All About Roses

​by Brian Strickland

Below is an article written by our own Brian Strickland.  He is a Newport News Master Gardener and the rosarian who maintains the rose garden at Huntington Park.  His efforts has transformed the garden into a vision of beauty, unsurpassed in the state of Virginia.  Also check out the helpful links below.

The alarm clock for the rose grower in Hampton Roads is the forsythia.  Due to the unique weather conditions of the area, we have several micro-environments.  The forsythia in your immediate area will respond to the local situation, and when it blooms in your neighborhood, that's the time to turn your attention to the spring care of your roses. 

An initial survey of your roses at this time should show the uppermost buds swelling by not yet leafing out.  Your ramblers and climbing rose's should have been pruned early autumn after the final flowering.  Your attention at this time should be on your bush and standard roses.  The idea is to provide a healthy framework for the spring and summer flowers.

First step is to completely remove all deadwood.  A rose bush grows actively, and the stem will die back as new growth develops out of the lower branches and bud union.  These dead stems should be removed.  If the cut surface is brown, cut back further until you are left with a clean, white cut.  Use this opportunity to also remove diseased, damaged, thin and unripe (thorns bend or tear instead of breaking cleanly, wood is soft) stems.  Suckers growing from below the bud union should be removed whenever identified as they sap the strength from your plant.  The idea is to have a vase-shaped frame of strong healthy stems.

Once you have reached this stage, the healthy stems should be pruned, using the following guidelines:

  • Hybrid tea bushes, floribunda and patio roses; if newly planted, prune hard leaving a 6 to 12 inch stem.  If they are established roses, prune them moderately to about half their original length.
  • Standard (tree roses);  If newly planted, prune back to 12 to 18 inches (less drastic than the bushes).  Established roses should be pruned for balance.

After pruning, it is essential that the plant receive the necessary nutrients.  I prefer to give a top dressing of old horse manure in the fall.  This strengthens the root system without stimulating new growth.  If this was not done, now is the time to top dress with an appropriate fertilizer.  In either case, a covering of one to two inches of good compost and bone meal is called for.  While this will not eliminate blackspot, it will inhibit it.  Knowing that blackspot is a fungus that comes out of the ground, one should also cut back infected leaves as you deadhead during the year.

Plan to additionally fertilize after the first heavy blooming (around the end of June).  For spectacular blooms and increased plant health, a foliate spray of compost tea will give that special rose a special boost.  An effective tea can be brewed by putting a 20 pound bag of compost into a garbage bin.  Half-fill with water and stir daily for a week.  Strain effluent and spray liquid on leaves in early morning.

Stop by Huntington Park and see if your roses have outdone the specimens in the rose garden.

Happy Gardening!

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