GREET THE COMING OF FALL WITH JOY
By: Ted Mills, ARS Master Rosarian and Judge
If there is ever a time when rosarians should greet cooler weather with jubilation, it is the arrival of fall, 2007. In all the years that RoseDoc has grown roses, no growing season can rival the disastrous months of woeful weather experienced this year. First, it was the Easter freeze that spelled doom to our precious bushes. Then came the prolonged drought that saw water levels reach all time severity. Even today, the dry season continues. Global warming must have at last become a reality to skeptics who have believed otherwise. But thanks to our Creator, cooler days are now with us and the suffering roses have been given a respite.
As I thought about this article, I glanced out my window and saw squirrels scurrying to find food. This made me realize that even the furry creatures have been affected adversely by the weather. The once plentiful nuts and acorns are nowhere to be found. Horticultural things have changed all around. But still, the small animals in the yard are busily preparing for winter by storing up provisions for the bitter cold days ahead.
These busy squirrels influenced RoseDoc to advise his fellow rosarians to prepare for the bleak days ahead, too. Go ahead and perform their tasks, no matter what the past climatic conditions have wrought on rose gardens. Rather than speak of winter protection, it is proper to stop for a moment to enjoy the coming of fall and review the actions needed to ensure a healthy rose season next year.
Irrigation, of course, is the main duty of the crafty rosarian. Without ample moisture, the bushes suffer. Be sure to apply water deeply if rain does not appear in quantity. Failure to irrigate causes more rose bushes to fail than all the other dismissed garden chores combined.
Once the irrigation is applied, it is time to attend to the 2nd most important feature of growing roses. This factor concerns the home of the rose. Be sure the soil content is at its best. Test the pH factor and ascertain that it is slightly acidic with a (6.5) reading being ideal. Acidity below 6 is unsatisfactory and a reading over 7 is too alkaline. Apply lime if the soil is too acidic. Use sulfur if the soil is too alkaline. It is best to apply these in the fall, as it will give sufficient time for soil correction by the time spring arrives. Make sure the planting mix is nutritious with plenty of organics. Also test the drainage of the rosebeds to insure this vital condition is prevalent.
Fall is the most opportune time to appraise the productivity of rose bushes during 2007. If some have struggled and demonstrate a substantially weak condition, it would be well to mark them for extraction and replace them with new bushes in the coming spring. It makes no sense to spend time with bushes that are terminally ill. In selecting new plants, be sure to ascertain that the varieties selected are good performers and order only these. Read the ARS handbook for selecting roses or talk with a Consulting Rosarian and follow the advice given. Pretty pictures in catalogues sometimes blind the rosarian as to plant quality and performance.
In order to lighten the load of spring pruning, it would be well to peruse the bushes and remove twiggy, unproductive growth in the fall. Shape the bush as you will want it to appear when new growth appears next spring. On very tall specimens, prune to waist high to prevent plants from wafting in the wind. Such action often causes root dislocation.
One important operation that is often neglected is the inventorying of spray chemicals. Be sure that shelf life has not expired. Dispose of outdated spray material in the legal manner. Fall is a good time to perform this important task.
Clean and oil garden tools, inspect water hoses, etc., and make sure these are in good condition. Make a check on the sprayer in particular, and the equipment used in this operation. Store the sprayer in a dry place and be prepared for the coming of spring. Never leave unused spray chemicals in them. Clean the sprayer well before storage for the winter.
Perhaps the rosarian is contemplating the addition of rose bushes to his existing garden plot through the building of new rosebeds. Fall is the ideal time to perform this operation. The new planting mix needs time to mellow to perfection before the rose plants are added. If there is a drainage problem, be sure to raise the beds or plant in pots that are large enough to support the root system, as the plant increases in size. Be careful to provide adequate drain holes in the pots.
To be sure, the fall crop of roses is usually the best. The rosarian should have ceased fertilizing this year in September. However, fall does not mean that the spray schedule should be terminated. Continue the spray schedule as long as the foliage is not dormant. When two sub-freezing conditions (28F degrees) arrive, use a dormant spray (lime sulfur) on the bushes to protect against diseases and insects during the winter.
Ah!! fall is here — a welcome sight. With its arrival, rosarians must continue to perform their duties. Let’s hope that 2008 will improve weather-wise and increase the joy of growing these floral beauties that we love.