Doug's Way With Roses

by Doug Whitt

(From The Charlotte Rosebud, Jan.-Feb., 1999)

I can't believe it, but the New Year is here already. Does this mean I'm getting older? The years just seem to get shorter and shorter.

I wonder what surprise this year will have in store for us, especially in light of last year's record summer heat. The roses seem to ignore the climatic swings much more than the rosarian does, and the heat last year produced some outstanding blooms in our district as attested to by results at the National Show.

I will again this year be writing this column and sharing some of the procedures and information on products that I use in my own garden. I have been tending a rose garden for thirty-eight years and it has become a source of measureless enjoyment.

I made many poor decisions (still do sometimes) in the first years, principally because I had no direction regarding building rose beds, selecting varieties to grow, pest management, or any of the facets that make up the complete picture of growing roses. A lot was learned through trial and error and a lot of heartbreak. I hope to be of help to the new rosarian in avoiding some of the mistakes I made, and to make this great hobby more enjoyable.

My recommendations primarily relate to the large roses - Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras, as that is what I grow in my garden. I do have a few mini roses, but you will find an excellent article on their maintenance elsewhere in the Rosebud.

My days as an exhibitor are limited to one or two shows each year now, but I still like to grow some of the latest exhibition varieties, and I still like to have the quality of plants and blooms to exhibit should I have the time. If you are satisfied with less than exhibition quality, I ask that you at least keep up a good pest management program. You will enjoy your roses so much more if they are disease-free.

The advice I offer is based on practices that I use in my own garden, and the garden is open for a visit at any time. You may want to compare your results to mine, or have a question about something I failed to cover thoroughly enough. You may just want to enjoy the roses, and you are welcome to do so.

Throughout the year I will refer to certain products that I use in my overall program. Any product names mentioned are not necessarily an endorsement by myself or the Charlotte Rose Society, but are, rather, products generally easier to obtain from local garden centers or from advertisers in 'The American Rose' magazine, the publication of The American Rose Society. All the pest control items are EPA-approved for roses, and all of them should be used as instructed on the labels. To do otherwise would be illegal.

When purchasing and using pesticides, remember that they are formulated to kill something, and as such I recommend the following:

a) Heed the warning or caution labels. Wear the proper clothing when applying, use the correct type applicator, and exercise care around children, pets, and the neighbors' property.

b) Purchase only the amount that you will use in one or two years. I like to mark the date I purchased a product on the container itself to eliminate any guesswork.

c) Mix only the quantity that will be used for each application. Do not try to retain a portion for the next time. Use only the amount specified on the label when mixing. If it calls for one tablespoon, two tablespoons are not twice as effective. The manufacturers have tested the products to determine the correct mixture ratio.

d) Store the products in a safe place within a temperature range of 40' to 90'.

e) Dispose of empty containers as instructed on the product label

The manufacturers usually list their address or phone number on the label in the event that questions arise. The Consulting Rosarian Manual also has this information for most pesticide makers.

If you are not a member of the American Rose Society I highly recommend that you join. The monthly The American Rose magazine alone is worth the membership dues, and there are many other benefits as well.

To the beginner, welcome aboard, and let's look at what we now should be doing in the rose garden.


The production of satisfactory roses is the result of a year-round program. Even during the seemingly dormant cold months of January and February there are beneficial things that can be done in the garden. I will visit the garden once or twice a week to inspect for any pest that might be moving in, or for any wind or ice damage that may need my attention. The garden is a dynamic environment that is constantly changing. Often a quick response from the rosarian will lessen the degree of damage that could result if it were not attended to.

We should by now have completed topping the plants (refer to Nov-Dec Rosebud), but please, no harsh pruning now. It's much too early to try to induce new growth that would certainly be frozen. What I recommend now is controversial, but it has worked for me. I like to remove all the foliage from the plants by snipping it off with sharp pruning shears or scissors. Pulling it off by hand, especially if it offers resistance, may wound the canes and dispenses with any insect eggs, spider mites (yes, they're still there), blackspot and mildew spores, and any other pests that may have taken up residence there for the duration. I especially recommend it if you suffered from a heavy infestation of mites or blackspot last season.

This removal also facilitates the application of a dormant spray to rid the garden of any remaining pests. It should be applied while the plants are at rest and before new growth begins. Some rosarians use a mixture of their regular pesticides as a dormant spray. Others prefer the older method of lime sulfur and Volck oil applied as instructed on the container. Observe the temperature limitations on the label, and if the ingredients are compatible or should be applied separately. Whichever you decide to use, make sure that the coverage of the canes is thorough, and don't forget to apply liberally to the mulch below. There are pests there, too, just waiting to emerge at the start of the growing season. This foliage removal and application of a dormant spray I consider as a fundamental step in problem-free roses during the spring cycle of bloom.


The beginning of this month reminds me of the saying 'the calm before the storm." Not a lot going on now in the garden, but it is a good time to prepare for the "storm" that will begin later. By now I have made a list of items and products that I will need during the upcoming season. This is a good time to shop the garden centers to resupply fertilizers, mulches, lime, pesticides, gypsum, etc. that may be needed. Fresh stocks will be coming onto the shelves, and needed spray equipment, pruners, watering systems, etc. may be available in the latest, up-to-date models. This shopping can be done at a leisurely pace with no sense of urgency as will come later. I also like to check the centers for the list of rose varieties they will be carrying this year. Don't forget, some firms still offer a discount to members of the Charlotte Rose Society. Be sure to ask.

The cold and confining days of this month create a compelling need to "do something" at the first hint of warm weather. Don't rush out and begin pruning the plants... It's much too early for that yet. An advantage to the tip pruning to 4' to 5' that I mentioned in the last issue is that new growth usually begins at the top two or three bud eyes of each cane, and the occasional warm periods during January and February trigger much new growth which certainly will be damaged by freezing temperatures. Fortunately, we have tip pruned high enough so that when the March pruning time arrives we can remove this unproductive new growth and still have adequate canes remaining for strong new growth production.

Near the end of this month, and the first two or three weeks of next month, our attention will turn to planting new roses. The bare root plants ordered last fall will soon be arriving, and the garden centers already have stocked their packaged plants. I prefer bare root plants, but container plants are acceptable if purchased from a reputable nursery. The selection is limited and the price is usually higher, but one can examine the plants before purchasing, and get the pick of the lot. I have had more success with plants purchased right after potting to those that have developed bloom buds. A disruption of the root system after it has developed in the pot can set the plant back several months, and I have never been able to remove a plant without the potting mixture falling away from the roots. I only purchase packaged plants dipped in wax as a last resort. They are usually of an inferior quality that the grower sells in mass quantities. The root systems usually have been drastically altered, and many are rife with mosaic virus.

The rose beds prepared last fall should now be settled and ready to receive the new arrivals. If weather conditions do not permit planting within a day or two of receipt, follow the shipper's instructions on holding the plants until the conditions improve. In most cases the warranty is invalid if you fail to do so.

This year I will not go into the tedious details of planting a rose as I have in the past. The shipper provides this with the warranty. I will mention a few things that I recommend for our area, though.

Doug Whitt