I guess you could say that at times I am an “anxious gardener.” I have been known to go a little “berserk” when I get rot on my heirloom tomatoes that I just “babied” for the past 72 days. I’ve also been seen mumbling encouragement to my struggling string beans or my solitary red rose bush. Some of my garden inhabitants ( known as plants), do well with no care, poor soil and neglect. Others get love and devotion heaped on them and still disappoint. Ah, such is the life of a gardener.
One very good thing that happened recently is that I found a really neat book written by Master Gardner, Teri Dunn Chace. The book is titled: The Anxious Gardner’s Book of Answers. Once again I say “Eureka.” I know, I said the same thing in last month’s column, but hey, it’s worth saying again, Eureka!! In her Anxious Gardner’s book she reveals in simple and clear terms how to protect rosebushes and help them flourish next season, by protecting them in the fall. By following her simple suggestions maybe I’ll be able to grow bigger and more beautiful roses and forget trying to grow bigger and more beautiful tomatoes. Those tomatoes make me “tense”!! Roses are relaxing, soothing and calming. They want to “please” you…like a dog. Tomatoes are like a cat….they go their own way whether you like it or not.
This month’s column is an excerpt from Teri’s “Book of Answers.” Her simple advice on how to winter over rosebushes has helped calm this sometimes anxious spirit.
Rosebushes need TLC in the fall and winter to really flourish in the spring and summer. This is particularly important if it is the rosebushes’ first winter. But even established rosebushes can be vulnerable, especially the “hybrid” tea roses. These often are grafted, so while the root system is winter-hardy, the top growth is still tender.
In the fall, as air and soil start to cool, cut back on watering and fertilizing. Don’t encourage any new growth. Stop deadheading, instead, let flowers drop their petals and form rose “hips.” When the rose hips form, the plant gets the message that it’s time to slow down for the season.
Prune in early winter, before a heavy frost sets in. Prune off the dead, weak or diseased shoots. Dispose of these (do not leave them on the ground under the bush, they can harbor pests or disease that may come up again next year). Cut back the healthy stems by about one third. Consider to, at this time, to protect the bush from winter wind and dehydration by spraying leaves and stems with Wilt-Pruf to seal in moisture.
Build up the base of the bush before the ground freezes with a generous amount of good soil. Soil conducts heat from the ground and protects the spot where the top growth was grafted onto the rootstock (visible as a slight “bump” on the main stem). Then add more protection by adding mulch on top of the new soil. Chopped up fall leaves or pine needles work fine. You can prop evergreen branches around the base to hold everything in place for the winter. Later, snow will fall on top of everything to secure all your work.
In spring don’t rush to uncover the rosebushes. Wait until there is no more fear of frost. They will wake up slowly, as Teri says “no need to be anxious” you already did all the work last Fall. Enjoy your beautiful spring time roses. They look and smell way better that a tomato.