Organic Rose Gardening
Maintaining an organic yard is an excellent way to protect your family, pets, and wildlife from harmful chemicals. It is also an excellent way to help create a sustainable environment.
Roses are the ëQueen of Flowersí and can add elegance and a real sense of joy to any yard. If you love roses, you will be pleased to find that growing them organically is easy and inexpensive. The real secret to all organic gardening is a basic understanding of how nature works. Once you understand the basics of natureís garden, tending your own organic roses will be a thrilling adventure.
Before digging into mother earthís gardening secrets, you may be interested in the amazing history of roses.
Roses are the most revered flower in the world today and have probably always been the most revered flower. Ancient civilizations revered them for their beauty, aromatic oil, and medicinal powers.
Rose petals have tannin, which is an astringent, and were used to control bleeding. Rose petals were also used as an infusion for diarrhea. Rose oil and rose water were used in China for stomach and colon problems. It would be easy to write a book about the many early uses of roses.
Modern rose classification refers to wild varieties of roses as ëSpeciesí
roses. Roses belong to the family Rosaceae (plums, apples, almonds, etc.), and the genus Rosa. Wild Species Roses contain many different varieties. They have colorful five-petaled flowers, usually bloom once in the summer, and are usually very hardy.
Hybridization and other ëmeddlingí has added many beautiful colors and other traits, but has often created weaker plants. As an example, grafting one kind of rose onto a different rose root stock is a common practice, which often creates a rose that is more prone to pathogenic attack.
The oldest rose fossils that have been found are in Colorado. They were alive 40 million years ago. Wild roses grow naturally in many parts of the northern hemisphere; from India and the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley to Egypt; and from Siberia and Europe to the Americas. In the Americas, they grow from the snows of Canada to the tropics of Mexico.
However, wild roses are found most frequently in temperate climates and, amazingly, do not seem to be native to the southern hemisphere.
Roses were the most sacred flowers in Egypt and used as offerings for the Goddess Isis. They have also been found in Egyptian tombs, where they were formed into funerary wreaths. Confucius, who lived from 551 BC to 479 BC, reported that the Imperial Chinese library had many books about roses.
Indian sages referred to roses in ancient Sanskrit literature. Ancient Samarians of Mesopotamia (in the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley) mentioned roses in a cuneiform tablet written in approximately 2860 BC. Obviously, roses were used and cultivated long before they were documented by early cultures.
Roses were also cultivated by the Grecians and Romans. It is possible that Romans introduced cultivated roses to England and France. The English were already cultivating and hybridizing roses in the 15th Century. Thatís when the English War of Roses took place. The winner of the war, Tudor Henry VII, created the Rose of England (Tudor Rose) by crossbreeding other roses.
Cultivated roses were brought to the Americas by the 16th Century.
In the early 1800s, Empress Josephine who was now divorced from Napoleon, created a rose garden with every known variety. She also encouraged the crossbreeding of roses.
Besides Species Roses, there are now two other important categoriesóModern Roses and Old Roses. Modern roses are generally accepted as roses that were developed from 1867 to present (1867 is the generally accepted date of the first hybrid tea rose). Old Roses are roses that existed before 1867. There are 15 categories of Old Roses and 10 categories of Modern Roses.
You can find a lot more fascinating rose history if you spend time on the internet or visit your local library.
How Nature Works
Whether it is roses, other flower gardening, or just about any type of plant, the secret to successful organic gardening of any kind is to understand the way nature works. Nature always tries to maintain a delicate balance. By understanding the basics of how plants grow, you will understand how to maintain natureís balance and thus keep your roses healthy.
Basically, water and nutrients are absorbed into the root system and pulled up through the stems into the green leaves by the process of photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is a plant process that uses water and energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates that it uses for growth and other plant functions.
The carbohydrates are stored in the branches and stems of roses, trees, and other plants. These stored carbohydrates are used as reserve energy for the plant. When a crises occurs, such as a broken stem or pathogenic attack, the stored carbohydrates are used. Stored carbohydrates are also used in the spring to create new stems and foliage.
A natural soil environment teems with bacteria, fungi, nematodes, earthworms, and other soil organisms. Many of these soil organisms break down dead leaves and other materials into humus, which enriches the soil. Other soil organisms form symbiotic relationships with roses and other plants.
A symbiotic relationship is a relationship that is beneficial to all participants in the relationship. Mycorrhizal fungus creates an important symbiotic relation with roses and other plants. Mycorrhiza attaches itself to the roots of your roses and other plants. It uses some of the carbohydrates stored by your plants to grow, but helps your roses and other plants by making minerals more available. In a healthy soil environment, the mycorrhizae attached to one of your roses will grow and become interconnected to the mycorrhizae of other roses and plants. In effect, it provides a secondary root system for your garden plants.
Roses and other plants also release exudates from their roots that attract beneficial organisms. As an example, exudates from rose roots attract friendly bacterium that ward off pathogenic fungi.
Beneficial soil organisms, which are found in natural humus and compost, also make minerals more available to your roses and other plants. Beneficial soil organisms also help protect roses and other plants from predatory life forms.
Another important thing to understand is that plants of all kinds are a little bit like humansósome get along very well and some donít. Some plants grow well together and actually help each other survive. Other plants inhibit neighboring plants. Plants that grow well together are referred to as companion plants. Companion plants are an important factor in any garden. We will talk more about them later.
Organic growers recognize that pathogenic attacks are an indication that the plant or plants are out of balance. Organic growers know that pathogens canít get a foothold on a healthy plant.
Commonly used chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides destroy soil organisms and throw roses, flowers, and other plants out of balance. The imbalance created by these chemicals attracts pathogens.
Our meddling also creates havoc in roses and other plants. Over-pruning reduces carbohydrate storage, throws the plant out of balance, and often opens the door to pathogens. Hybridization often creates weaker plants. The practice of grafting rose stems onto a different root stock often creates roses that are susceptible to pathogenic attacks.
Creating Your Own Rose Garden
If you want to plant a rose garden that consists of two or three roses, or a whole bunch of roses, you need to begin planning.
The first thing to do is to think about where you want to plant your roses and what colors you might like. Be sure to consider the other colors in your yard, as well as your house, walkways, etc. Roses grow best with a minimum of six hours of full sun, although some varieties can tolerate a bit more shade. Your shade/full sun areas will affect your possible rose garden locations.
The next thing to do is to find out what roses grow well in your climate.
Look at rose gardens in your local area to see what roses seem to grow well and how much you like them. Ask nursery experts what roses grow well in your area. Another good source is your local rose club. This will give you a good idea of the colors, sizes, and other characteristics that will grow well in your area.
Once you have decided on the roses you like, you need to learn about companion plants. Roses really do love garlic, as well as other plants of the onion family. Onions are of the order Asparaginales and family Alliaceae. The onion family is made up of 500 species.
Although planting garlic in your rose garden will help protect your roses, there are many other onion varieties that will protect your roses and also provide beautiful flowers to enhance your roses. Marigolds, mignonettes, and thyme are also good companions for roses.
When you are deciding on companion plants for roses, check to see when they bloom. Other characteristics, such as texture and height, should also be
considered before deciding on your companion plants.
An excellent book on companion planting is Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte. Here's an interesting link about companion planting.
Choosing Your Plants
Choose hardy roses. Generally, old varieties of roses are the hardiest. Try to pick roses that havenít been grafted onto a different root stock. Choose the colors you like. Bare-root roses are less expensive than potted roses, but potted roses are easier to plant and more likely to survive
Choose flowers from the onion family, or other companion families that will complement your roses. Once you have chosen your colors and plants, and have decided how to arrange them and what your rose garden will look like, you can dig in and begin working with your soil.
Soil is the key to healthy and beautiful roses. Dig into your rose plot in several places to see what the soil it is like. Soil is seldom perfect. It may have too much clay, too much sand, tons of rocks, or any of a dozen different problems. pH is also important.
You should test your soil pH. pH kits are available at nurseries and over the internet. A good pH test kit is worth the expense because inexpensive ones are often inaccurate. Most roses grow well with a soil pH of 5.5 to 7, although a pH of 6.5 is ideal. pH is a measure of acid-base balance and uses a scale of 1 to 14. 1 is extremely acid; 7 is neutral; and 14 is extremely basic (alkaline). Few flowers will grow in a pH that is too acid or too alkaline.
A pH of 6.5 is the point where nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, plus trace minerals, are most easily available to your flowers. Arid regions tend to have alkaline soils and regions with heavy rainfall tend to have acidic soils.
How Much To Water Roses
Roses like a lot of water during the growing and blooming season. But this doesn't mean give them a small amount every day. Like with watering other plants, it is better to water deeply rather than just a little bit at a time, so that the water can fully penetrate the roots. Just sprinkling them with the hose is not enough.
Let the hose give your roses a full, thorough soaking. A good four or five gallons worth of water per rose bush is a basic rule of thumb. Depending on how much rain your garden gets, a deep watering once a week is usually enough even in drier parts of the country. If it is extremely hot and dry, perhaps every four days or so.
Avoid watering during the heat of the day in direct sunlight. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to water.
The Magic of Humus
If your soil is out of the correct pH range, you can change it. This is where the magic of soil biology creates miracles. Humus is the magic formula for most soil problems. Humus, which you can create by composting with compost bins, will help improve your soil pH. It will also improve soil that is too sandy, has too much clay, or has other problems.
If your soil is extremely acid, which can happen in an area with heavy rainfall, or soil that has had overdoses of chemical N-P-K fertilizer, you may need to add limestone to ìsweetenî the soil.
For most other soil problems, humus is the answer. You may not have humus available. If that is the case, donít worry. We will discuss how mulching can help your roses. For more information on composting, see the Composting Guide.
You can create compost with plant clippings and other yard debris, rather than throwing them away. They will provide you with a continuous supply of humus in the future.
You should be careful if you decide to purchase compost. Many compost products are not fully composted and are still too ëhotí for your garden.
Organic fertilizers should be added during the growing cycle. You can even find special organic rose fertilizer that is designed specifically with rose gardening in mind.
It is best to plant your roses between spring and early summer so that they have time to develop a root system before winter sets in.
Roses donít like to be crowded, so give them enough room. Hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas should be planted 18 to 30 inches apart.
Climbers should be planted 8 to 12 feet apart. Miniatures can be planted approximately 12 to 15 inches apart.
If you have container roses, make sure they have been watered and keep them wet while working. Dig holes for your roses that are 2 ? times the size of the root ball. It is a good idea to put some well composted organic matter in the bottom of the hole. Mix more composted matter with the soil that you removed, but are planning to put back in the hole.
If you donít have composted matter available, you can substitute a good quality planting mix. It is best to use planting mix that doesnít contain chemical fertilizers, although it is sometimes difficult to find.
Take the rose plant out of the container and put the rose plant in the hole.
Pack the prepared dirt under and around the rose, making sure that the dirt on the top of the rose root-ball is level with the ground. It is a good idea to put a straight stick across the hole to make sure the dirt level of the rose is the same as the ground level. If your rose is planted above or below ground level, it may have a difficult time growing properly.
Planting bare-root roses is the same process, except that you must gently pack the dirt around the roots. If you have a grafted rose, you need to make sure that the graft union is a little bit below ground level.
Purchasing organic rose fertilizer will insure that you have fertilizer to add during the growing season, if you don't already have it on hand at home.
Mulching will help your roses after they are planted. Mulching is the practice of adding plant material, such as leaves, dead grass, or shredded bark on top of the soil. The plant material will eventually be broken down and pulled into the soil by soil denizens. It will become humus. Mulching also helps to retain moisture in the soil. In a natural environment, leaves fall to the ground and stay there. They act as mulch. For more information on mulching, see the linked article at Clean Air Gardening.
You will not need to prune your roses until next season. It is best to prune just before the early spring growth appears, which is March in most areas.
You can check with your local nurseries to find out what is the best time in your area.
If you are unfamiliar with pruning, it is best to watch a demonstration.
There are many articles and books that explain how to prune, but a demonstration is worth ten thousand words. Do-it-yourself television shows often give demonstrations. Nurseries and rose clubs also sometimes give demonstrations.
Once you see a demonstration, you will feel much more comfortable with the idea of pruning.
For basic tips on pruning roses, see the following links:
If you have planted repeat-flowering roses, your rose bushes will bloom more bountifully when you remove the spent blooms. This is called deadheading.
Hybrid tea roses or grandifloras are best for classical long stem roses, but floribundas, shrubs, or climbing roses are a better choice if you want your rose garden to bloom continually.
Climbers on a trellis can create an amazing display of color or hide an unsightly shed.
Roses need well-drained soil. If you have clay, or other soil that doesnít drain, you may have to create a drain line or plant your roses in a raised bed.
Donít forget mulch. Mulching around your roses and other plants will make them very happy and reduce pathogen problems.
Purchase hardy roses that are resistant to infestation. These are often the older varieties. You will also find that sturdy varieties vary from region to region. Check with local organic gardening associations to find out what works best in your specific area and under your specific conditions.
Instead of planting your roses in even rows, you can stagger them. By staggering them, you get more roses in a small space without crowing them.
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