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"The Roses are blooming!" by the Whistling Gardener

This is the time of the year that every nursery professional has been waiting for. A year ago, we carefully planned our orders from a half dozen different suppliers. We drooled over colorful glossy photos of all the new introductions. We agonized over which roses we would have room for this year.
The Whistling Gardener shares tips for growing gorgeous roses in the northwest. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

This is the time of the year that every nursery professional has been waiting for. A year ago, we carefully planned our orders from a half dozen different suppliers. We drooled over colorful glossy photos of all the new introductions. We agonized over which roses we would have room for this year and which ones we would have to pass up. We measured our space and determined exactly how many we would be able to purchase. And then we sent in our orders and waited.

In late January we received multiple boxes filled with bundles of wet, dirty, and thorny plants wrapped in plastic with no soil. Undaunted by 35-degree weather, horizontal rain drops and swirling wind currents, we proceeded to open our boxes and carefully, one plant at a time, prune them, plant them, attach a picture label, add some fertilizer, and place them in an organized arrangement with 2000 others. We added a large color laminated photo to each group and then we waited for them to start growing.

Fast forward three to four months after countless hours of watering, spraying, and fertilizing and all of our roses are starting to open up and reveal their tightly kept secrets! Heavenly scents are now wafting throughout the nursery and glorious colors are now frolicking amongst the beds. The roses are finally blooming and ready for you to take home to your gardens.

Here are some tips for growing gorgeous roses in the northwest…

1. Choose varieties that do well in a moist cool climate. For the most part, you can assume the varieties you see in a garden center are appropriate for our climate. If you have roses at home that seem to be disease prone, jerk them out or be willing to spray them several times a year. There is a category of roses called landscape or shrub roses that are almost completely disease free. Many of the rugosa roses are also disease free.

2. Plant them in a very sunny location with good air circulation.

3. In late March, fertilize them generously with two cups of a good organic rose fertilizer. You can also add a cup of lime and a fourth of a cup of Epsom Salt. Repeat this procedure after the first flush of blooms in late June and one more time again in September.

4. During the spring, spray with either a natural or synthetic fungicide to control mildew and black spot. Do not spray rugosa roses or they will burn.

5. For aphids, hose off large infestations or occasionally spray as needed. Ladybug populations will build up and help to control them. Other than an occasional worm or cane borer, there really aren’t very many bug problems.

6. Around Thanksgiving, mulch your roses and prune them back to two feet tall for the winter. In mid to late March finish the winter pruning by selecting four or five strong canes and cutting out any dead wood or crossing branches. Just remember “Hip High in the Fall, Knee High in the Spring.”

7. The rest of the year, enjoy your roses by cutting copious bouquets throughout the season.

We still have hundreds in stock spread out over 80 different varieties and likely one or two that will fit nicely into your garden. Roses will live for many years, so they are a good investment and they blend well with mixed shrubs and perennials in the sunny areas of your garden. If you have never tried roses, then maybe this is the year to jump in and experience the heavenly scents and glorious colors available. You won’t be sorry you did!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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