This is my favourite time of year for only one reason — the roses!
What would we do without them? What isn’t there to love about them? Their timeless beauty is proof of their popularity. They fill your garden with perfume and from bud to bloom they delight us whether clambering over trellis, an old brick wall, lighting up the flower bed or simply covering the ground.
I heard from a reliable source the other day that many people have reduced their purchase of roses in recent years due to pesticide bans. The fear is that roses without the chemicals to control the insects and diseases that bug them aren’t much good; or are at the very least, very risky.
I am here to report that there is an answer… I know: I have been growing roses in my garden for 25 years without the use of pesticides. I have over 75 roses in my collection and I do not spray any of them.
How to grow roses the natural way
1. Buy roses that are naturally “disease and insect resistant.” These words, when written on the tag of a Canadian-grown rose, are golden. A rose variety that carries on with its business of flowering and attracting butterflies and songbirds to your garden without surrendering to black spot, powdery mildew and aphids (to name a few of the potential enemies of the rose grower) is a winner in anyone’s books.
2. Change your habits. Sometimes the “problems” with roses are the result of things that we do in an effort to grow them. Black spot and powdery mildew? Apply water only at the bottom of the plant, avoid wetting the foliage, water in the morning so that the sun burns off surface moisture and allow the soil to get dry between waterings about 5 cm down. This is most important of all.
3. If you have a persistent problem with insects or disease on your roses, use an all natural solution. Diseases? Use garden sulphur or Bordo mixture for control.
Insect problems? You will be surprised at how many of them can be dealt with nicely using Green Earth Insecticidal Soap.
The ‘Perfect’ Rose
Changing our standards is one other solution to insect and disease damaged roses. The perfect, blemish-free rose may not be the only rose worthy of our attention. I have seen some very fine flowers born on thorny stems with some black spot on the leaves.
Remember to add at least 2 inches (5 cm) of shredded bark mulch around the plants. This will help deter weeds and retain soil moisture. Do not allow the mulch to touch the actual rose bush to avoid encouraging the development of diseases like black spot.
As the season progresses, you will want to keep your roses blooming for as long as possible. When the flowers fade, the rose will set seed and stop producing new flowering shoots. Remove these finished blooms in order to fool the plant into producing more flowers. This process is called deadheading.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.