Doug's Way With Roses, September-October, 1999
By Doug Whitt

(From The Charlotte Rosebud, September-October, 1999)

The end of summer is at hand, and a return to a more bearable condition in the garden will result in a wonderful transformation.

The small, colorless forms of summer buds suddenly begin to grow larger, and with, more petals and a noticeably deeper color. It must be ShowTime! And it is, with area shows scheduled from late September through much of October. To attain the quality of roses for exhibiting does not require a lot of additional effort... just a systematic approach of feeding, watering, spraying, pruning mulching... the things we have been doing all season. Not only do we benefit by harvesting a delightful number of excellent blooms, but also the plant gains a robust start into the upcoming winter season in better condition to survive the demanding circumstances of freezing weather.

In last month's Rosebud I mentioned the pruning and feeding for the fall bloom cycle. It may now be late to do harsh pruning for our shows, but for shows scheduled in mid-October some pruning may yet be needed. I would like to mention a few basic requirements to those intending to exhibit their roses. Entries should be pest-free (no insect or fungi damage) to be competitive. They should be representative of the variety with no confused or split centers. I consider a minimum stem length of 18" as necessary, and cut when the bud is about 1/3 open. Place immediately in warm water containing a floral preservative or a few drops of bleach. Let cool in a darkened room an hour or so, then clean the foliage and store in a refrigerator at 35 degrees. Roses cut the day prior to a show may not require refrigeration, and I have found that the most competitive will have been cut no more than three days.

I like to feed selected plants that have potential exhibition buds with a liquid food (Schultz, Miracle-Gro, Mills Easy Feed, etc.) about two weeks prior to cutting for the show. The freshness and turgidity (water content) of the entry will make it stand out. Some exhibitors apply about two gallons of water per plant daily the week prior to cutting to improve the turgor of the bud for maximum size and holding qualities. Daily misting of buds showing color with an insecticide will reduce the incidence of damage and discoloration from thrips and cucumber beetles.

At this time of year we begin to plan for adding new varieties to the garden next spring. There are many reliable firms that provide quality plants at the time that delivery is requested, and guarantee their product. There are however, a minor number whose business methods are suspect if not bordering on being illegal. Know your supplier and order only from proven sources. Consulting Rosarians in the Society can provide assistance in both selection of varieties and reliable sources of supply. Call on them. {Editor's Note: We will put a list of suppliers in the next issue of the Rosebud.]

Have you joined the American Rose Society yet? If not, you are missing out on a wealth of information beneficial to anyone pursuing the hobby of growing roses - no matter what your level of activity or expertise may be. From informative "how-to-do" articles to sources of supply for rose-related items, The American Rose magazine alone is worth the cost of membership. I promise that you, too, will be looking forward to the next issue just as I do.


While this month heralds the beginning of autumn, the first three weeks are officially a continuation of summer with its high temperatures and relative humidity. Most years a break in the very uncomfortable dew points will not be felt until near the end of this month or early October.

The presence of soil moisture is a fundamental requirement in growing quality roses as well as to the general health of the plant. I still water twice a week at three or four day intervals, and one of the applications I make the day prior to my spraying. I use about five gallons per plant, which are spaced at three feet apart, and any rainfall is calculated into the weekly total.

The last application of granular food should have been made by the end of August. If not, complete the application during the first week of this month as we want the plant growth to gradually wind down before freezing temperatures arrive next month or November. As mentioned earlier, a liquid food applied to selected plants two weeks prior to cutting for a show will not have long-lasting consequences.

Insect activity will be at its peak now as cucumber beetles, along with the usual budworms and thrips, become the major pests (see July-August Rosebud. I will now be adding an insecticide (Orthene, Diazinon, etc.) to the weekly spray program. I will also mist the opening buds to control pests that may have moved into the garden between weekly sprayings. Green katydids are also a problem in my garden at this time of year. If you are experiencing half-eaten flower buds as they develop, it could be from katydids. Their coloration makes them difficult to spot hiding in the foliage or in the grass surrounding the rosebeds. The only success I have had is capturing them in the early evenings when they seem to be most active. Vigilance is important in detecting my new pest and dealing with it before it can establish a breeding colony.


Just as the insect population seems to be at its peak, so is the incidence of blackspot and powdery mildew. The hot, humid days with rain showers are ideal for blackspot growth, and the cooler night temperatures at month's end favor powdery mildew development. Don't wait until you see it on the plants to act... have a barrier in place on the foliage before the spores arrive. For blackspot, use Banner Maxx, Clearys 3336, Funginex, or Orthenex, and alternate with Maneb, Fungi-Gard (Daconil), or Manzate. (See article on blackspot in July-August Rosebud. For powdery mildew use Funginex, Orthenex, Banner Maxx, Clearys 3336, or Rubigan. Apply thoroughly to all surfaces of the foliage and canes, and always use any pesticide as directed on the container.

No, I haven't forgotten the spider mites. Pound for pound they are probably the most destructive of rose pests that crawl or fly, and getting rid of an established colony can be difficult. Here again is a reinforcement of the reason for vigilance and early detection. It is much simpler to clear them from a single plant than from an entire bed or the whole garden (and they will spread about that quickly if no controls are forthcoming from the rosarian). A water wand designed to emit a forceful spray of water under high pressure will blast them off their perch underneath the bottom foliage, and followed up in three or four days to dispatch the newly hatched should be sufficient. Supplement the last treatment with an application of Avid or Vendex, or Orthenex for the small garden.

Yellowing foliage at the bottom of some varieties usually appears in my garden at this time of year. If I know that the plants have no blackspot or spider mites and that no dying canes exist (all can be causes of yellowing), I do not become too concerned. With the additional boost of nitrogen, iron, and Epsom salt a few weeks ago, and with the temperatures beginning to fall, even slightly, the plant is simply aborting some of the older leaves and redirecting the nutrients into the vigorous new growth. If you are experiencing the same thing (and I know that many do), I recommend removal of the yellow foliage both from the plant and from the mulch.


It is now time to discourage new growth from developing on the plant. While this seems contrary to everything we have advocated to date this season, we do not want tender new growth exposed to freezing temperatures before it has time to "harden off", which is about one bloom cycle.

There are ways to help with this winding-down of the season. First, I now will stop cutting spent blooms (deadheading) and remove only the petals, leaving the hips (seed pods) to mature. Hopefully this will induce the plant to eventually enter a state of rest (dormancy or semi-dormancy). I will also cut back the amount of water to about half that of summer, and water only once per week. I will apply no more fertilizers containing nitrogen until next year. These acts assist nature in signaling that winter is on the way, and energies must be directed more to self-preservation rather than to reproduction. As long as active growth is occurring we should continue our pest control program. Blackspot can still invade the garden even at this late date, but powdery mildew will be more prevalent now on unprotected new growth and the flower buds in particular. Weekly spraying with the same controls mentioned for last month is important. Disease-free plants have a much better chance of making it through a harsh winter than neglected ones.

Near the end of this month I recommend a final feeding for this year of two or three tablespoons per plant of 0-20-20 or 0-25-25. This will help harden and strengthen the plants for winter without the nitrogen to stimulate new growth. Phosphorus hastens plant maturity, and potassium promotes root growth.

Mulch on the rose beds is beneficial the year round (except at pruning time when it is removed temporarily to permit the soil temperature to warm or to repair watering systems, etc.). Its usefulness in retaining soil moisture and preventing weed growth is considerable when it is maintained at a depth of two or three inches. Equally important during the upcoming colder seasons is its role in maintaining a more constant soil temperature and protection of the feeder roots from sub-freezing weather. Pine bark, pine straw, hardwood chips, compost, shredded hardwood leaves, and other organic matter is okay for this purpose.

Roses can become a hobby that grows on you. This growth usually translates to an increase in the size of the rose garden. This month and next are ideal times for constructing new beds to accommodate those "gotta have" varieties that look so promising in the new catalogs and at area shows. I still prefer a simple basic formula of, more or less, 1/3 clay and loam soil, 1/3 sand or vermiculite, and 1/3 humus. I recommend a soil analysis by a lab to correcting any deficiencies or excesses of certain elements, and with a check of the pH level too. Beds prepared now will have the entire winter to blend as the soil settles.

To the beginner I would like to mention a few basics to consider when planning the new bed. Select an area that receives at least six hours of sun each day, preferably morning sun and afternoon shade. Roses cannot compete with trees or shrubs for moisture and nutrients, so plant as far away from both as possible. Driveways, brick or concrete buildings, or similar structures absorb and radiate heat during the summer, which can influence plant health and be an incubator for heat-loving pests such as spider mites and blackspot. Locate near a source of water,, the magic ingredient in growing roses. While roses must have water, the beds must have good drainage or 'root rot' can become a problem. I prefer raised beds, even just a few inches above the surrounding area, and a total depth of the soil mixture of eighteen inches or more. In our area, plan on spacing hybrid teas at least three feet apart and no more than two rows deep to facilitate the day-to-day maintenance.

This may seem to have been a lot of prerequisites in building rose beds, but experience is the best teacher, and I have learned a lot the hard way. Don't make a lot of the same mistakes I made as I tried to amend Nature's requirements by cutting corners. It didn't work!

Even if you are not constructing new beds, it might be useful to get a soil analysis of your present ones. Soil labs advertise in the pages of The American Rose magazine, and a simple pH test can be performed by the NC Department of Agriculture in Raleigh. If your roses have not been performing up to expectations, the solution may be as simple as adjusting the pH of the soil.

As the year winds down it is time for all of us to reflect on the enjoyable moments that roses brought to our lives this year, and to others that shared in our bounty. Nothing can elate our innermost psyche as does the first glimpse of a stunning Color Magic or a vase of matching Suffolks... except the smile of an invalid receiving these as a gift. Share your roses with others. You'll be glad you did.