It is a new day in the rose garden. Just as social media is changing the way that we communicate with one another, new rose varieties are changing the ways that we use and appreciate them.
A browse through a nursery catalogue reveals a new day in the rose market. There are no less than eight categories of roses listed, eight branded sub-categories, 19 new varieties for this season and 140 varieties in total. This is just one Canadian nursery: there are others that provide different offerings.
You might ask why I bring this to your attention now, in mid-August, and the answer is: there is a second season of rose blossoms just around the corner. I urge you not to miss it. Roses generally bloom at their best in June and early July. As evening temperatures drop this time of year and days become shorter, the “second coming” of blossoms is triggered within a rose bush that produces a great show in September and October. Often, these blooms last longer than the spring editions for the same reasons that they are blooming at all: shorter days and cooler evenings.
Here is my rundown of what to look for before you venture into the garden retailer looking for rose plants (many of which are in bloom now):
1. What is your vision? Planting roses can enhance an area in your yard several ways. Some, like David Austin Roses, are known best for their fragrance. The new Pavement roses are considered some of the best living ground covers, growing to no more than 90 cm high, hugging the ground in colour and foliage. Roses for cutting are generally found in the hybrid tea section of the garden centre. A hedge or screen of thorny roses can best be achieved using winter hardy shrub roses. Think about your needs: you get the idea.
2. Work or no work? One of the biggest improvements in new rose introductions this generation is disease resistance. Once famous for the work required to keep them looking good, many new rose varieties do not require spraying (or dusting) or any special protection over the winter. Shrub roses are indeed winter hardy to zone 3b. Look for Ottawa Explorer shrub roses like John Cabot, Champlain and George Vancouver.
Why not plant a “Canada 150” anniversary rose garden? Plant it now and it will look fabulous next spring! The new Knock Out series is a great example of how vastly improved the garden performance is with roses. I have had great success with the Double Pink Knockout. Yes!
3. Consider your yard a canvas and roses the paint. If you imagine your garden as a blank canvas, roses can fill the bill where many other perennials and shrubs fall short. A mass planting of Oso Easy shrub roses or Bonica hardy shrub roses can produce a one-two punch of colour that is unsurpassed in the garden. When you see gas stations planting masses of roses together you can be sure that they are low maintenance and great garden performers.
4. Sun. One essential ingredient in the “rose growing” recipe is sunshine. Lots of it: a minimum of six hours. Or forget it.
5. Canadian grown. Roses provide an excellent example of why it is a good idea to buy locally. The roses that are tagged with “Grown in Canada” have already experienced two Canadian winters. They thrived on the farm in an open field where wind, our long summer days and Canadian soil conditions have already been experienced. A Canadian grown rose performs as it should and meets the expectations of experienced gardeners who have learned to look for them. American grown roses are often strip mined in California or Arizona. Well, not exactly strip mined, but at least grown en-mass in foreign conditions that do not necessarily match the conditions found in your yard. Yes, they can be cheaper. Better to pay for a quality Canadian rose bush than an American one that is prone to dying, no?
A couple of cultural notes. When you plant a rose, make sure that you prepare the soil well with generous quantities of triple mix and 10 per cent worm castings to introduce microbes and beneficial bacteria. Water the new plant well but do not leave it soaked for days. Roses perform best in well drained soil. Do not fertilize this time of year but use a once-and-done slow release fertilizer in May.
Keep in mind that the selection at your retailer is not the same today as it was in early spring when the new plants arrived. However, they are often on sale this time of year and you can enjoy the added benefit of seeing many of them in full bloom the day that you buy them.
It is mid summer. Time to hit the “refresh” button on your garden scheme and consider planting some roses.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, “The New Canadian Garden” published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.