There are many gardeners that will not give roses a chance. The most common reasons given; "Too much work.", "Roses have so many problems.", or "I don't want to use chemicals in my garden."
I understand how they feel, I used to shy away from them for the same reasons. I changed my mind , finally realizing that these concerns can be resolved by adopting a different growing method and choosing cultivars that are appropriate for your zone.
It is a myth that roses are high maintenance. They are easier to dead head than Tagetes patula, "French Marigolds" and only a fraction of the time you would spend on Coreopsis lanceolata. Both of these plants will stop blooming if you do not tend to them. Unlike many perennials , roses do not need to be divided every two to three years.
Last summer I spent two days digging, dividing, then replanting Silene x robotii, "Rollies Favorite Campion". I love this long blooming plant and if you cut it back mid season it will bloom again. The time required to care for this lovely plant far exceeds what I spend on my roses. Hopefully you get my point and will dismiss the notion of "Too much work" .
Many of the "problems" that gardeners have with roses results from isolating them from your perennials and annuals.
The solution is ..... Roses Need Roommates
Roses that are inter-planted with a variety of blooming plants will encourage a population of beneficial insects and birds. This in turn will help control the unwanted pests. The more bees, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and birds, the fewer leaf chomping, petal eating predators you will have to deal with.
One of the best examples of controlling aphids comes from the life cycle of the syrphid flies. The adult feeds on pollen and nectar, during the larval stage they feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Keeping the population of aphids under control prevents them from sucking plant sap, which creates a sticky substance called honeydew. Aphids extrude this honeydew onto the leaf surface creating the ideal growing conditions for black mold. Planting the nectar and pollen that syrphid flies need to complete their life cycle will keep your roses from being attacked by aphids
When you choose plants to introduce into the flower beds with roses there are three conditions you should consider.
Competing roots are a primary concern. Choose small, shallow rooted plants for immediately under and around the rose bush. I like to plant Lobularia maritima "Sweet Alyssum" seed around the bushes as a first line of defense.
The sweet cluster of Alyssum flowers attract the smallest of the beneficial parasitic wasps. The roots will not interfere with that of your rose and if left in place after the first killing frost of fall, it provides a shallow layer of protection for the youngest of roots on your rose bush.
After the last frost date in the spring create a ring of compost 12 inches from the trunk and liberally spread the seeds on top. Cover the seed lightly with vermiculite or chicken grit, and make sure to keep the seed moist until germination. The plants will usually begin blooming in late June and will continue until the first hard freeze of fall.
The second consideration is bloom time. In order to attract a large number of beneficial insects to your garden you will need flowers blooming the entire growing season.
Having early and late bloomers is a challenge for many gardeners. You want a mix of these surrounding your roses. In far north climates you can use annuals that have been started early indoors and then potted into larger containers. Place the pots among your later blooming perennials. Make sure to water them frequently.
Glandularia canadensis "Verbena" is an easy to grow annual and is long blooming. Once the summer perennials start blooming you will need to move the pots to another part of the garden so they are not shaded out.
The last item to consider is the size and type of blooms of your pollinator friendly plants. Beneficial insects are small , so nectar and pollen are taken easiest from clusters of tiny, shallow flower that grow horizontally.
Variation in height is important. Many of the predator insects are so small and light weight that they have little say in where they will travel, air currents push them around. There is no traffic control out there. Providing a variety of landing places up to four feet high is helpful.
A word about roses themselves. I grow only "own root roses". Most grafted roses do poorly in Northern New England. That does not mean you can't grow them, they just will require more winter root protection and vigilance. Grafted roses have a shorter life expectancy than those grown from cuttings. Older varieties of roses will be more resistant to pests and fungus.
Deciding what to grow and nurture has long been the most difficult decision gardeners make.
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