A. I am going to assume that you mentioned to someone that you wanted to grow roses and got that typical response, "What? Are you crazy?" Well, I want to assure you that growing roses is an immensely rewarding part of gardening and well worth the effort. There are some recommendations that should be followed before you get started. Good planning will help reduce any regrets in the future.
Site selection and preparation is critical for growing roses. Most roses require at least 6 hours of sun, good air circulation and raised beds. Locate a spot in your yard that fits all of these criteria. This is not a place for shortcuts. Roses require sun for good healthy growth and blooms. Good air circulation helps reduce disease. Raised beds are required for good root growth. The easiest and cheapest way to build a raised bed is using landscape timbers. Three timbers stacked is the proper height for a rose bed. As an aid to plan your rose bed outline, space your roses 30 inches apart for good air circulation. Plant the roses in no more than two rows. This makes it easier to access your bushes for the spectacular cut flowers to come.
Roses need one inch of water a week. The easiest way to accomplish this is an automatic timer. Drip irrigation is the best way to get the water to the root system and reduce fungus disease. If you decide to hard pipe the sprinkler with PVC, I recommend running the pipe underground to one edge of your bed. The remaining pipe and sprinkler heads should be run above ground with a union to aid in removal in the future if you want to till the soil.
Fill your raised rose bed with good rose soil from a local nursery. Now it is time to plant. Remember to separate the roses by about 30 inches. Like most bedding plants, mulch your roses well to help retain moisture and reduce weeds. Do not cover the bud union or the thick woody ball at the connection between the roots and the upper stems with mulch. I find that pine needles work best as it does not mat and helps acidify the soil.
Roses are heavy feeders. There are two methods of feeding roses that include slow release chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers. The slow release fertilizers are recommended because you can fertilize every 4 to 6 weeks depending on the type used. Organic fertilizers require more frequent feedings (1 to 2 weeks). One nice thing about organic fertilizers is that the nutrients tend to be more readily available to the bush. Slow release fertilizers supply nutrients over longer term thus the name. I use an organic alfalfa tea in the fall. Alfalfa tea is made in a 32-gallon trash can with water and 10-12 cups of alfalfa pellets. The tea is stirred regularly and be forewarned it has a barnyard odor. Apply 1 gallon of tea per bush.
Visit your flowers regularly and bask in the beauty and aroma. While you are at it look for diseases and bugs. Yes, a small price to pay for months of glorious flowers here on the Gulf Coast is insects and diseases. Stay ahead of it and it will not become a problem.
The most likely disease you will encounter is black spot. Black spot is a fungus that infects the leaves of the rose bush. It is characterized by black spots on the leaf usually surrounded by yellow. If left untreated, it will defoliate the bush. It is best to keep ahead of this disease by spraying weekly with a fungicide. Optimal results are achieved when fungicides are applied according to the label directions. A couple of alternatives are to remove all infected leaves as soon as they appear or buy roses that are resistant to the disease.
Some of the insects you will encounter are thrips, aphids and spider mites. Thrips attack light colored blooms. Thrips damage is characterized by browning of the petals and blooms that do not open. If you see this on your rose, peel open the petals and look for tiny brown insects. A systemic insecticide can be applied just on the buds to eliminate the insect and reduce the damage.
Aphids are tiny insects that suck liquid out of the leaf. The leaf can become disfigured and you may see a black sticky substance on the top of the leaf. Spider mites can defoliate a bush quickly. Look for loss of color in the center of the leaf. Turn the leaf over and a trashy salt and pepper appearance will be seen.
Aphids and spider mites can be handled with a good spray of water directed at the underside of the leaves. Repeat frequently. They must be on the bush to survive. Avoid general spray of insecticides as this kills all insects it comes in contact with including beneficial insects. Beneficial insects will help you keep your sanity by consuming mites and aphids.
The Houston Rose Society (http://www.houstonrose.org) is an excellent resource for learning about growing roses. The "what good rosarians are doing this month" section is well worth the $15 annual dues.
Roses do require some work. Proper planning and routine enjoyment of the flowers will help keep work at a minimum. A rose bush will continue to put on more buds as you remove them. Cut the blooms and bring them inside to enjoy or share them with a friend, especially that one that called you crazy. Maybe, he will see why you did this or his wife will make him build a rose garden to compete with yours.
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