Monday, July 27, 2009

Rose Care Heats Up

Your rose bushes are probably taking a little nap right now. After a couple of spectacular bloom periods in April and May, the onset of summer weather may have caused the blooms on your hybrid tea roses, shrub roses, grandifloras, floribundas and miniature roses to fade lately. Not to worry: most modern varieties of roses put on six or seven bloom cycles during our long growing season. Your plants are just gearing up for the next round of color. Here are some tips to keep them blooming through December (here in the milder areas of California, anyway!):

• Water, Water, Water. It's difficult to overwater roses, but beware: they do not like "wet feet", which are roots that stay immersed in muddy, slow-draining clay soils. Deep, slow, two or three times a week waterings are best for these thirsty plants. Plenty of water, in combination with fertilizer, gives roses a summertime boost to keep producing new wood, necessary for additional blooms. Drip irrigation, soaker hoses, low microsprayers or bubbler heads are preferable to overhead sprinklers. But in our hot, dry and windy climate, a once a week overhead sprinkling, in addition to regular irrigation, helps keep the dust off the leaves and washes away aphids and mites. Just be sure to apply this shower early in the day to avoid fungus growth.

• Feed roses once a month, from March through early October. Use a complete, balanced granular or liquid fertilizer. Don't feed roses after mid-October; a late fall feeding may stimulate too much growth at the time when roses should be slowing down in the cooler weather. Still, if the weather cooperates, harvesting blooms before Christmas is not uncommon here.

• Mulch and pinch. Adding several inches of organic compost around the base of rose plants helps conserve water and keep roots cooler. Deadheading old rose blooms and cutting off infected or broken branches after each bloom cycle will strengthen the plant for each future bloom cycle.

• Remove unwanted growth. Seek out and cut out any branches that appear to begin below ground level and are noticeably thornier. This rootstock growth robs the rest of the plant of energy to produce the desirable blooms.

• Note the poor performers. If a certain variety of rose bush hasn't bloomed strongly for two years in a row, label it now and dig it out of the ground in January or February when a new crop of bare root roses will be available at area nurseries.

• And this bloom tip from consulting rosarian Baldo Villegas: tip prune your roses six or seven weeks before a planned event at your house. This will help insure a sea of rose blooms when the guests arrive. For example, if you are planning a get together on Labor Day weekend, this would be the time to snip.

• The standard recommendation for summer pruning of a rose bush is to cut the flower stem back to an outward-facing bud above a five-leaflet leaf on a vigorously growing hybrid tea rose. For weaker plants, don't cut off as much.

• Despite the title, the book, "Roses for Dummies" is a great reference book for beginning and experiences rose gardeners.

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