For The Answer
By Calvin Finch, Ph. D., Director of Conservation., SAWS, and HorticulturistSubmitted to Express News
Roses have been and are the most popular flower and shrub. Even folks that do not garden, dream of growing roses someday. We have a large number of successful rose growers in South Texas. They have acquired skills along the way because most roses are not the easiest plants to grow. Modern roses, up until recently, have been developed to be flower-producing machines. Big well-shaped colorful flowers that performed at their best when they were well watered, fertilized, and kept free of pests.
To grow modern roses in the San Antonio area we need to start with a raised bed. At least 3 landscape timbers or a railroad tie high filled with a good rose mix from Fertile Garden Supply, GardenVille, Keller Material, Living Earth Technology or one of the other soil mix providers. If you mix your own raised bed soil, it should be 1/3 soil, 1/3 washed sand and 1/3 compost.
Plant the roses 3-4 feet apart, water with drip irrigation and fertilize with rose food (as per instructions on box) or slow release lawn fertilizer (every month) in the spring and fall. Mulch is essential. Use 2-4 inches of leaves, bark, shredded brush or whatever else is available.
The spray program is important for attractive blooms and long life. The traditional spray program is Funginex and Orthene every week. The Funginex does a good job controlling black spot and the Orthene handles thrips and other insects. Organic gardeners may try neem oil (Rose Defense) sulfur, Organo Spray and other organic pesticides.
Modern roses are pruned in late February and again in late July to prepare the plants for the spring and autumn flush of bloom. The middles are opened to allow air and light access and all injured and dead wood is removed. In the spring the pruning is more severe leaving 3 or 4 finger width stems at 24-36 inches tall.
In South Texas mid summer is not prime rose performance time. The roses hold leaves but do not bloom much. Grasshoppers have been a special problem this year. Orthene is the best control but even Orthene does not prevent all damage. The good news is that grasshoppers are usually cyclical pests who come and go. It is about time for them to go.
Roses are one of the favorite foods of deer. In neighborhoods blessed with the pests you will have to forego roses unless you select very large plants such as climbing roses or Lady Banks roses that can outgrow the deer if you protect their base when they are young.
For those of you who are willing to trade the large perfect blooms of modern roses for the less demanding care requirements of old fashioned roses, they are an excellent option. Martha Gonzales roses make a great low landscape rose that can even control traffic at school sites while it produces red flowers all summer and fall. The selection stays about 2-3 feet tall and has small thorns, enough too protect itself but not enough to cause mortal wounds. Mrs. Dudley Cross is a shrub rose that has yellow blooms with a pink blush that almost match modern roses in size and color. One modern rose Belindas Dream is as tough as most old-fashioned roses and produces large pink fragrant blooms. Rose breeders are realizing that, as wonderful as modern roses are, the real future for rose development are roses that can bloom in native soils without pesticides, extensive pruning and heavy fertilization. Old fashioned roses, and new roses like Belindas Dream, qualify as xeriscape plants. Mulch the old fashioned roses and water them deeply once per month and they will be a showy part of any xeriscape. For more information on old-fashioned roses obtain Bill Welchs books Antique Roses and Perennial Garden Color. Mike Shoup, owner of The Antique Rose Emporium also has a good book on old garden roses- Roses in the Southern Garden.
For San Antonio Water System customers that want to learn more about watering your lawn with ET, 3 nurseries will have Master Gardeners on hand today between 11am and 3pm to explain the program and hand out ET kits to folks who will give it a try. ET is a watering program that uses weather station data to determine how much you should water your lawn each week. Follow ET recommendations and you will have a healthy lawn and not waste any water. Visit Fanicks, Rainbow Gardens on Thousand Oaks, or Milbergers to make a commitment to try ET and receive your kit.