A rose is a rose is a rose — and at Bellingrath Gardens and Home, each bloom represents months of patient, hands-on care from our longtime Rosarian, Linda Guy. From fertilizing to pruning to spraying, Linda keeps a meticulous schedule to keep the beds beautiful and blooming throughout most of the year.
Mid-February is pruning time, when Linda begins the lengthy process of pruning back the bushes to prepare for the annual Bloom Out in April. Bellingrath guests are welcome to stop by and observe Linda’s pruning techniques this month, and ask questions about the process.
Are you planning your own rose garden? Here are Linda’s tips for show-stopping blooms.
Select an area with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Prepare the soil depth to at least 18 inches — or, raise the bed with landscape timbers or treated lumber. The soil should be a combination of three parts: topsoil; compost or manure; and hardwood or pinebark mulch.
Start with a soil test. Yes, the pH balance matters! Most roses thrive in a range of 6.0-6.5 pH. The soil throughout most of the South, where rainfall is heavy, falls on the acid side of the scale. When the soil is too acid, nutrients become insoluble, meaning they aren’t accessible to the plant’s roots. Conversely, toxins in the soil become more soluble, which may result in damage to the plant. If a soil test shows that your soil needs a pH boost, it’s a relatively simple fix: Just add lime. Purchase dolomitic lime from a garden center, either in pellet or powder form, and add 5 pounds per 100 square feet to raise the pH one point. Sandy soils require less; clay soils require more. Water thoroughly to get the lime down into the soil. If you’re building a new bed, work it into the soil before planting for best results.
Understanding fertilizers: The three major elements needed for healthy plant growth are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is the element that is most essential to healthy green growth and color; it is also the element that most often needs to be replenished. Once it breaks down to a soluble form, it is quickly depleted, either by washing away or by being used by the plants. To replenish it, use a synthetic fertilizer, or organics such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, fish meal, milorganite and alfalfa. Phosphorus occurs naturally in the soil on the Gulf Coast, so it seldom needs to be added, except in small quantities. (Fertilizers labeled “rose food” that contain a lot of phosphorus may not be the best choice for your garden.) Potassium is included in balanced synthetic fertilizers, but is also available from organic sources, such as kelp products, wood ashes and banana peels. On the front of a commercial fertilizer bag, these elements are listed alphabetically in three numbers: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Some recommended formulas for our area are 12-4-6, 16-4-8, 15-0-15 or 12-2-14.
Controlling fungi: The Gulf Coast heat and humidity make blackspot a common affliction on our rose leaves. Preventive spraying is the key. At Bellingrath, we control it by spraying fungicide every 7 to 10 days. To prevent chemical damage, be sure that plants are well hydrated before spraying. Never use the same sprayer that you use to spray herbicides, because roses are very sensitive to even minute amounts of herbicides, especially Roundup. Mix chemicals in a well-ventiliated area and store them where they will not freeze, and direct the spray to the underside of the leaves, because this is where the fungi spore is most likely to infest the plant. Spray in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is not directly on the roses, because interaction with sunlight causes damage. Do not save leftover spray material, as it begins to lose effectiveness when it is mixed. Use it on other shrubs, or on your lawn.
Learn more about fertilizer and pH balance at “Horticulture by the Numbers,” presented by Nursery Manager Chuck Owens on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 10:30 a.m. at Bellingrath Gardens and Home. To register, call 251-973-2217, ext. 111.