Stop and smell the roses
Roses are not as high-maintenance as you might think.

Stop and smell the roses

The care and feeding of a long-treasured flower

BRATTLEBORO — Roses have long symbolized love, beauty, war, and even politics. According to fossil evidence, the rose is 35 million years old. About 150 species of roses grow throughout the northern hemisphere. Cultivation of roses did not begin until about 5,000 years ago, most likely in China.

The “War of the Roses” in 15th-century England was so called because the groups fighting for control each chose either a white or red rose as their symbol. To this day, the rose is the national flower of England.

During the 17th century, roses were so valuable that they, and rose water, could be used as legal tender.

Cultivated roses were introduced into Europe from China in the late 18th century, and most modern roses can be traced to this source.

Roses are organized into various categories. Species roses are the roses as nature gave them to us. Most of these have five petals and are quite hardy and carefree. Climbers and ramblers, modern ever-blooming roses, modern shrub roses, and hybrid tea roses are some of the other categories.

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Select a rose plant for your garden according to your garden's size, growing conditions and your personal preference. Choose a site that receives full sunlight, good air circulation, and well-drained soil high in organic matter.

Potted roses may be planted at any time during the growing season, but be sure to plant in time for good root establishment. A hole should be dug about 2 times as wide as the pot, and just a little deeper.

Amend the soil when you plant with organic matter such as compost. Plant the rose at the same depth that it was in the pot. Water it in well, so that the entire root area receives water.

Roses thrive with even moisture all season. A good rule of thumb is 1 inch of water per week. When rain is lacking, give them water. Mulch will help the soil around your roses retain moisture. Watering the roots and keeping the leaves dry helps in reducing fungal diseases, to which roses are prone.

If your roses develop such diseases, a number of controls are available. For powdery mildew, mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda in 1 gallon of water with a splash of horticultural oil or soap and spray every 10 days or after it rains. For other fungal diseases, copper or sulfur can be effective. For insects, insecticidal soap or Neem oil work well.

Japanese beetles can be caught by hand or in traps. (When I was a child, my neighbor used to pay a penny apiece for each Japanese beetle we removed from her roses.) Remember that healthy roses are less prone to insect and disease problems.

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Roses can be fertilized once they have established root growth. Foods made for roses are effective, as are bone meal and phosphorus. Avoid high-nitrogen foods, as they will encourage more leaves than flowers. Don't fertilize after Aug. 15, to avoid winter damage to tender new growth.

To deadhead roses, which will help them to continue producing flowers (for the everblooming types), cut with a clean, sharp pruner just above the first branch down from the spent flower that has at least five leaves.

The most common method of winter protection for roses is to mound them up with about 12 inches of soil, and then cover them with evergreen boughs.

Don't do this until the rose is dormant in the fall, and most of the leaves have fallen off. If you use a premade rose cone, be sure to cut four to five 1-inch holes around the top and bottom for air circulation and to keep the air inside the cone from heating up.

You may also create an 18-inch-high circle of hardware cloth or chicken wire around the roses and fill with soil. Avoid piling grass, straw or pine needles around a rose for winter - it makes a lovely home for rodents who will enjoy the bark of the rose for their winter meals.

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