FIELD NOTES

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For the Love of Roses

Editor’s Note: This month’s blog was written by Maggie Lofboom, our unapologetically passionate nursery manager -- and the only under-forty member of the Twin Cities Rose Club.

My name is Maggie, and I love roses

I wasn’t always like this.  I didn’t grow up with roses, and I didn’t grow them myself until well into my twenties.  Now, I have forty-three of them... and counting.  I love all kinds of roses: hybrid teas, shrubs, floribundas, miniatures, rugosas, ramblers. They have absolutely captured my heart. And so, I’m here to tell you that there are rose varieties that fit the needs of each and every garden and landscape.  Roses are a hugely diverse group, capable of thriving in surprisingly punishing conditions.  While not everyone wants to do the extra work required to grow big, beautiful hybrid tea roses, other varieties of roses aren’t nearly as high-maintenance. (But if you want to try growing hybrid teas, please do!  It’s not as tough as it sounds, and it’s SO rewarding to see their stately, fragrant blooms in almost every color of the rainbow.)  The rose industry has recognized the need for easy-care, winter-hardy roses for our challenging climate, and hybridizers have risen to the occasion beautifully.  Shrubs hardy to Zone 4 (and even Zone 3) are readily available in nurseries all over the state, have greatly improved vigor and disease resistance, and would LOVE to bloom all summer in your yard!

Rosa 'Northern Accents Sven' (a hardy shrub rose) puts on a riotous display of blooms at the MN Landscape Arboretum.

Rosa 'Northern Accents Sven' (a hardy shrub rose) puts on a riotous display of blooms at the MN Landscape Arboretum.

Keeping your roses happy

The best rose-growing advice that I have for you is this: strong roses are healthy roses.  A good start will take a little care and planning, but your roses will pay you back handsomely.  First, make sure you have a planting site that gives them at least four to six hours of full sun. Next, check that they have some elbow room.  Roses really appreciate good air circulation, which means allowing at least a foot around each plant so air can circulate freely and keep diseases at bay.  Also, make sure you have well-drained soil -- many shrub roses have great vigor and will cheerfully grow in most soil types, as long as the soil drains well. However, amending the soil with compost or other organic matter will give roses a welcome nutrient boost.  Finally, roses love water, but not on their leaves: be sure to water them only at the roots.  If you have a sprinkler system, set it so the watering occurs in the early morning, giving the plants a chance to dry out throughout the day.

'Strike It Rich' hybrid tea rose

'Strike It Rich' hybrid tea rose

Common problems and how to solve them

In mid-summer, the usual rose villains show up -- fungal diseases like black spot and powdery mildew, hungry animal marauders (deer are frequent offenders), and of course, the arch-nemesis of roses everywhere: the Japanese beetle.  For diseases, a regular fungicide-spraying regimen will help a lot. Fungicides can be organic or inorganic and should be applied weekly (or more if it rains).  Spraying plants with an animal repellent is the most effective way to keep the deer at bay (Deer Stopper is our favorite!). Apply repellents once per week (or more if it rains).

Deer love roses almost as much as bees do!

Deer love roses almost as much as bees do!

...Which brings us to the Japanese beetle

Oh the Japanese beetle...scourge of the garden.  This pest has no natural predators in Minnesota and a depressingly efficient reproductive cycle, which results in overwhelming populations.  While there are systemic insecticides that can kill the beetles as soon as they start munching on your roses, these chemicals will also kill friendly insects, including any bees that visit your rose blooms.  I wish I had a magic, secret answer for you… I don’t.  The sole saving grace of the Japanese beetle is that it only shows up for a brief period in the summertime.  

WORST CASE SCENARIO

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Since I try not to use insecticides that will harm pollinators, I advocate for the most labor-intensive method: handpicking the beetles. (Don’t squish them!  I know, the temptation for revenge is great, but crushing them releases more a pheromone that attracts even MORE of them to your yard.  Likewise, DO NOT use the Japanese beetle traps!!!  The lure they give off is so strong that you will end up with more beetles in your yard than ever, and they’ll certainly stop to eat your plants on their way to the traps.)  Drown the handpicked beetles in a bucket of water mixed with vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  I also like to remove the rose blooms that they’ve chomped on, as these are not only unsightly but also covered in the pheromone that attracts more beetles.  UGH!  It’s frustrating, but I am an advocate for waiting them out.  If you can keep your roses healthy (note that I said “healthy,” not “pretty” or “blooming”), the plants will flush out with new growth and new blooms once the beetles reduce in numbers.  You can help your roses along by fertilizing them every other week (I like fish emulsion or milorganite) to generate new growth.  By late summer, you will be awash in color and scent once more!

'Heart O'Gold' grandiflora rose (some beauty to help you get over the visual trauma caused by that last photo)

'Heart O'Gold' grandiflora rose (some beauty to help you get over the visual trauma caused by that last photo)

If you are interested in learning more about roses and their care, please check out the Twin Cities Rose Club's Frequently Asked Questions. The Club is a wonderful resource for both new and seasoned rose growers.