Sunday, June 07, 2009

Roses in winter

June has certainly got off to a freezing start – I do not think I can remember such a cold Queen’s Birthday weekend for many years. As gardeners, of course, we are a bit disappointed in the rapid chilling of the ground we work, but all this cold weather will hopefully result in a great benefit for gardeners when the new season arrives.
Surely the chilling will greatly help those tree that require a sustained period of cold during the winter to properly initiate flower bud formation, and with any luck the severe weather will have taken its toll on the pestiferous insects that can survive a warmer winter.
For some other jobs the cold weather has been a bit of a pain.
This is the traditional time of the year for planting roses, but the wet and cold has made planting just a little uncomfortable. There is still time though to get to work on preparing beds for new varieties, although the sooner the better.
Roses do best in fresh soil. If you have to replace a variety in an existing bed it pays to completely replace the soil with fresh loam – about a wheel barrowful per plant will be needed. This is because roses are very prone to a condition called ‘rose sickness’ – spoil that has already grown roses is almost toxic for some (but not all) varieties. As a matter of interest, some other members of the rose family (apples in particular) seem a little prone to the same problem.
Chose a nice sunny position for your new roses – they really do not flourish when planted in shade. There are, however, one or two varieties that do prefer a little bit of shade as the cooler temperatures will help stop the blooms from fading too fast. Even these varieties need to be planted in soil away from the competition of other plants, especially trees, as roses need good levels of fertility and moisture.
If you have not prepared the soil for fresh beds, make sure you get onto it straight away. The best soil is a stiffish garden loam, with good humus levels. Even then, I think it pays to add some farmyard compost (well rotted, of course) or bucketloads of compost. It is also a good idea to add in some general purpose garden fertilise too, then leave the soil to settle for a month or six weeks.
If you have bought your roses and the soil is not ready for planting, make sure you keep the roots well watered. In the golden days of the nursery industry we used to line out our bare rooted stock into beds of sawdust. They would be perfectly happy in that medium until the spring, when the few that had not sold need potting on into potting mix – or even better, into a customer’s garden.
When it comes time to do the actual planting, make sure to dig a big hole – not one big enough to squash the roots into, but a generously sized hole that will enable you to spread the roots out. I always like to have a slight crown in the centre of the hole so the base of the roots can spread naturally downwards. If the soil is dry (hardly likely this year) pop about half a bucket of water in the hole and let it settle before filling it with the soil mix, making sure to firm it lightly with the sole of your boot. When the plant is placed correctly, the union of roots and branches, where the named variety has been budded onto the stock, should be sitting at the level of the soil. The plant will have been sprayed in the nursery so it will not need any further care until the spring.

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