The queen of flowers

Publication Date: Friday Jan 19, 2001

The queen of flowers

Growing roses that are not a royal pain

by Jill Slater

Roses are America's favorite flower. In fact, in 1986 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the rose our national flower. Over the centuries many other cultures have been enamored with roses. Egyptians revered the rose for its fragrance, color and beauty, while ancient Chinese, Arab, Greek and Roman philosophers and poets paid homage to the rose in their manuscripts. Art through the ages glorifies the rose: From the Bronze Age frescoes of Crete, the fragile medieval cathedral windows, to the contemporary sensual paintings of Georgia O'Keefe, roses continue to be an inspiring theme. The Roman legions grew Rosa gallica officinalis, not only for its beauty but also for medicinal purposes. These European roses were easy to grow, but only bloomed once seasonally.

Later in the 1700s, traders returned to Europe with a continual blooming variety found in subtropical China. The hybridizing of these European and Chinese roses is what we now call the hybrid tea rose. With its large blooms and long stems, it is the most popular rose grown in modern rose beds. Today all cultivated rose varieties have their origins in the Northern Hemisphere. Commercial rose growers have created new varieties, but before modern technology, natural cross-pollination created new rose forms.

Roses, known as the queen of flowers, have often been deemed difficult to grow and persnickety. However, with the introduction of many disease resistant varieties, and easy-to-grow shrub and ground-cover plants, you too can grow roses successfully. Roses do require a bit more TLC than some other garden favorites, but if you have at least six hours of sunlight a day, good soil and don't mind watering these thirsty plants, they will work well in most landscapes. Roses are worth the bit of babying they need.

January is the perfect time to buy and begin planting roses. This time of year they are sold bare-root. Bare-root simply means that all the soil has been removed from the plant during its dormant period. A container and soil are not needed to protect the plant's roots, but instead burlap, plastic and sawdust are generally used to protect the roots. Bare-root roses are much less expensive than buying potted roses later in the season. They cost less because the labor involved in growing the plant, compared to potted roses, is eliminated.

There are other advantages to buying bare-root roses versus potted roses. Bare-root plants adjust more quickly to soil and garden conditions than potted roses. In addition, selection this time of year is optimal. Substitutions of variety or color are less likely to be made compared to ordering or shopping in the spring.

Planting a bare-root rose is extremely easy. Step-by-step instructions will be included in the packaging. Follow these directions for a healthy start, but keep in mind that roses need good air circulation. If you avoid planting them in damp, stagnant spots where there is little breeze, this will help prevent excessive problems with powdery mildew and black spot. Also choose a site where large tree roots do not tap the rose's water supply.

Selecting roses for your garden

Rosarians group roses into three general categories: modern roses (those introduced after 1867), species roses and old garden roses. Within each category there are many classes of roses and endless varieties. To choose a rose that's right for your garden, first determine where and how it will grow. In addition to bushes and trees, roses can also be grown as ground covers, as magnificent climbers over trellises and arbors, and in espaliered forms that grow along walls, fences, or on almost any flat surface. Roses make terrific companion plants for herbs and perennial gardens.

Finally, if you do not have a large garden you can still grow roses. Almost any kind of rose (miniatures, hybrid teas, grandiflora and floribundas) will thrive in a single container placed on a small sunny deck or stairwell.

If you are a cut-flower enthusiast the hybrid tea rose may be right for you. These popular beauties grow 3- to 5-feet in height with a bloom that commands a cut-flower bouquet. Unfortunately, growing these large blooms, (3- to 5-inches wide) probably require more maintenance than any other type of rose. Many are highly susceptible to insect and disease problems, and therefore require regular applications of insecticides and fungicides. Don't let that scare you off. Rodales, Encyclopedia of Gardening and Landscape Techniques recommends 'Miss All American Beauty,' 'Mister Lincoln,' 'Pink Peace,' 'Tiffany,' and 'Tropicana,' all of which are resistant to black spot and powdery mildew, the two most prominent diseases of hybrid teas. New disease-resistant cultivars are introduced every year, so it is a good idea to check with your favorite nursery for other disease-resistant hybrid teas.

If you want a billowing rose bush with continual blooms from spring through fall, try planting floribunda and grandiflora roses. Floribunda roses are about 2- to 3-feet tall, and the individual flowers range from 2- to 4-inches wide, with clusters of blooms on a single stem.

Floribundas and grandifloras are generally very hardy and because they are closely related to hybrid teas, they can grow in the same conditions. Grandiflora roses reach 6- to 8-feet in height, with flowers the size of hybrid teas, clustered on a single stem.

Grandiflora and floribunda roses bloom longer and with more quantity than most other roses in the garden.

Nothing is more spectacular than a tall trellis, fence or arch covered with climbing or rambling roses. Actually, they are not true climbers because they do not have tendrils for attaching themselves, instead you must tie them to well-built structures. These showpieces of the garden can weigh in at over several hundred pounds and can reach heights of up to 35 feet. 'Golden Showers' and baby pink-colored 'Cecile Brunner' are favorite climbing roses in Bay Area gardens.

Blending roses with other plants in your garden makes good sense, especially if your beds are already established. Shrub roses, a relatively new class of roses, are perfect partners with bulbs, annuals and perennial plants. They are especially easy to grow as they require relatively little maintenance, and many are resistant to insect and disease problems. 'Carefree Delight' hot pink shrub roses, mixed with purple lavenders and white Shasta daisies, would be a thrilling combination, or yellow 'Baby Love' shrub roses mingled with purple penstemon and yellow coreopsis are country garden staples.

Fragrance is a great reason to plant old roses. Old roses consist of a very large group of increasingly popular roses. They are becoming very popular because of their individuality and uniqueness. Blooms may be single, double, solid or striped and are usually clustered as multi-blooms on a single stem. Many old-rose varieties also make beautiful rose hips (the seed bearing structure of the rose blossom) during the fall and winter months.

If you would like to edge your garden with roses, miniatures and ground-cover types (classified at shrub roses) do the job enthusiastically. They are extremely floriferous, blooming repeatedly throughout the season, with small- to medium-sized flowers and flower clusters. These low-growing bloomers look and do their job best when planted in volume.

The queen of flowers can reign in your garden. Choose your court according to your garden needs and limitations, and of course, by your own personal proxy.

Jill Slater is the "Good Gardener" on ABC 7 News, San Francisco, and spokesperson for The California Cut Flower Commission.

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