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The Martha's Vineyard Times

The Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 14 - July 20, 2005 Edition
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Garden Notes
July 14, 2005

There is no new Garden Notes column this week.

Conditions rosy

July 7, 2005


By Abigail Higgins


The pale pink 'New Dawn' climbing rose graces many Island trellises and fences. Photo by Susan Safford

We have had some needed rain to help welcome summer. Nevertheless, dig an inch and a half down and you will likely find the soil is still dry. However, the conditions have come together to make 2005 a magnificent flowering year for roses. The Island is covered with an abundance of them, wild and cultivated, and their scent perfumes the air. Visitors to Edgartown for the parade and fireworks appreciated the many roses trained on that town’s fences.

The nearly iconic ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose is among them. Its blooms now grace Island trellises and fences, the lovely pale pink flowers and apple-y scent as characteristic of the Island in early summer as any single thing. A frequently asked question concerning ‘New Dawn’ is: how to get repeat bloom from it. It is often hyped as one of those “blooms all summer long” roses, a claim that one instinctively reacts to skeptically. And yet, some ‘New Dawns’ do bloom practically all summer. Others may actually be one of the hybrid parents instead: a one-time bloomer named ‘Dr. W. van Fleet.’

Good rose culture in any case is quite consistent. Do your best with bed preparation: a soil test, plenty of well-rotted manure and compost, and bone meal. Roses need at least six hours of sunlight to flower and grow healthily, although a few shade-tolerant cultivars do exist. Give them good air circulation by siting them a foot and a half apart for hybrid teas and further apart for larger growing shrub roses. In areas prone to winter freezing and thawing, plant the bud union of a grafted rose about four inches below ground level, otherwise at ground level in milder locations. (Own-root roses are becoming increasingly available, interestingly.) Deep watering on a weekly basis during the growing season is a good practice to keep flowers coming. I find a monthly side dressing with two cups of a good organic fertilizer is about right, but many gardeners apply proprietary rose food/systemic chemical mixtures every two weeks. My opinion is that over-fertilizing can be the source of the diseases (not only of roses but of plants in general) that so plague some gardens.

Pruning of roses is the second part of rose culture. I hear too often from readers that they are afraid of pruning and that it represents something overwhelmingly mysterious. The best way to overcome fear of pruning is to buy a good pair of pruners and start. Roses are pruned in early spring just as growth starts, looking to take out dead or diseased canes and to remove old, overly woody growth. Then cut the entire rosebush back by about a third to as much as two thirds, shortening each cane back to an outward facing bud. In the case of climbers such as ‘New Dawn,’ shorten last season’s flowering wood back to three/four buds (about 4–6 inches) from the horizontal cane. Train to a fan on trellis or fence with major canes as horizontal as possible.

That leaves deadheading, something we do a lot of as gardeners. As the rose blossom ages, cutting it off before it shatters saves some labor in the sanitation department, especially if the rose is blooming heavily. Cut the stem back to at least the first full five-leaflet, but containment pruning, limiting the size of the plant and forcing more bloom by taking off eight to twelve inches, is even better.

I have often wondered why the proponents of native plant use have not voiced greater enthusiasm for the ubiquitous but lovely native roses, Rosa virginiana and R. carolina. (Instead, lists of “native plants” urge us to plant the non-native R. rugosa, without any alternate choices given.) R. virginiana and R. carolina are the familiar, fragrant, single, pink thicket roses that grow in pastures, on bluffs above the shore, and alongside the road. In my opinion, reinforced by Bill Cullina in his comprehensive Native Trees, Shrubs & Vines (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 2002, 354 ppg), these plants have virtues that make them candidates for wider garden and landscape use. According to Cullina, under cultivation they perform to higher standards: the thin patchy wild colonies are thicker and more mounded in the garden. Foliage problems such as black spot and powdery mildew lessen. The flowers are completely fertile and form cherry red hips — wildlife forage — that set off the glowing fall color of the foliage as the season progresses. I urge attempts to utilize these native islanders to useful effect as groundcover, as non-lawn, as bank holder and, yes, as rosebush.

One rose presently contributing much of the scent perfuming the air is the exotic invasive, R. multiflora. This is its one good moment. Otherwise it is a pesky weed that gobbles woodland and open ground equally. Though its orange-to-red berries are attractive and also provide wildlife forage, I urge you to grub it out if it is trying to establish a foothold on your property. As we shall see, there are other roses to plant.

Many gardeners simultaneously covet roses and suffer from an opposing anxiety about how to manage them successfully so that the plants will not prove to be a disgrace to garden and gardener alike. Rose breeders are constantly hybridizing to reduce potential for disease and to increase chances of success with roses. The results of their work are often referred to as Modern Roses. So the good news is that if you have thought roses to be beyond your rosarian skills, think again.

There are several lines or ranges of Modern Roses that will appeal if you have been having a hard time growing roses. The cold-hardy Explorer series comes out of Canada and features plants named for intrepid explorers of the polar regions such as ‘William Baffin,’ ‘Champlain’ and ‘Jens Munk.’ There is the Carefree line, roses that feature the word Carefree in their names, such as ‘Carefree Beauty,’ ‘Carefree Delight,’ and ‘Carefree Marvel,’ and do not need fungicides. (I have a plant of ‘Carefree Beauty’, which is a four-foot tall by three-foot wide shrub with tea rose-like pink flowers. It is healthy and blooms reliably.) There is the Meidiland line of Landscape roses, practically ever-blooming roses that resemble the well known rose ‘the Fairy.’ It should be noted of many of the Modern Roses that their breeding includes R. polyantha, rendering many of them scentless: an all too modern characteristic.

Perhaps the premier breeder of roses that everyone can grow is the Englishman David Austin. His English Roses are justly famous for both their ease of culture, great beauty, and wonderful fragrance. If you are looking for success with a rose, spend the extra money and buy one of them.
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