Don’t give up on roses

(Karen Boness) There are legions of passionate rose lovers around the globe. They travel far and wide to admire rose gardens, salivate over rose books, and fill every nook and cranny of their garden with these visually delicious garden gems.

But in some crowds roses have a terrible reputation. Black spot, rust, powdery mildew, aphids, thrips and nematodes are just a handful of the diseases that assault roses. Claims that roses require too much maintenance, too much water, too much fertilizer and too many pesticides are common. You can find the adjectives “persnickety,” “disease-ridden”, and “thirsty-beast” applied to roses in a recent San Francisco Chronicle lamenting the decline of roses from American gardens.

The slow demise of the old-fashioned rose industry, and the battle by rose lovers to save these garden beauties, prompted my friend and client Susan to contact me requesting I write an encouraging article about roses.

Susan is a passionate rose enthusiast, a consummate gardener, and my favorite go-to person regarding anything about roses. She designed and maintains a spectacular rose garden in the hills above Bennett Valley in Santa Rosa.

She points out that roses are more than just beautiful. They often smell delicious, can serve as a living barbed wire and are as tough as weeds.

According to Susan, people have a misconception about old roses and roses in general. Here in the west most heritage roses are now grown on their own rootstock rather than grafted. This makes them much less susceptible to nematodes and other pests and therefore much easier to maintain. In Susan’s experience roses don’t require that much water or that much work.

Sure, like most landscape plants, roses do require some maintenance. Susan waters her roses three times a week for 15 minutes. She also cuts back some (not all) of her roses once a year, fertilizes once a year, and sprays them once a year with a copper sulfate approved for organic gardening.

She also recommends the modern landscape roses that are bred to be disease resistant. Sally Holmes is a 10-15’ climber that repeatedly produces gorgeous ivory white and pink tinged flowers in clusters of 50-60 per stem. Altissimo, another climber displays striking 5” bright red blossoms. White Meidiland, a tough but lovely landscape rose that performs all summer long and requires little maintenance.

A couple of good resources for old roses are the web site as well as the book “100 English Roses for the American Garden” by Clair G Martin and Saxton Holt.

Karen Boness is a Sonoma based landscape designer, certified arborist and licensed landscape contractor #974035. Her business is Wild Willow Landscape Design. 481-8561.

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