A Thorny Subject: All Your Rose Questions Answered

This year, we have been lucky enough to welcome a passionate rosarian, Edwina, onto our gardening staff.  She has worked tirelessly to ensure that our Rose Garden will be looking beautiful all season, and wow, her work has paid off!  If anyone reading this has been fortunate enough to be able to visit our Rose Garden this year, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t had the time to visit this year, I strongly encourage it!  Let’s learn a little more about Edwina’s background with roses, and then we’ll move on to some burning questions you may have about your own rose bushes.

Dried fall arr. 1 (51)

Edwina’s history with and love of roses reaches all the way back into her childhood.  She grew up near Fort Dodge in Hamilton County, where her fascination with roses really took off as she learned the various practical and aesthetic ways that Native Americans used roses many years ago.  She used to sing “My Wild Irish Rose” to her grandfather, her mother’s wedding photo was in front of a beautiful patch of roses, and through her 4-H group she showed roses by converting a corn bin into a rose garden in the 70’s.  Roses were also a staple of her quality parental bonding time, as she would spend hours working in the garden with her parents, tending to their various rose bushes.

As Edwina matured into an adult, her love of roses was only strengthened.  She realized that roses were a universal symbol of so many things, including love, friendship, and peace, among others.  She figured out that roses could mean just about anything to anyone, and she found comfort in that beautiful idea of world-wide admiration of one single thing.  She traveled to Spain, Oregon, and other areas to learn how each culture cared for roses in their varying climates.  After her travels, she had come to learn that the most challenging and entertaining place to grow roses was in the Midwest.  Our harsh winters and rich soil, accompanied by the resiliency of the rose bush, made for some very interesting growing conditions.  Edwina spent 8 seasons growing roses at a well-known garden center in Illinois, where they had over 300 varieties of roses available for purchase.  I sat down with Edwina to learn more about proper rose care.  The remainder of this article is full of Edwina’s wonderful advice for your personal rose garden.

Disclaimer: Many rosarians have different opinions on best practices for rose care.  Please treat the information in this article as a suggestion rather than a rule.  Finding the best system for you and your own garden is key to success as a gardener.

When is the best time to plant a new rose bush or transplant a bush?

In the Midwest? Spring.  I like spring for planting.  You have to make sure the permafrost is gone, late February is when you get the soil ready.  And it’s not so much when you dig the hole, but what you put in the hole.  What I do, I get a wheelbarrow, dig the hole, mix the dirt with peat moss, sand, for drainage, at the bottom of the hole you put Osmocote.  Dig the hole larger, deeper than what you need.  You want to get that bud union, the center where the cane comes out, that should be level with the permafrost to avoid temperature changes.  Some people will plant anytime.  It really depends on how the soil is prepared, as long as the roots have a place to go.  End of April or May is latest I like to go.

yellow rose of texas

Our Yellow Rose of Texas bush.  This only blooms once a year!

Tell me a little bit about when and how to prune.

Ooh, Ooh, in the Midwest, if you have climbers, you barely tip them off.  If you have shrubs, you can go down one third, that’s the rule of thumb, 1/3 with shrubs, very little with climbers, if you have hybrid tea roses, it depends on the variety, but they usually can be cut down a little further than other shrubs.  Always cut off dead, dying, or diseased canes.  Always err on the side of caution when pruning.  A cane for a hybrid tea rose should be as thick as your middle finger knuckle.  I always recommend that people start with carefree beauties, rugosas, or knockouts, because they are a good learning type of rose.

Never cut off a rose bush down to the ground.  I do not recommend it.  You’re taking away food for the winter.  Only prune in the spring, not in the fall.  It needs nourishment from the canes above ground to keep the roots alive during the winter.  After the winter, the nourishment or food will travel back up to the top of the plant and help it achieve that first bloom.  Also, do not cut back or deadhead after August 1st.  Only gently remove petals and dead leaves with your fingers.

What are some common diseases for rose bushes and how do you combat them?

Part of the diseases are funguses and pathogens in the garden.  Roses are great indicators.  When you see a stressed rose, it’s because of what’s in the garden already.

The signs of powdery mildew are a greyish ash look on the buds and on the leaves.  It goes from top to bottom.  You can use a mixture of one parts milk to 9 parts water to spray on the bushes to help control the effects of the powdery mildew.  The other one is black spot, and that goes from the ground up.  After a hard rain, the disease will splash up onto the leaves.  It starts as a little, purplish spot, and then it fans out.  For black spot, Neem Oil is used, mix with water and spray the plant.  Those are the two most common.  These will not kill the rose bush.  They are due to weather conditions and air circulation.

Usually, rose bushes will take care of these on their own.  My criteria, as a Rose gardener, is to watch out for birds, bees, babies, and business.  We don’t want to use anything that is harmful to any of those things or anything that is unreasonable in price.  There are many other home remedies that can be used, such as sesame oil or baking soda.  A healthy rose will fend off disease on its own.  If a rose cane has died back, just cut it off, because it won’t come back.

rose - lots of blooms

A rose bush in our Rose Garden with a multitude of blooms

What are yellow leaves indicative of?

Not enough air in the soil for roots to access nutrients, not enough water, or just plain not enough nutrients.  Can your roots access the nutrients in the soil?  Are the nutrients there?  For Iowa, the nutrients will be there.  Yellow leaves can indicate a stressed rose.  It is not always a bad thing.  You just need to listen to your roses.  If the rose is telling you that it doesn’t want the leaf, just take it off.

What pests should you look out for in your rose garden? 

The Japanese Beetle is the one that will make your rose the most aggravated.  It takes the bloom and takes the joy from your plant.  They come up to feed in June, and they’ll go back underground in August to lay their eggs.  Every day, from now until August, I’ll be going out in the morning to find Japanese Beetles and put them in soapy water.  You must also take the leaves and petals off that they ate.  Those leaves and petals are an invitation for other Japanese Beetles to come.

Midge is another less common parasite to watch out for, but there’s really nothing you can do to get rid of it.  It travels inside the rose bush, and then there’s nothing to do besides get rid of the rose bush.

And our lovely cane borers – they bore a hole in the center of a freshly pruned cane.  You can use Elmer’s glue, put it in the hole to seal it off, and it suffocates the parasite.  If it is allowed to get to the center of the cane, then it can shorten the plant’s life.  They are only interested in a fresh cut, though.  Once the pruned cane has dried up, they won’t be interested in it anymore.

A harsh spray of water can help get rid of spiders and aphids.  Spiders are a constant worry for rosarians.  You also should never compost a rose bush after it’s taken out, because it could be a carrier of any of these parasites.

Deer and rabbits can also wipe out a plant.  Rabbits eat the bottom of the plant, and deer eat the buds.  It can be helpful to put fencing, at least 18” into the ground, because otherwise rabbits will go underneath and chew on the canes, especially during the winter.

Ladybugs, bees, and other pollinators are extremely beneficial for your garden.  Make sure you see the bees, birds, and the weeds – you want to see the weeds.  The weeds are another indicator that the garden is healthy. “

To learn more from Edwina, you can often find her in our Rose Garden, working hard to make it flourish.  Stop by and say hi the next time that you visit the gardens.  She would love to share her passion for roses with you!

*This article has been edited and condensed for clarity*

Rose

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