our climate and are easier to grow than others. All roses can be categorized as either high-maintenance or low-maintenance, so decide how much time you want to spend on them.
High-maintenance roses include hybrid tea roses, which is what florists use. These require frequent spraying with fungicides in order to look their best. They also need frequent grooming and fertilizing, as well as watering. For many rosarians, it’s a labor of love to care for hybrid teas. For others, it’s a pain in the neck.
Low-maintenance roses include the old garden roses, also called heirloom roses, and the newer shrub roses, such as the Knock-out® collection. The flowers on OGRs and Knock-outs® are more open and less formal, but still beautiful. Some of the more popular heirloom roses in our area are Mrs. B.R. Cant, which produces a pink flower; Louis Philippe, which has a deep pinkish red bloom; and Lady Banks, a climbing rose that blooms either yellow or white in spring.
Some roses are great landscape plants; others don’t do much for the yard but make great cut flowers. Some have fragrance and others don’t. Think about why you want roses, and make your selection accordingly. Many OGRs are grown on their own rootstock, but roses grafted onto Fortuniana rootstock tend to be stronger and more disease-resistant, grow larger and produce more flowers.
Once you’ve decided on what kind of roses you want, decide where you want to plant them. Roses need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. If your preferred location gets partial shade, make sure it’s in the afternoon, for a couple of reasons: First, morning sun will dry the dew faster, reducing the chances of fungus developing; and second, our afternoon sun can be brutal in summer. Don’t plant them too close to trees or other shrubs, because their root systems need room. Although roses are not salt-tolerant, they can be grown near the coast if protected from salt spray.
Got a site picked out? Good, now have the soil tested. Don’t skip this step — you could do it before you pick out your rose bush — because a plant in the wrong environment will fail to thrive, and you’ll end up tossing it, usually after spending lots of money and energy trying to salvage it. Soil test kits are available at your county extension office and include complete instructions on how to take the sample and mail it off for testing. As long as you’re going to the trouble of getting it tested, pay the extra $4 for a complete soil analysis, instead of just the pH test of acidity and alkalinity. Roses like a well-drained loam that is slightly to moderately acidic soil — pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
You’ll probably need to add compost or composted manure to improve the soil structure, but stay away from mushroom compost, which is very alkaline. Be sure to amend the entire planting bed, not just the planting hole. Plant your rose at about the same depth it was in the pot, maybe a little shallower, and build a 2– to 3–inch high berm around it, about a foot out from the plant. This will allow water to seep into the root zone, where it’s needed, instead of running off. Water frequently the first couple of months.
Many roses take a couple of years to establish their root systems, while the top growth remains slow. Be sure to install a trellis or other support for climbers or bushes that will grow large; installing it at planting time will avoid potential root damage later.
Hybrid teas and other so-called “modern” roses will require weekly spraying, dead-heading of spent blossoms and general grooming. OGRs and Knock-outs® require minimal care. In our area, February is the right time to prune roses, to control their size and form as well as to increase air circulation. Remove any dead and diseased canes, and shorten the main canes as well as their branches. Don’t cut back the healthy canes by more than half. Slight pruning and shaping can be done throughout the growing season, through August.
The best way to learn about growing roses is join a local rose society. There are two affiliates of the American Rose Society in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, the Tallahassee Area Rose Society (tallahasseearearosesociety.org) and the Pensacola Rose Society (pensacolarosesociety.org). There’s a wealth of knowledge in both.
© 2014 Postscript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at Questions@MsGrowItAll.com or visit her website at msgrowitall.com. Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of Postscript Publishing.