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Harold Baker


       It is easy to grow roses.  Roses have been growing for centuries in the wild without any help from man.  But it is not enough just to grow roses; you should want to grow GOOD roses.  To do this it is important that you get started right. If you are not using the best feeding, spraying, or pruning techniques it is a relative simple matter to change your procedures to a better one and have your rose bushes improve.  However, buying the wrong varieties on the wrong rootstock, planting them in the wrong locations, and in the wrong soils are all things that can only be corrected by starting over.   So it is VERY important that these few things be done right the first time.

 You all remember the old saying about real estate that the three most important things are location, location, and location. The same thing can be said about roses. For instance, you can grow rose bushes almost anywhere, but if you want to have blooms on the bushes you must grow them in sunlight-----lots of sunlight!! A standard recommendation is a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight a day.  More is better.  If the morning sun can strike your rose bushes and dry the foliage early it will reduce the likely hood of disease. This latter situation isnít essential but it is a nice bonus to consider.

 Now you have all heard that we must grow roots to grow foliage, which in turn will grow more roots.  But are you aware that the vast majority of the nutrients for this growth come from the sun, water and air.   Let me repeat that, the vast majority of growth comes from the sun, water and air.  Yes, air.  We will talk more about that later.  Some will say ď what about fertilizersĒ - - You will find that the fertilizers are more like vitamins than food.

             Donít plant your roses under the eaves of your house.  If you intend to place some roses next to your house leave enough room so that you can walk between the roses and your house.  The roses will be easier to spray, prune, etc. and will not be injured as much by the heat reflected from the walls of the house.

             I recommend that you give some consideration to planting your roses in a location where you can sit inside your house, in the air conditioning, and enjoy the view of your roses outside.  Donít stick all your roses in the back yard either.  Plant some roses in the front of your house where others can enjoy them.  Stay away from tree roots if you can.

             Rose bushes get very large in Florida so they need a lot of space.  Hybrid Tea roses should be spaced at least 5 ft. apart and Miniature roses at least 3 ft. apart.  Donít plant your roses in rows more than 2 rows deep in your bed and locate the bed so you have access from both sides for spraying and other maintenance chores. If you are making beds to plant roses 2 rows deep the bed should be 8 to 10 feet deep. Use 2X10 treated boards cut to 12-inch lengths as stepping-stones to prevent compacting the soils as a result of stepping into your rose bed. 

            Once you have decided where you would like to plant your roses it is important that you make sure that they will have adequate drainage.  Roses like lots of water but the roots also require air, which they cannot get if the roots are standing in water.  In each area where you plan to plant roses dig a test hole about 14 inches deep. Fill the hole with water, let it drain completely, then refill with water and start timing.   If the test hole empties out the second time in an hour or two you have excellent drainage.  If it takes 3 or 4 hours it is probably o.k.  If it takes 8 or more hours to drain you have drainage problems.  The easiest solution for a problem location with poor drainage is to raise the beds several inches above the surrounding ground.

             The next thing to consider is the soil.  It is ideally made up of different particle sizes; it is free draining, and includes about 1/3 organic material by volume.  I like to add about 15 % Perlite to help maintain sufficient air in the soil and 10% calcimined clay (unscented kitty litter) to help retain nutrients. If your soil is primarily course sand, as many soils in this area are, it can make up the remainder of the mixture. You will want the final mixture to contain at least 1/3 course sand in order to maintain good drainage. All of these materials need to be uniformly mixed to a depth of at least 1 ft. To do this in one step requires a BIG rototiller. Otherwise you will have to do it in two layers. Ideally, part of the organic material would have a moderate life like manure and a major portion would be longer lasting like Sphagnum peat moss.  In pots you might like to use a soilless mix like Fafard #3B. You might want to seriously consider the procedure outlined in the accompanying handout titled ďPot Growing Without PotsĒ. Using that procedure of both a prepared bed and ďpotsĒ of soiless mixes within the bed has given me my very finest results.

 Itís a good time to talk about organic materials - Organics are anything that is living or has ever lived.   This includes fish, birds, animals, mammals, plants, and man himself. It includes blood, feathers, and manures.  It also includes coal, oil, gasoline, turpentine, etc.  You obviously donít want coal, crude oil, gasoline, or turpentine organics on your roses. So start to appreciate that all organics are not equal.   Plants canít use manure, meals, or Sphagnum peat directly  - the material must first be converted by tiny microbes.  When the microbes convert the organic material into a useful form they use up the organic material.  Think of it as though you were burning organic materials in a fireplace.  Now all you boy scouts and girl scouts out there know that you start with paper which burns quickly but it can in turn ignite twigs which can burn longer and they can ignite logs which can burn several hours.  Something similar occurs in your garden.  The meals are like paper - that is the bacteria easily convert cottonseed meal, soybean meal, and alfalfa meal but they donít last long - just a few weeks.  Manures are like the twigs - they will last several months while Sphagnum Peat Moss is like the logs - itís life is measured in years.

 Now lets talk a minute about the bacteria or microbes.  The amount of nutrients available to roses from the organics depends on how many microbes you have working for you and how active each one is.  They are like us - they work better at comfortable temperatures.  You can keep those near the surface more active by supplying a thick mulch.   This will keep them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  The amount of microbes you have depends on the continuous amount of food available to them.  You notice the word continuous.  If you feed them more they multiply.  However, if they run out of food their number declines.  You sometimes read suggestions to feed roses a lot of organics at the time of pruning and maybe once again 6 weeks before the fall shows. This period between feedings is about 3 Ĺ months in cooler climates but in Florida this period is about 7 months. I believe that the microbes will run out of adequate food supplies long before the 7 months are up.

My personal preference is to give each large bush Ĺ cup of Milorganite and Ĺ cup of soybean meal on week #1.On week #2 I give them 1/3 cup of Sul-Po-Mag and Ĺ cup of cottonseed meal. I feed them 2/3 cup of gypsum and 1 cup of alfalfa meal on week #3. Then I start the rotation over with the week # 1 formula.  Minis are feed about 1/3 as much. This is done year around by spreading the materials over the surface of the beds and jetting it down thru the mulch with a blast of water.  The microbes thrive on this continuous supply of food.

 While manures are great stuff, I think Sphagnum Peat Moss is even better. Large amounts of it should be uniformly mixed through out our rose beds.  Besides lasting for years it has the ability to hold up to 24 times its weight in water and nutrients.  But one of its finest characteristics is itís cation exchange capability.  Let me try to explain what this means.  Each of the chemical fertilizers you use carries an electrical charge.  The rose roots acts like a magnet to attract these nutrients.   The Sphagnum Peat Moss acts like a weak magnet, which means it has the ability to both attract and release nutrients.  Contrast this to sand which has no cation exchange capability so it retains only those nutrients that happen to be in the water which wets the sand by surface tension while all the other nutrients are simply flushed past the sand.  Phosphorus has the problem that it holds on so tightly to the other nutrients that the roots canít pry them loose.  But Sphagnum Peat Moss acts like a weak magnet, so it holds the nutrients and prevents them from flushing past.  However, the roots act like a stronger magnet and can take the nutrients away from the Sphagnum Peat Moss if they want to.  Just remember that when you incorporate the Sphagnum Peat you must make very sure that you also incorporate lots of lime to counter act the natural acidity of the Sphagnum Peat.

Phosphorus is a very active chemical.  In my chemistry classes it was kept in a glass jar under water because it would burst into flame when exposed to air.  That was pure Phosphorus. We work with an impure form called Phosphate.  While it wonít spontaneously ignite it is still a very active chemical that wants to lock onto other chemicals like calcium, but it particularly likes the metals such as zinc, manganese, magnesium, and iron.  However, the magnesium and iron is the same Epsom salts and iron that we always think our plants need more of.  The more Phosphorus we have mixed through out our soil the less magnesium, manganese, zinc, and iron will be available.  And the more of these fertilizers we add the less phosphorus will be available. Itís like a young single taking a cruise who is unfortunate enough to be booked onto a honeymoon ship.   There may be literally hundreds of the opposite sex around but none of them are available. Phosphorus is so eager to combine with other elements that it is able to make its way down in the soil at the rate of only 1/2Ē to 1Ē a year. This means that a root 10Ē down can expect it to be 10 to 20 years before super phosphate applied at the surface will be available to it.  Incidentally super phosphate is more readily available to a plant than triple super phosphate.  Supplying the metals (magnesium, manganese, zinc, and iron) in chelated form is one solution that works. But the most important thing is not to mix super phosphate throughout the bed but instead confine it to the lowest level. This way the fertilizers that you apply donít have to wash down past it to get to the roots. You can mix some super phosphate in the soils at the bottom of the planting hole to be readily available to the roots. But it is most important that you place a lump or ďeggĒ of super phosphate just below the root ball to serve as a long lasting source of available phosphorus. The size of this ďeggĒ might range from Ĺ cup for a large mini to ĺ to 1 cup for a big variety. The only other fertilizer added to the planting hole is about a 1/16-inch layer of Milorganite just below the root ball. Osmocote is added at the top of the hole at the rate of Ĺ cup per mini or 1 cup per HT.  The Osmocote is then covered with about Ĺ inch of soil.

 When you buy your rose bushes buy those that are grafted onto Fortuniana rootstock.  They will cost you a premium but they are worth it.  Roses on Fortuniana rootstock live longer, and have more and larger blooms.  If the store says they do not know whether or not their roses are on Fortuniana rootstock I can assure you that they are NOT.

 Donít use a weeper hose or drip irrigation to apply water.  You should apply water fast whether by hand watering or a watering system.   I apply 3/4 inch of water to my rose beds in 15 minutes with my Dramn nozzle watering system.  I have no data to support my theory but I have three reasons that cause me to feel that the standard U.S. recommendation of applying at least 1 inch of water at each watering is not the best for Florida.  The first reason is that our Fortuniana Root stock has most of its roots in the top 12 inches of soil while Dr. Huey used in most of the country uses the top 24 inches of the soil.  Therefore, we only need to wet to about 1/2 the depth compared to the rest of the U.S.  The second reason is that our sandy soils canít hold nearly as much water as the more common loam soils so less water is required to wet to the same depth. And finally, if we add too much water at one time we will flush the fertilizers to below the roots where they will do you no good.

I feel a little less water, applied quickly, and more frequently is best. The reason has more to do with air than it does with water. Most people donít think very much about the importance of air. However, if their own supply of air were to be suddenly shut off they would immediately realize that the availability of quality air is very important. Everything living in the soil requires air, preferably good quality air.  That includes not only the microbes we have been talking about but also the roots themselves.  As they use what they want from the air they release byproducts back into the air so the air tends to become stale in much the way it would if you were sealed up in a small box.  Therefore, it is very advantageous to replace this stale air with fresh air. I believe that the best way to do this is to apply the water quickly.  This flood of water will seal across the upper pore spaces in the soil and push the stale air contained below it in the lower pore spaces deeper into the soil.  Then as this water drains down it will pull fresh air into the pore spaces behind it. If the water is put on slowly it will trickle down around the stale air occupying the pore spaces, leaving the stale air in place.

Get started right and half the battle is won.




page updated: Saturday, September 14, 2002