Putting in a Rose Garden
By Sue Silva
National Award of Merit Winner
When you are a rose nut like me you have to constantly think of where you are going to plant those new roses you are planning on buying this year. The roses I have are all so special to me that I hate to dig them up so I just keep looking for new places to squeeze them in. This past spring I made the decision to add a whole new area to my rose garden so I would have room not only to use this year but maybe have room to save for the next few years. I also had to move some roses from the front yard because the deer had found them. The only area I could think of large enough was to replace lawn for rose garden. First of all, I had to convince my husband that was the only place I could do it because it met all the criteria that I needed. When you are considering a new planting area you need at least six hours of sunlight a day. Soil and drainage are also things to consider and even sometimes these needs have to be amended in the location you choose.
Since my backyard has so much shade I can only grow roses on one side of the yard where the sun hits longest during the day. The area of lawn I chose bordered on my existing rose garden. The first step we did was to remove the sod completely so most of the grass and weeds would have the roots gone. The ground had never really been worked so the soil was really hard. It mostly consisted of hard clay so we had to use a tiller to break it up. After that we let it stand for a week or two and then did it again after adding a whole trailer load of good aged horse manure with straw and lots of earthworms that we had hauled in from a nearby ranch. I also added some other organic material such as gypsum, alfalfa, super phosphate, and bone meal. When planting roses you should have a loam so that is what I was trying to achieve. Every year the ground will be getting additional organic materials added when I do my yearly fertilizing. The ground was easily able to be worked by early spring when I started planting the roses.
After I had planted all the roses I was putting in this year, I had to continue my drip system to the new roses. We had to buy more haze and drippers but were able to add to the existing system. The mulch was some old growth redwood shavings that had been made when a stump grinder had cleared a neighbor's trees the year before and we had brought them home and dumped in a pile to save. I first covered all around the roses with layers of newspaper and then put the mulch on top. I have had very little weeds and the roses have been thriving well. I really had a lot of help from my husband even though he wasn't always able to see how much the work was going to pay off. He now agrees that it was worth the work and giving up that piece of lawn. I wonder how much more lawn I can beg him to give up in the future!!!
So far, I have only told you my experience in creating a new rose growing area but I will continue with a few basic requirements that should be considered when you are thinking of growing roses. You can either do a raised bed or just an area of ground in your yard. The requirements are not difficult but ignoring them may prove to be a costly mistake. Growing roses is a time consuming activity so you should consider this when deciding the size of your garden.
Sunlight is very important to a rose. The growing season is long here on the coast so think about early spring and fall and if you get sunlight during those months. You should have six hours of sun a day or more. You should also consider how much wind the area gets and if it is near large trees or shrubs since they may rob the nutrients from the roses. Heavy wind can break the canes and blow off blooms. Roses do not like to have the foliage wet so don't put them near where an overhead sprinkler will be used.
A healthy, well cared for rose bush will reproduce it’s bloom 3 or 4 times during the growing season so it requires good soil and fertilization. Most of the soil in this area is either sandy or clay and will require the addition of some organic material such as manure. The PH of the soil is very important. This is the measure of acidity in the soil and roses do best with a PH of 6.0 to 6.5. If you do not know what your soil's PH level is, have your soil tested and adjust it accordingly. If your soil is very alkaline you can lower the PH by adding sulfur. If it is acid you can raise it by adding limestone. The type of limestone to add depends on the level of magnesium in the soil. If the soil is low in magnesium, use dolomitic limestone and if high, use calcitic limestone. Most of the soil around here is acidic. If you have a lot of earthworms working your soil the healthier it will be.
Drainage is another thing to consider. Roses require moist soil but not wet soil. To test your drainage remove both ends of a large coffee can and press it down into your soil. Fill the can with water and let it stand for an hour. If the water has not drained from the can you have a drainage problem. Raised beds would correct this problem best.
Plan your garden for easy maintenance. Remember you are going to have to fertilize, prune, and spray the roses. Give yourself enough room to move easily through the area. You can make double rows of plants with walks in between or just stagger them far enough apart. The roses should be at least 3 feet from the neighboring plant to allow good air circulation. Don't plant too close to the house or a fence either because roses need space to grow. Make sure roses in front of the area are not taller than those behind them. You should know the growing habits of the plants before you plant them. Most descriptions of roses say if they are upright or spreading and if they are tall or short. You don't want to have roses that grow so they intertwine their canes. Of course, if you are adding roses to a flower garden of different types of plants, you can plant companion plants closer but remember disease control is easier if the air circulation is good.
Above all, enjoy your garden and take time to smell the roses. Roses are so enjoyable because they are in bloom most of the year and if taken care of will exist for a good many years in your garden