Doug's Way With Roses
By Doug Whitt

(From The Charlotte Rosebud, March - April 1999)

The time for daydreaming is over and the time for making those dreams a reality is now!

The longer days and warming temperatures serve as a reminder that the intermission is at an end and the next act is about to begin. We as rosarians must now become active players in the ongoing drama of staging a satisfying performance that will end with the highest acclaim. In other words, let's get busy in the rose garden, and be proud of our efforts.

I suppose that we all encounter periodic stages of mental resistance to the everyday grind of maintaining an acceptable garden. I believe that most of us have in our daydreams the past few months pondered the addition of something new. I like to think that adding one or two of the recent rose introductions increases the pleasure derived from this great hobby. If your sense of enjoyment level has been stuck in a rut for the past year or two, see just what adding some new varieties can do -to elevate your enthusiasm.

The meetings of the Charlotte Rose Society give us all an occasion to compare experiences and to share information about a common antagonist or equally about a pleasant occurrence. Scheduled programming is intended as an educational opportunity, and the meetings also offer a chance to enjoy the company of others who derive pleasure from the hobby of growing roses. Being an active participant in the Rose Society functions is important in its growth and well being.

This is the most important time of year in the rose garden. Decisions made and actions taken over the next few weeks will impact the entire season. If you experienced a severe outbreak of blackspot or spider mites last season, now is the time to clean up the beds and instigate a pest control program for the new season to prevent a recurrence. All of us that grow roses are exposed to the same pests that beset roses, and the grower that has an agenda in place for their control at the outset of the new season will be the one enjoying lovely blooms into October. Hope to see you at the upcoming pruning events and other functions of the Society. Bring your pruners.

Let's look at what we should be doing in the rose garden now.


There are so many things to do now that establishing a sequence is important. Of course, all new bare root roses should be planted as soon as possible after receipt (see our planting recommendations in the Jan-Feb Rosebud).

Of no less importance now is the need to prune our established bushes. Leaving the new growth that is now emerging will serve no useful purpose as the bloom buds that form at the tips of the canes have been, or will be, frozen so that only the stem and foliage will remain to mature. We are growing the roses for their beautiful blooms -- not for stems and foliage.

The exact date for beginning the necessary pruning is debatable. Pruning too early can force new growth that may be damaged by a late hard freeze. Pruning too late can be just as detrimental as the plant expends a lot of energy producing, growth that is of dubious quality and must be removed. I have found that in my garden in Charlotte the preferred timeframe is the first two weeks of March. There is always the chance of a very late freeze occurring as we had in 1996, but the potential of that happening is minimal.

After the planting and pruning, there remain several other requirements, or chores, that must be tended to. In order, they are

The pruning recommendations I give are basically for hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, and are intended primarily for the beginning rosarian. Although I try to cover the basic act of pruning as descriptively as I can, it does not take the place of a hands-on pruning demonstration. If you have never pruned your roses, or grow a type of rose other than that described, I recommend that you attend a program on the subject, or at pruning time visit the garden of a rosarian who grows your type of roses.


If your garden is small with just a few plants, the task can be accomplished with a good pair of bypass pruners, leather gloves (I prefer goatskin), and a discarded toothbrush for cleaning up the crown area. If pruning a larger garden, a small pruning saw, small lopping shears, and a file to keep these tools sharp will help. A pruning sealer, and denatured alcohol for sterilizing the tools after cutting into diseased wood are desirable, and I also keep a sharp knife in the simple toolkit in which I store all these items.

The reasons for pruning are many, but they all have the same goal of producing a lot of quality blooms later in the season. Some of the basic reasons are:

1. The aging process of the plant requires occasional removal of old, non-productive canes.

2. Some plants may have experienced robust growth last season, and may be encroaching on their neighbor causing damage to intruding canes. (Moving to a new location may be more appropriate.)

3. Small twiggy growth is a normal occurrence 'during the season and should be removed as it

will produce only blind shoots, or at best, inferior blooms.

4. Harsh winter weather with its subfreezing temperatures and high winds produces a certain amount of frozen canes and frayed stems.

5. Diseased canes, if not dead now, will die back as the heat of summer arrives. Cut back to a point below the area of disease.

6. Larger plants may have become cluttered in the center by crisscrossing canes. If left, this clutter impedes good air movement through the center, providing a haven for insects and disease and making it difficult to administer our pest controls.

7. A more subtle reason for pruning is the inclination of the individual rosarian. This is the contention to prune high on many canes to produce an array of ordinary blooms... prune low on a select few canes to produce extraordinary (exhibition) blooms.

8, The disgust with the performance of a plant that has taken a space in the garden but has produced no quality blooms in the past two years. It has generated no new basal growth and has been a magnet for spider mites. The tool for this pruning is - a shovel.

With these basic reasons for pruning in mind, I'd like to make a few observations about the pruning process. No two plants are alike, not even of the same variety, as each year's growth is unique to each plant. The ultimate goal is to open the center of the plant to permit good air circulation. When viewed from overhead after pruning, the plant should be bowl-shaped with canes growing outward, and should have a more-or-less circular outline.

I like to leave at least three or four healthy basal canes. The younger, greener canes are potentially the most productive, and I like to leave canes at least the diameter of a pencil; larger if possible. In my garden, the height at which I prune is usually dictated by the size of the existing plant. Tall, robust growers I prune high (up to 36'), while weak growers I will cut back to 12" to 18".

Each pruning cut should be made about 1/4" above an outward facing bud eye, and made on a 45 degree angle with the high side of the cut directly above the bud eye. The location of the eye at the point of the pruning cut determines the direction of growth of the primary cane (and we want it growing outward). If the variety is a sprawling, low grower, it might be preferable to prune to an inward-facing eye.

If the pruning cut reveals a brown center (pith), the cane has sustained damage from a hard freeze or from disease. Continue pruning down the cane until the cut reveals a white or creamy pith. New growth emerging from a cane with a brown pith will usually wilt and perish once the June heat arrives. All removal of canes originating from the crown should be cut flush so that no stub remains. I recommend dipping the pruners into denatured alcohol after cutting into diseased canes before moving to the next cane.

The desired basal canes emanate from the crown area. A cork-like covering usually grows there during the previous season and it is desirable to remove this cover, usually with just a gentle tug, or with the aid of a toothbrush. Take care not to puncture the crown as disease spores could enter the wound, as well as many potential bud eyes are present there even though not readily visible. The dirt and debris that may have accumulated in this area over the winter should be gently brushed away.

At the end of the day of pruning I like to return to the plants and apply a sealer (Elmers Glue or orange shellac) to the pruning cuts which by now should have dried. This does not entirely prevent cane borers, but it does discourage most of their activity.

Cleaning Up

I now turn my attention to cleaning up the rose bed and the immediate area surrounding it. Mulch that has been contaminated by a myriad of blackspot- infested foliage due to a severe infestation last season should be removed and replaced with new mulch after the soil has warmed. (A very informative article, The Fungus Among Us! Blackspot Revisited by George "Dick" Barse, in the "1995 American Rose Annual, states that "... the fungus will spend the winter in these leaves, if left in your garden, and be alive and well at the beginning of a new growing season, ready to start an infection all over again.")

Uncontaminated mulch should be pulled back to the edge of the bed exposing the soil to the warmth of the sun. Any remaining debris, grass, or weeds should be removed to complete this "spring cleaning." If you have not yet applied a dormant spray, now is the time to do it (see my recommendations in the Jan-Feb Rosebud).

Now is the ideal time to rejuvenate old beds by adding fresh organic matter and sand or perlite. Apply a mixture of 2/3 sphagnum peat moss, ground pine bark, mushroom compost, rotted sawdust, or other similar organic material, and 1/3 sand or perlite to a depth of about two inches around existing older plants. Using a spading fork, work this material down into the root zone with a back and forth rocking motion. An addition of a few shovels of cow or horse manure to the organics may be beneficial, but be alert to any weeds or grasses that may grow from seeds contained in these materials.


I now will feed all of the established roses that have been pruned including the ones just "rejuvenated." (Do not feed newly planted roses until the bloom buds have formed.) I think all rosarians have their own methods and formulas for feeding, and I am no exception. I like to keep it simple, for as I get older it becomes more difficult to maintain a monthly feeding regimen. If your urge is to try some of the latest formulations, there are many of them available on garden center shelves supposedly formulated for roses ... but I think mostly for rosarians. If your soil makeup is rich in organics and in the correct pH range, a basic 10-10-10 may be all that you need to grow outstanding roses. Feed about 1/3 to 1/2 cup per plant once a month now through August, and always water in well.

If you want to grow your roses as I do, I will give you my "secret" formulas. I prefer a feeding with a slow-release food, an 8 to 9 month formulation (18-6- 12, 17-6-10, etc.) supplemented at the start of the growing season, and again in late summer. (I'm lazy at heart, and as you can see, I don't have to exert a lot of energy feeding during much of the season). I feed each plant 1/3 to 1/2 cup of food either scattered out to the dripline and lightly scratched in, or evenly dividing the food into four or five portions and distributing it into holes (dug with a bulb planter) near the drip line spaced evenly around. A warm soil temperature is necessary for release of suitable amounts of nutrients to the plant, so at this time I also apply about 1/4 cup of 10-10-10 granular, or make an application of a liquid food (Schultz, Carl Pool, Miracle Gro, etc.) to get the plants off and growing. All foods are watered in thoroughly.

I like to have an occasional "show quality" bloom in the garden, so I add a few amenities that have the potential to help towards this goal. If you are growing roses for your own enjoyment, you may find the following unnecessary, but as I have said before, growing quality roses adds a degree of pride, and beautiful blooms are a reward in themselves whether exhibited or not.

For each plant I add one (1) cup of gypsum to keep the soil porous and to help purge the buildup of chemical salts. Three (3) tablespoons of Epsom salt (magnesium Sulfate) for growth promotion and lush green foliage and one (1) teaspoon of chelated iron (330 Fe) for dark green foliage color.

Organic feeding is gaining in popularity, and Mother Nature has been using this system throughout the ages with great success. Most garden centers are well stocked with the meals and composted mixes that can be used for this purpose. The City of Charlotte is also recycling yard wastes into a rich source of plant food as well as mulches.

Each month The American Rose magazine has ads for the latest in organic foods, and even a compost pile in the back yard can be a rich source of plant nutrients.

Organic foods must be acted upon by the soil microorganisms, which convert them to a usable form. The soil must be warm and there must be moisture present for this conversion to take place. I do use some organics in my garden and I try to keep their content at no more than 1/3 of the total, with clay soil and sand or vermiculite making up the balance. Organics must be renewed from time-to- time as explained earlier.


The next item on our sequence of things to do now is probably the most important of all functions in growing quality roses. The health and vigor of the plants is dependent on control of the pests that attack roses, and there are multitudes of them. They can be kept in check with a program administered on a systematic schedule.

There are three categories of pests that must be controlled... insects, fungus diseases, and mites. There is a different control for each group, but most pesticides I use are compatible when mixed together in the sprayer tank, but always read the label. I have found that a miticide is usually more effective when applied separately as emphasis is on the underside of the foliage and the spray application should be concentrated there... especially the bottom third of the plant. The pesticides that I use in my garden are for:

Insects - Orthene, Diazinon, and Mavrik.

Fungi - (Blackspot) - Funginex, Fungi-Gard, Maneb, and Banner Maxx.

- (Powdery Mildew) - Funginex, and Rubigan.

- (Downy Mildew) Subdue 2K, and Manzate.

Mites - Avid, and a water wand.

Formulations and frequency of application instructions are printed on each container by the manufacturer. There are many other products available at garden centers or elsewhere that may or may not be as effective, but the above have worked well in my garden, and new and safer products are on the horizon.

I recommend a weekly spray program beginning as soon as new growth appears, and continuing until new growth stops - late October to mid-November. Some pests will develop an immunity to a particular control if it is used exclusively all season, so I recommend alternating products. Mix only the amount to be used the same day, and only as directed on the container. Most pesticides have a shelf life of only two or three years when stored in a temperature range of 40 to 90 degrees, and may be ineffective after that. Dispose of empty containers as directed on the label.

To aid in the prevention of spray bum to foliage, observe the following recommendations. Water thoroughly the day before each spraying. Early morning is the preferred time to spray as the foliage will soon dry, but late afternoon or early evening is also acceptable. Midday applications with temperatures above 85 degrees and with direct sun overhead are not recommended.

Apply to both the top and bottom surfaces of the foliage to the point that it glistens - not to the point of runoff. A successful spray program must be administered on a regular schedule every 7 to 10 days throughout the active growing season - NO EXCEPTIONS!


Finally, in the sequence of things to do now comes the watering system. I have experimented with most types of systems, and again, as I get older I look for a simpler, easier way to apply "the magic ingredient" - water. I am presently using 'The Glorious Gardens" system from Dripworks, and with the addition of some quick-connect fittings, it can't get much easier. If you have a watering system in your rosebeds from previous seasons, now is the time to check it for any repairs that may be necessary. If you have more than 20 plants you will enjoy the convenience of some type of system.


This month's garden maintenance recommendations are a continuation of the program begun in March. The warmer weather should be more inviting to be outdoors, and the plants and rosarians alike should respond with a flurry of activity.

With the mulch still pulled back, the lengthening periods of sunshine and temperatures nearing or into the 80's will gradually warm the soil thus quickening the pace of growth dramatically. New growth will be breaking out all over (the rabbits in my area love it! 'Whitt's McSalad'). Even with the warmer daytime temperatures, there is still the chance of a hard freeze the early part of the month, and frost can nip the new growth even later. I plan to use the chicken wire enclosures that I use around each plant for rabbit deterrence as a protection from frost also, by filling them with leaves. You should have some method of defense at hand should freezing temperatures be forecast after new growth has begun whether in March or in April.

If a condition beyond our control should cause freeze damage to the emerging canes, it should become evident in a day or two as limp or blackened growth. The quicker we respond to this situation, the sooner the plant will be putting forth strong controlled growth. Re-prune these 'blind shoots" back to a healthy bud eye, or completely remove a frozen cane to its point of origin to encourage the formation of a new one. Don't be timid about removing damaged growth.


The monthly feeding should be made now if you are not using the 9-month slow-release product. Water in thoroughly. Continue with the weekly spray applications begun last month. A weekly application of water should be made now of about one inch (6 to 8 gallons per plant) or the equivalent of that in rainfall. An inexpensive rain gauge is a good investment and eliminates the guesswork of rainfall amounts received in your garden that may differ widely from those received at the airport or weather station.

As the new growth increases and bloom-bud eyes develop, you may note the formation of two side buds in addition to the dominant center bud. To insure the best quality stem and bloom, only the center bud should be left to develop. The side buds are removed with the thumbnail (rosarian lingo for "thumb pruning"), and this is a necessary practice throughout the entire growing season. Of course, if you are growing only for bloom and are not concerned about single bloom stems, the more buds the merrier.

Sometime this month the ground temperatures will have warmed to a point requiring replacement of the mulch around the plants. Do not cover the crowns of the plants. There are many benefits from a good mulch. It maintains a more constant soil temperature, helps retain soil moisture, acts as a barrier to weed growth, and presents a pleasing appearance to the overall garden. It also eventually becomes a part of the organic makeup of the soil. Pine bark, pine straw, hardwood chips, rotted sawdust, compost, and other items are available as mulch material. Maintain at a depth of two or three inches throughout the year.

Looking forward to seeing you at a pruning demonstration or other scheduled Society event.

Best of rose growing to you, . . Doug Whitt