Monday, February 1, 2010

The Joy of Roses

Photo by Alice Le Duc

This column appeared in the Jan. 30 gardening section of The Herald-Sun. Please see our previous post for information about our Feb. 18 rose care class and other February classes and events at Duke Gardens.

By Chuck Hemric

You may not be thinking of roses in the depths of winter. But in fact if you are planning to have roses in your garden this coming year, now is the time to take action. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we naturally think about sending roses to the special people in our lives. Yes, this can be an expensive proposition! Why not grow your own? You can grow roses with a little planning, patience, persistence and preparation.

Now is the time to prepare your planting beds and select the varieties that you wish to have in your garden. Planting is best done now, while the plants are dormant. This will give the roses an opportunity to develop their root system prior to spring growth, which should appear by mid-April.

Preparation of the planting hole is very important – 6 inches of compost, cow manure and pine bark makes a good amendment for soils in Durham County. Dig the planting bed 18 to 24 inches deep to allow good root growth. Do not add fertilizer at the time of planting. This can be done later, as the plants break dormancy and begin to show growth. Fertilize with an inorganic slow-release fertilizer from mid-March through mid-August. A slow-release fertilizer can be added every four to six weeks during growing season.

There are certain necessities to grow roses successfully. First and foremost, you must have a willingness to spend time in your garden. Roses require a lot of care and attention. Locate your garden where the plants will receive six to eight hours of sun per day. Morning sun is desirable to dry the leaves from the nightly dew. This helps prevent black spot. Water is crucial, at least 1.25 inches per week. Roses do well in the clay soils of Durham County due to high mineral content. These soils must be amended with rich compost so that the soil is loose and well aerated. You should become a neat freak when it comes to the cleanliness of your rose garden; always keep the bed raked free of fallen leaves and petals, and remove all weeds.

You may be reading this and thinking that you only have a small garden space that gets the necessary sunlight and you want to grow other things as well. Companion planting is easy to do with roses. According to Louise Riotte in “Roses Love Garlic,” planting garlic with roses aids in flower fragrance and helps to fight black spot. Mincing the cloves of garlic and mixing with water produces a good pesticide.

In the Durham community, we are fortunate to have a local firm that specializes in rose care. Witherspoon Rose Culture is a great resource for all your rose gardening questions. If you are interested in learning more about roses, consider enrolling in Witherspoon president David Pike’s Rose Care and Pruning workshop at Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Feb. 18 from 1 to 4 p.m. To learn more, call 668-1707 or e-mail

Rose enthusiast Chuck Hemric is director of volunteers at Duke Gardens.

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