Ask anyone to say the first flower that comes to mind and they will usually say “rose.” No other flower seems to stir our imaginations or have such a long history. More has been written about them than any other flower. Yet when I mention roses to many people they use words such as “difficult,” “disease” or “not worth the effort.” I am not a rose expert. I have a rose garden containing fourteen roses on the north side of the house with a border of English lavender. I have allowed lamium, a ground cover, to enter the rose garden because it is pretty and spreads under the roses. I do not spray my roses. I believe in integrated pest management, essentially good garden practices, identification of problems, and thoughtful decision making.
I believe that the secret to growing healthy roses is similar to growing other plants — healthy soil, proper watering, cleanliness, plants appropriate to the chosen location. I know some of you are thinking “How can she grow roses on the north side of the house?” Think of your gardening areas as having microclimates. The roses in this garden receive about seven and a half hours of direct sunlight. They are not planted directly against the house so none are in shadow. The soil has been amended with compost over many years and is rich and dark in color. Soil analysis indicates that the soil has a pH of 6.6 which is perfect for roses. The roses are never watered from above except by mother nature. There is a soaker hose winding among them. I have covered this hose with soil and the lamium helps hide it as well. When the roses are in full bloom no one notices the hose anyway! They receive deep watering throughout the growing season, up to the time the ground begins to freeze. This encourages the roots to grow deep into the soil and prepares them for winter.
When the forsythia bloom I cut back the roses. I do this task then because I’ve noticed that this seems to be when the roses are beginning to grow and to green up. The buds are starting to swell. I wear gloves for this task as some of the thorns are brutal! I love doing this work. It is a great time to see how the roses fared over the winter and marks the beginning of my time in the garden for the year. I remove the soil that was placed over the crowns in early December. If there is already enough soil in the rose garden I put this soil in a container and spread it elsewhere. This soil was not from the rose garden in the first place. It was purchased in the fall. I mention this because sometimes gardeners scrape up this soil from the rose bed itself with good intentions but inadvertently expose some of the rose roots which sometimes leads to damage and their demise. I take a hard look at each rose bush. If the rose is grafted I look to see whether the new growth is above or below the graft (the bulge). I look for branches which cross over the rose trunk to remove. I try to think about the ultimate direction of growth. I cut back to new growth (white or greenish pith) with a downward cut with sharp pruners about a quarter to a half inch above a bud.I also pull newly emerging weeds and tidy up. This is also the time that I cut back the lavender into green tissue and remove the dead and woody parts. The lavender plants now look like a person with a brush cut but this pays off later when they produce their incredible flowers. I do love April!