Plant Profile: Roses

Rose is a rose is a rose. Every rose has it’s thorn. Do not think that roses are cursed with thorns, but that a thorn bush is fortunate enough to have roses bloom upon it. More, I am sure, has been written about roses than nearly any other bloom imaginable, though that will not discourage me from adding my thoughts to this ever-growing pool. When someone asks “what’s your favorite flower?”, the rose is one that I do not even have to think about before answering. The Rosaceae is an enormous family of plants, encompassing roses, apples and other fruit-bearing trees, raspberries and other fruit-bearing brambles, and mountain ash, among many others. They are an important food source for both animal and human alike, and a fantastic source of pollen and nectar for those most essential of insects, our honeybees.

We are blessed, even in Maine, to be able to grow these sweetest and most beautiful of flowers. Roses will often scare even the most die-hard gardeners because they have a reputation of being “difficult”. Prone to diseases and all manner of insect pests, certain varieties and species may take a bit more effort than others, but with a gardener armed with the knowledge of planting environment and conditions, they will thrive, and not be a source of frustration but one of joy. Roses need at least 6 hours of full, direct sun, with a soil rich in organic matter and nutrients. They prefer a well-drained, but moist soil. Most roses will not do well if they have wet feet. A balanced fertilizer several times per season is definitely beneficial to keep leaves green and glossy and buds perky. Roses seem to benefit from a pine needle mulch in autumn. They are bothered by aphids, Japanese Beetles, and other various insects, but a healthy rose will usually bounce right back after the worst of them have gone away. There is much more to say on these pests, but it will take up a column in itself…

Proper air movement and sanitation is essential in maintaining a successful rose garden. Roses need plenty of space between them to encourage their leaves to dry and thereby eliminate funal spores and other disease organisims from taking hold. Cleaning fallen leaves and petals from around the plants themselves removes the threat of same. Deadheading faded flowers before they go to seed encourages the plants to produce more new growth and more flowerbuds, increasing our enjoyment through the season. Another important thing to remember when deadheading or trimming roses, it is a good practice to sterilze clippers between cuts, and to always prune to an outward-facing bud.

The roses that most people know and love today have been hybridized beyond anything that could have been dreamed of hundreds of years ago, occasionally at the sacrifice of fragrance or vigor to create the ideal blossom. The range in colors, shapes, and sizes of blossoms is immense, from the perfectly formed buds of hybrid teas, to the gigantic, rounded, fluffy heads of english roses, to clusters of sometimes 8 or more buds on the grandiflora and floribunda roses. We have bred them to be re-blooming, so we do not have to limit ourselves to only enjoying their beauty once a summer. Old-fashioned garden and species roses are tough and hardy, but do not have nearly the range of colors and shapes that our modern roses do, and will typically bloom only once per season. New varieties of roses have brought back the beautiful fragrance, and are hardy enough to survive even the toughest Maine winters.

A footnote, of sorts, concerns the Beach Rose, Rosa rugosa. A fixture on the coasts of New England, our shores would not be complete without it. It is an invader, not native to this area at all, but has filled nearly every conceivable niche it can, and has therefore “naturalized”. Nearly indestructible, it is cut back to mere stubs every fall, only to reach its full potential of 10 feet tall every summer. It is an essential food source for birds and insects, and its fragrance is unmistakable and unforgettable. It’s one invader that I am happy to have stay.