Though this blog mostly features the fruits and veggies I grow, and the dishes Jean makes, our roses could be the focus of the blog–if I were as interested in nurturing them and experimenting with them as I am with the food plants. Of course, to say that I’m not as interested in them would be to ignore the fact that they actually take more of my time and regard than most of the other plants do.
After all, one can’t have a rose garden without spending time with the roses pretty much every day.
In our climate, the roses grow year-round. Oh, they’ll bloom little in December and January; in the the July heat the brilliant flowers will fade more quickly–but there is never a time during the year when at least a few of the bushes won’t have buds and some blooms. So it’s not as if the plants will die if I neglect them.
In fact, to show their heartiness, I tried my best a month ago to pull out a bush in a corner of the back garden that was in pretty deep shade and had never bloomed much over ten years. Besides, its thorniness made it almost impossible for me to get at the wisteria and the Western lilac in order to trim back their lusty growth.
So I trimmed off all the branches, and I chopped off as much of the roots as I could reach, almost a foot below the surface. That was that, I thought. Then, two days ago, what did I see but a little six-inch shoot staring up at me.
“Please, sir,” it said, ” don’t try to kill me again. You’d just be wasting your time.* So, like the soft heart I am, I’ll follow my usual pattern, and just see what happens. Two days later, it’s a foot tall and leafing generously. I guess I can let it grow for a while and then cut it back, after it blooms (if it does). But I won’t let it get between me and my wisteria trimming! I promise, plant: you hear me? “Thank you, sir. That’s all I ask.”
Our Roses: A Little History and Geography
Almost all of our rose bushes, about fourteen of them, were here when we moved in a decade ago. I’ve planted only two or three. Indeed, one of the plants that was here, a cute little pink variety by the back fence, the former owner took with him, because it had been a favorite of his mother, who had passed on. I still think of that when I see the space where it grew, currently the home of a tomato plant on which fruit is ripening.
When we moved in, I was already in love with the roses: their variety of color and size, their heartiness, their often prodigious growth. Because the design of the former owners’ property was to have a lawn surrounded by fruit trees and roses, I was able to keep all the roses where they were, as I gradually eliminated lawn in order to plant veggies.
Therefore, some of the rose bushes were along the back and side fences, while others hugged the house walls under windows. We didn’t think to ask at the time, but we’ve thought that part of this design would ensure that anyone who wanted to break into our home through some of our windows would have to contend with thickets of rose thorns.
But a pleasanter thought is that when we look out these windows, we have the splendor of seeing rose blooms most of the year.
Rose Care: What I Don’t (or maybe once in a while will)
If you’re looking for detailed tips on insecticides or blight sprays or fertilizing schedules, you won’t find them here. After we first moved in, I did some spraying for black spot and aphids, but I always worried about what else I was killing, and I wasn’t even too keen on killing the aphids, especially when I saw ladybugs appearing and the aphids soon disappearing. So I’ve not applied any spray for about nine years on any of the plants. None of the plants has died yet, and the photos can tell you how well they are doing.
I will occasionally give some rose food to the plants that appear to need a boost, but a schedule? No. I may put down some rose food about once a year for some plants, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
What I Do for the Roses
I make sure they are regularly watered during the dry months (May-September). Most are on a drip system; some I hand water. During the hottest months, the drip goes for 15 minutes twice a week. From mid-October to early May, the wet months, the roses get only what falls from the sky.
The most consistent work I do is dead-heading (trimming off the spent blooms). Because the plants are so many and so prolific, this is a weekly chore for me. Any given plant may need tending once or twice a month. Don’t hold me to a schedule. I do it as needed, by eye-balling the plant.
The dramatic work is trimming the vines. Now every plant is somewhat different in this regard, depending on how fast it grows and on what I want it to look like. For example, the massive yellow rose bushes (below left) I let grow early in the year until their first explosion of blooms rises to more than midway above the window sill. When the blooms fade after a few weeks, I deadhead the bushes, then I trim back the vines so that they are just above three feet high. New buds appear soon and the cycle goes on.
Pinks by side gate, May 2017
In contrast, the pinks by the side gate (right, above) live in a shade cast by the ceonothus (Western lilac) and so the plant regularly puts out a mix of buds not far from the stem, plus long, sun-seeking vines that often never bud. I cut off the long runners and let the buds bloom.
In further contrast, the thicket of tiny white-pink roses and large salmon roses (three panels above) is made up of five bushes that I let expand up and out in the large space next to the nopales (see N Is for Nopales). The salmon bushes can get up to 7 feet high before some blooms open, and that’s fine with me. But once the blooms are done, I chop them back to about four feet and the cycle starts again.
Meanwhile, when the clusters of white-pinks are done blooming, I chop back those bushes, and that cycle goes on….until January. In January, the big trim takes place. I chop all five bushes, both little white-pinks and big salmon, back to no more than one or two feet high, so I can clean out the space–and get it set for the big spring push. In January 2017 (see J Is for January), we had so much rain that the big trim was put off until early February. But no problem. With all that rain, the roses came back stronger than ever, with even (as you can see in the photo) the red root-stock roses blooming.
Why deadheading and trimming back?
Roses grow fast, and, in the years I’ve been tending roses, I’ve seen that the ones I have grow in a couple of ways, depending to some extent on the variety. One way is to send out new long shoots from the ground. The other is to send more shoots out from existing shoots. In either case, buds often don’t appear until the new shoot is several feet or more from where it started. This means that the plant rapidly expands in shoots, but this means there may be no new blooms except far out from the center of the plant. Only by trimming back the shoots once the blooms have finished can you keep the plant of manageable size–and keep new blooms coming out fairly close together. The rose bushes you see brimming with close-together blooms in professional gardens only stay that way with lots of regular trimming back–and lots of tender loving care.
More TLC, alas, than my idiosyncratic methods allow. But I’ve been gloriously happy with how the roses have given us so much joy, fragrance, and color all year round. Enjoy the display below. (If there’s no caption, let your cursor rest on the image until a short explanation appears.)