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Atlanta Rose Growing Basics

Choose a good rose!

Select a rose that will grow well -- not all varieties of roses you see will be equally successful, and some varieties of roses do better in Atlanta than others -- find out from experienced rose growers which ones to choose.  Pick a rose with healthy-looking canes and foliage, with canes growing outward from the center, rather than canes that cross and rub against each other.  Buy from a reputable nursery, and choose a plant that looks well cared for and happy at the nursery

Plant your rose right!

Pick a good site -- lots of sun (6-8 hours a day), good drainage (not a place where water stands after a rain), good air circulation (not an inside corner), and no competition from tree roots.  Allow plenty of room for your rose to get big, because it will -- hybrid teas should be planted a minimum of 3 feet apart, shrub roses at least 4 feet apart.  If you want to grow your rose in a pot, make it a big pot -- at a minimum, a large barrel half or a 16" diameter pot.

Test your soil, so you'll know what minerals need to be added.  Fertilizer can't be used by the plant if the soil pH is too far away from the ideal of 6.0 to 6.5.

Dig your rose a good home, with lots of room to grow in good soil -- start with a big hole (at least 24" wide, 18" deep).  Mix all the dirt from the hole with equal amounts of organic material (composted pine bark - Nature's Helper - and/or composted manure) and coarse sand (builder's sand, not sandbox sand).  Based on your soil test results, add lime and super phosphate as needed to your soil mixture so it will be readily available to your rose plant's roots, and mix all of your dirt and amendments until they reach an even consistency of coarse coffee grounds.  Partially refill the hole with a few inches of improved soil.

Plant your rose carefully.  For a bare-root rose, build a cone of dirt in the center of the hole almost to ground level, then place the rose on top of the cone so that the roots drape down the sides of the cone.  For a potted rose, remove the rose gently from the pot and spread the roots as much as possible, then set the rootball on top of several inches of returned, loose soil.  In either case, the crown of the rose (the fat spot the canes grow from) should end up just above the final soil level -- but because you've added organic material to the soil that came out of the hole, the final soil level will be a mound (which will subside over time), above the level of the surrounding area.  Pack the soil by hand and water generously as you plant, to make sure no air pockets remain around the roots.  If you are planting when the weather is still cold, mound additional dirt or mulch over the crown and canes of the plant, 10-12 inches high, to protect it from freezing and from the drying effects of wind, but remove this soil once the possibility of freezing weather is past.

Mulch your bush.  During the growing season, cover the root zone, but not the crown of the plant, with a good layer of mulch, about 3" deep, to protect the rose roots from heat and drying and to reduce weeds.  Soaker hoses can be buried under the mulch, and will last longer when protected from sunlight.  For the winter, a thicker layer of mulch, mounded over the crown of the plant and up the canes, protects the bush against our erratic freezing weather -- in a severe winter, only the parts of the plant that are protected with mulch may survive!

Make sure your rose gets proper nutrition!

Water your rose regularly, so it won't die of thirst, and it will be able to move food to its roots and throughout the bush.  Water must be applied to the soil around the base of the plant, not by an overhead sprinkler.  Roses need 1-2 inches of water a week during the entire growing season.  When you rely on rainfall, it should be the amount measured in your yard, not what the newspaper or TV reported.  Especially throughout the first spring and summer after you plant a rose, it needs to be watered deeply at least twice a week.  In subsequent years, it still needs to be watered regularly and deeply at least once a week.

Feed your rose!  Based on your soil test, feed your rose generously.  At a minimum, feed it at least monthly, from April 1 through Labor Day, with a balanced fertilizer -- 1 cup of 10-10-10 or 16-4-8 granular fertilizer per month is adequate for a hybrid tea, with proportionally less for miniatures.  Liquid fertilizers work better for roses in pots, but are also appreciated by roses in the ground, and organic fertilizers are a nice addition for any rose.  If you don't want to feed every month, look into all-season, time-release fertilizers like Osmocote.

Protect your rose from diseases and insects!

Spray your rose with a fungicidal spray to prevent blackspot (black spots on leaves, eventually surrounded by yellow, then leaves fall off) and powdery mildew (like it had been dusted with confectioner's sugar, distorts leaves and flowers).  Every rose in Atlanta will get these fungal diseases.  They won't kill your rose, but they can make plants look ugly, and they make the plant less healthy, less able to produce beautiful flowers.  There is no cure!  You can only spray to prevent the diseases, and to minimize their spread.  Use products like Fungicide and Daconil, according to label directions.  Spray every 7-10 days throughout the growing season, as soon as leaves appear on the bush, until the first hard freeze, spraying both the top and underside of leaves.  You can also minimize spread by removing and destroying infected leaves from the plant, and from the ground around the plant -- don't compost these leaves!

Control insects as needed, but don't use insecticides every time you spray, but only to kill the bugs you know are already there!  Prevent cane-borer damage by covering freshly cut canes immediately with sealant, like carpenter's glue.  Control aphids (small green/brown sucking bugs) with insecticidal soap or insecticides, or even with a hard spray of water from your hose.  Control thrips (brown shredded edges on light-colored flowers) by spraying just the bud with Orthene.  Reduce the number of Japanese beetles by handpicking and squashing, by spraying with Sevin, by using beetle traps placed far away from the roses! and by treating all sod areas with Milky Spore.

Get rid of spider mites!  This is one beastie that can kill your rose bush, fairly quickly.  They show up mostly in hot, dry spells, during the summer, as faintly yellow-speckled foliage starting on the lowest leaves, tiny webs, and tiny red spider-like specks on the undersides of leaves.  To minimize the number of spider mites in your garden, use general insecticides (Sevin, Malathion, Orthene) as infrequently as possible, so that the natural predators of spider mites, like ladybugs, are not killed!  A forceful spray of water to the undersides of the leaves, repeated every other day, will control mild outbreaks.  For more serious infestations, use Avid, Vendex (available in Isotox combination spray), or Kelthane, according to label directions, repeating treatment as directed, spraying the underside of the foliage.

Prune your roses!

Prune repeat-blooming roses in late winter, around the end of February or first week of March. Look for a pruning demonstration by the Greater Atlanta Rose Society or the Greater Gwinnett Rose Society in late February or early March to see experienced pruners in action.  Pruning encourages the growth of new canes and the production of more flowers from your rose bush each year.

Prune once-blooming roses after they bloom in the spring.

Deadhead -- cut off blossoms as soon as stamens and petals start to fade, to encourage the formation of new flowers.

Ask a Consulting Rosarian!  CRs are happy to talk roses and give advice about your rose growing.

Call Bobbie Reed at 770-979-4237, 8am to 8pm,
or e-mail at berdks@mindspring.com