For The Answer
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PRIMETIME NEWSPAPERS WEEKLY COLUMN
Week of February 12, 2001
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
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Everyone likes roses. There are hundreds of selections and many categories. One of the main divisions are the roses identified as old-fashioned and those identified as modern.
Modern roses are of recent origin and have been developed as blooming machines to produce numerous large blooms of every color imaginable. In the San Antonio area they require raised beds, weekly pesticide sprays, twice-yearly pruning, mulch, fertilizer and generous irrigation to perform to their full potential.
Old-fashioned roses will respond to good care but have survived and bloomed admirably on some sites without any attention. Old-fashioned roses are also called old garden roses (OGR) and antique roses. In San Antonio there are many selections that will prosper without pesticides, special irrigation, or regular pruning in our native soils. If you select the right variety there are OGRs that fit well into a xeriscape as groundcovers, borders, specimens, vines, large shrubs, and wildlife habitat.
Red Cascade is a premiere groundcover for full sun. Place one plant on a hillside and it will cover 12 feet of ground with thorny, thick foliage 18 inches tall to limit erosion and traffic. The mass of stems are covered with red compound blooms from mid-spring through early winter. I am not sure if it is the thorns or the fast growth, but Red Cascade survives in deer country. At least one of the Bexar County Master Gardeners is using it successfully as a climbing rose. To view Red Cascade in action visit the SAWS Jones-Maltsberger Turfgrass/Groundcover Demonstration Site located north of Loop 410. Master Gardeners are on duty from 9 a.m. until noon on Mondays or watch for the scheduled Saturday field days. They may let you take a cutting (they are easy to root). You may also purchase Red Cascade at Fanicks Garden Center or Antique Rose Emporium.
Another old-fashioned rose that performs well as a groundcover is Martha Gonzales. It is taller than Red Cascade and not nearly as aggressive in growth or thorns. Use Martha Gonzales to keep foot traffic on the sidewalk. It has enough thorns to discourage trespass but not enough to cause bodily harm to raucous youngsters who fall into the beds.
Martha Gonzales blooms are red, simple and silver dollar-size. The new foliage is also an attractive red hue. It is widely used throughout the City of San Antonio. Two sites to see it are at the Schultze House Cottage Gardens (514 HemisFair Park) and the KLRN studios downtown. Many nurseries, including Milbergers and Rainbow Gardens, offer Martha Gonzales for sale.
Belindas Dream and Mrs. Dudley Cross are two OGRs to consider if you want a rose that approximates the modern roses in bloom beauty but are easier to care for.
Belindas Dream reaches at least 5 ft. tall. The blooms are pink and 2 to 3 inches across. The selection blooms nearly year-round if the winter is mild. Use them for specimen plants or a tall border. Belindas Dream has a very pleasant fragrance. It is nearly thornless so should not be used in deer country. Belindas Dream is a statewide promotion by area wholesale nurseries. It is available at most nurseries including Wolfes and Vernons.
Mrs. Dudley Cross has almost no thorns. It does not have a fragrance but the blooms are large and showy over a long season. Mrs. Dudley Cross blooms start as a light yellow and change to a pink blush. Mrs. Dudley Cross makes a good OGR for cut flowers. The plants reach 5 or 6 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet wide. Find Mrs. Dudley Cross at many area nurseries including Milbergers and Fanicks.
Mutabilis or butterfly rose blooms 12 months some years. It is not a disciplined grower so give it lots of room as a specimen for maximum effect. Mutabilis blooms start out as yellow, become pink, and end as reddish. The blooms are simple (one layer of petals) and cover the large shrub (6 feet tall by 6 feet).
Do you have a wet area in your yard where drainage is not great? Swamp rose is the old-fashioned rose for such a location. It produces red-pink blooms over a long season. Swamp rose actually has some shade tolerance as well. Use it as a graceful weeping rose on the water or as an edge plant. Swamp rose is nearly thornless. Swamp rose is attractive in the winter with its graceful stems.
Another showy winter plant is the Bayse blueberry. It produces a bountiful crop of orange hips and has good fall and spring leaf color. The flowers are semi-double pink and make an attractive display on the thornless upright canes. The roses are also fragrant. Antique Rose Emporium offers Bayse blueberry.
If you like climbing roses consider the old blush climber for pink flowers and the cramoisi superieur for red flowers. Old blush is the plant that blooms over a long season at the Admiral Nimitz Museum. Both selections are also available as shrub roses, 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide.