Doug's Way With Roses: November-December 1999
By Doug Whitt

(From The Charlotte Rosebud, November-December 1999)

One of the most difficult times of the year for the true rosarian is upon us. Having gotten into the weekly routine of a maintenance program, and the incidental frequent cutting of floral bouquets, it is hard to accept the fact that it will end as abruptly as the first hard freeze.

Yet, the rosarian must be the 'definition' of the eternal optimist. Who else can endure having the growth on the new plants frozen back in the spring; be disappointed by failure of suppliers to provide the new plants ordered; suffer the ravages of six weeks of Japanese beetles; face a consuming outbreak of blackspot; agonize over 100 degree heat; grieve over spider mites, powdery mildew, budworms, and other dastardly pests, and still look forward to expanding the garden next year. Does this sound like you? You are indeed the optimist along with thousands more.

So why do we do it? The good part is the satisfaction of beating the odds and enjoying those moments of bliss... that once-in-a-lifetime bloom which evinces itself one morning as we make the daily inspection of the garden; the twinkle in the eye of an invalid just presented a bouquet of roses from the garden; the joy of an award winner at the show; the pleasure of having at hand the flower that is our national symbol for all to enjoy. There may be other personal reasons by the individual rosarian. Growing roses, indeed, has many pleasurable rewards.

A membership in the American Rose Society adds to the overall enjoyment of the hobby of growing roses. The American Rose magazine alone is worth the membership cost, and it is much improved from just a few years ago. I find myself looking forward to each monthly issue and availing myself of so much of the useful information contained in it - from "how to do" articles, the latest in maintenance material, the sources of many useful garden items, the happenings in the world of roses - and so much more. If you are not a member, you are missing out on a great resource for information that contributes greatly to -- our hobby.

As the temperatures drop we may have a tendency to ignore the rose garden and seek a more comfortable setting. While activity has slowed down and new growth production has stopped, there are still things to do to prepare the roses for the rigors of winter. I still check the garden daily to intercept any unwanted intrusion.

Don't put off ordering those new plants for next spring (I like to plant bare root roses the first two weeks of March). It is daunting to receive a "sold out" notice from the supplier of that variety you had your heart set on growing next year... order early.

Hope all of you have an enjoyable holiday season.

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

NOVEMBER

The cooler temperatures now influence the end of the active growth of our roses. Without new growth there can be no flower buds... it is nature's way of preparing the plants for the onset of winter and its demands on survival.

The rosarian can assist in this preparation with certain activities. Actually, keeping the plants robust and disease-free through the growing season contributes greatly to their chance of survival. The last feeding of the season (see the Sept. - Oct. Rosebud) should by now have been applied. If not, do it as soon as possible.

I now recommend that instead of removing spent blooms (deadheading) as we have been doing throughout the season, remove only the petals and leave the hips to mature. No severe pruning should be done this late in the season. (We can, however, remove dead canes at any time as they are an attractant for insects and disease.)

I continue the spray program for as long as active growth is noted. Both powdery mildew and blackspot will beset any living foliage if it is not protected. At this time of year I use only a hand sprayer for this purpose and either Funginex or Clearys 3336 for blackspot, and Rubigan for powdery mildew. I concentrate primarily on the newer growth. If there has been a blackspot invasion in the garden, I recommend that all infected foliage be removed to prevent infecting any new growth or surrounding plants.

Spider mites are ever present and a watchful eye should be kept for any flare-up. I apply a miticide now only if activity is noted, and concentrate primarily on the undersides of the foliage.

A two or three-inch mulch should be maintained on the beds at all times. It can be pine bark, pine straw, hardwood mulch, compost, or any porous material that does not contain weed seeds, and that win eventually break down to become a part of the soil structure. I keep all foliage removed that may have dropped from the plants. The mulch can become a breeding ground for fungi spores as well as for insects if it is not properly maintained.

There may still be some insects active in the garden. Thrips are persistent critters that are usually around as long as the weather permits the existing flower buds to open. The event of freezing temperatures usually puts a halt to both blooms and insects. Until that time I will apply an insecticide only as needed.

I usually mention the water requirements first when writing about "things to do.' It is the single most important element to growing healthy, quality roses. The colder temperatures will decrease the weekly need to about one-inch per week, so I keep my rain gauge handy and supplement any deficit with the garden hose. At no time should the soil be permitted to dry out completely as permanent damage to the root system can occur. One of the purposes of our mulch is to help conserve the moisture in the root zone.

DECEMBER

It's finally here! The time for a well-deserved rest from the weekly regimen of spraying that began in March.

But, don't be too hasty to abandon the garden for a more inviting easy chair... I didn't say we were finished for the season - only that the weekly spraying is no longer needed. There are still things to do.

For starters, all that energy put forth to produce healthy, robust plants of six feet or more in height now makes' them susceptible to damage from high winds that often accompany winter storms. I like to trim all my plants back to a height of four or five feet. This helps prevent root system damage caused by the back-and-forth motion in high winds. It also reduces the damage to long canes that can occur during ice storms (and we are subjected to them occasionally).

I go even further in my own garden. After a couple of hard freezes (28 degrees or lower) I remove all the foliage from my plants. I do not strip it off by pulling by hand, as I did that one year and ended up with a bumper crop of canker (a fungal disease of the canes that enters through openings caused by cuts, abrasions, etc.). I instead snip it off with sharp pruners or scissors.

This foliage removal is also an elimination of fungal spores, insect eggs, and spider mites that otherwise will remain until spring pruning time ready to become active with the arrival of the first warm days. I believe I have enough of these pests brought into the garden by the prevailing winds of spring, so I don't need to cultivate the native pests already on hand! Dispose of all the removed foliage in the trash rather than on the compost pile.

The matter of winter protection is not as critical here in our area as it is in the northern climates. There may be the occasional winter that we have a temperature below 10 degrees F, but not too often. The record low in Charlotte is -5 degrees F. For this reason I do not go to an all-out protection program as it can get expensive and too labor-intensive.

The plant or two lost occasionally may be ones that were weak growers anyway. I look upon this loss as an opportunity to grow one of the newer introductions that has caught my eye. I may provide some protection for Color Magic (notorious for susceptibility to freezing, but my favorite in the garden), First Prize, St. Patrick, Korlingo, or maybe one that is a sentimental favorite.

If you are inclined to protect your roses, dirt (from another area of the yard or garden) hilled up to ten or twelve inches around the crown and lower basals is a good choice. Pine bark mulch, too, provides some protection. Since I use enclosures of chicken wire around most of my plants to protect against rabbits, I have found that they are also a good retainer for hardwood leaves which I have in abundance, and which are a reasonably good protection if held in place around the crown and lower basals. I just wait until after a couple of hard freezes have occurred before applying to discourage votes from moving in (hopefully they will have found a winter home by this time).

Whatever material you use should be porous so that water does not stand against the basals. The cause of most winter damage is not so much the actual freeze itself, but rather the continual expansion and contraction of the unprotected canes exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations. The protection, thus, should be kept in contact uniformly with the canes.

This month is a good time to assess the overall past growing season while the memory is still fresh. Methods of pruning, watering, spraying, feeding, or any aspect of rose growing that produced unsatisfactory results should be adjusted before next season begins. Maybe new tools or equipment would help. Perhaps inadequate growth and garden performance can be improved by a soil test (companies that perform these tests advertise in the pages of The American Rose magazine). It could be that just a pH adjustment would produce vigorous growth.

Are you receiving enough sunlight into your garden? Perhaps a new watering system, in addition to being a more efficient water saver could be a time-saver (and back saver). Are some of the varieties that were a big disappointment this year perhaps varieties that don't grow well in our area (it does make a difference).

Any questions related to growing roses should be directed to the Consulting Rosarians in our Society (listed elsewhere in the Rosebud). Most have "been there - done that," and all have passed an ARS Consulting Rosarian exam. They are to "Exhibit a continuing willingness to share knowledge and enthusiasm for the rose..." So call on their expertise.

Until next time, the best in rose growing.