The other day I Googled “grow your first rose garden.” The results made me want to quit, right now, despite my bed of 8 happy white rose bushes. “Roses are very hard!” shouts the Internet. But this is rarely true. Most of you will be fine.
Wait, do you want a rose garden? I think you might, even if it’s just one beautiful rose in one beautiful container. Roses give back, both thorns and fragrance. Roses bud in perfection and die in romance. They talk to you. Well, that’s stretching it but at the very least you will want to talk to yours, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear their voices quiet in the morning.
Enough whimsy for we Sturdies. How to proceed without anxiety or annoyance? Pay little attention to the Internet. It’s easy, with a few exceptions, which we’ll get out of the way.
Who Cannot Grow Roses Happily?
- Anyone who lives under a rock. Roses don’t like shade. Even “shade-tolerant” roses need 4-5 hours of sunlight. This is non-negotiable.
- Anyone who lives at the bottom of the ocean, or, perhaps, in a bayou. Roses don’t like immobile wet, neither in the ground nor in the air. You can fix drainage issues, but humid climates will need a lot of room for breezes.
- Anyone who lives by comparison and competition. Your roses may not look like the ones in the catalog but they’ll be yours and you’ll love them. Would you order kids from J. Crew and then worry that they didn’t come with blazers on? I thought not.
13 Steps To Growing A First Rose Garden For The Rest Of Us
Growing a rose garden is a higher level task than simply planting a rose, even if your garden is just that one rose. Kind of a Zen koan, isn’t it? These 13 steps, then, include some philosophy. However, because we are Sturdy, they also include fish fertilizer.
- Say to yourself, “Roses are plants, not wallpaper or furniture.” Enjoy that reality and all the accompanying imperfections.
- Start as small as you like, with intent. In a container, or the corner of a bed. Promise yourself a rose garden. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. That book had such a huge impact on my teen years.)
- Set your success criteria. You aren’t just slapping a flower, any flower, into an empty space. What is it you want from your rose(s)? I suggest joy. You may prefer blooms, or scent, or simply, survival.
- Pick an organizing concept. This will give you courage for the days of thorns, black leaves, and petals that fall too soon.
- One color. Mine are white but you know, pink is good too. Or red. Your choice.
- Highly scented varieties, grow a perfume garden.
- The apotheosis of some sort of category.
- All hybrid teas, all own-root, or simply, “anything in the David Austin catalog.”
- Double dig your rose garden, no matter its size. (Note: gardening videos often feature adorable young men. Side benefit.) This is most important. We double dug the raised bed in my front yard, 25 years ago. The earth has not forgotten, and applauds every season of growth.
- Buy some organic fertilizer and read the directions. I like that liquid stuff, it’s easier to use.
- Now, buy your roses! You may want to read up a bit, to understand the different types of roses and make sure you’re buying in line with your success criteria. Familiarize yourself with these terms, it’s not hard.
- Tea roses
- Shrub roses
- Ground cover
- Even David Austin says it’s easy to plant a rose. (Hint: you can order bare root roses now for delivery in March). You’ll want to water them lot the first day, fairly often for the first couple of weeks, and then experiment to see how long they can go without wilting in your climate. Like any caretaking, it’s a dialogue. Oh, and water in the early morning so the leaves dry off but don’t get burned by the sun.
- Buy this pruner. Felco F-6 Classic Pruner For Smaller Hands. Remember that cutting is not the same as pruning but a good clean cutting edge makes both tasks a pleasure.
- Watch this short video about the anatomy of a rose. It’s good way to learn what the various pieces are called, which will be incredibly useful.
- When you do cut your inevitable blooms, cut back to a leaflet (little stalk) with 5 leaves on it. Or to a place on the cane (big stalk) with an “eye” that faces the direction you’d like another branch to grow.
- The container of fertilizer you bought will probably have told you to fertilize twice a year. Do this too. Although roses can live without fertilizer, with it they bloom a lot, which makes for happiness, and isn’t that the point?
- And, eventually, once a year, prune, (i.e cut the plant markedly back) those roses that you want to keep in disciplined shapes. (I let some grow wild occasionally.) In California we prune in January, so as to pretend winter is coming. You all with real winters might do so in November? December?
- Google “When to cut my roses in *place where I live*.” Get your answer, then run away from extraneous information.
In fact, this is a good rule about any domain overrun by information. Experts will generate data and opinions, that’s their job. You need to make quick strikes, like a spy in old Prussia. Wend your way through the ornate court, bow to anyone with a sword, grab your information and then RUN AWAY, back to the world of good enough.
It’s early morning now. I wonder what my roses are up to. I’ll probably have to go outside in my pajamas and check. They like to see me, I know they do.
Edited to add: Mary Ann has reminded me about aphids. I use neem oil spray against all ills; aphids, mildew, black spot beetles. It works well enough for a good enough world. Recommended.
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