By Rhea Hamilton-Seeger
As November rolls in, I am always hopeful I will have a few good days to cut back my peonies, day lilies and this year I am adding hostas to the list of plants to clean up.
I have found cutting off my peony plants to two or three inches has eliminated the black spot I used to get on a lot of my leaves.
This year it has been the damage to my hostas that has me looking for solutions. For the past two years I have been actively using mulch in my shade garden and my hostas are flourishing. Since water is always an issue, the mulch is a big saver. This year I had a huge problem with holes in the hostas that have always been perfect in the past. I think the beneficial mulch is also encouraging slugs as they like moist areas. So this year I am cleaning up all the hosta leaves and in the early spring I will pull a bit of the mulch out from around the clumps and prepare areas were I can easily slip a shallow plastic margarine container of beer into the ground to attract and drown a few of the slugs. I have also looked into increasing the toad houses too. Toads and snakes both love slugs! Who knew!
But what I want to write to you about are rose trees.
I have seen an increase in the number of rose trees offered at our local garden centres. I try to caution new buyers about how to winterize their beauties but I think they are so captivated with the flowers and often the luscious fragrance that they don’t register that there is a bit of work involved.
We had two rose trees for a few years. They were a beautiful feature in our south-facing pergola and we loved the never-ending blooms all summer. One was a hot yellow and the other a dark red.
Rose trees or standards are actually roses grafted onto a taller stem, forcing the blooming section up higher. This makes them more susceptible to wind damage and they need to be in a sunny, sheltered spot or staked.
All roses are hearty feeders, enjoy lots of sun, and they like lots of room for their roots, which is why for so many years gardeners would dedicate a whole garden just for roses. They would spray them in the spring and maybe later in the summer for black spot, a type of fungus, and make sure plenty of fertilizer was worked into the soil several times during the season to encourage large blooms. Roses have a reputation of being fussy and the average gardener avoids them like the plague.
But times have changed and rose breeders now offer us varieties that are hardier and can withstand a lot more diseases. If you can meet their demands for fertile soil, lots of sun and a bit of ground to spread their roots into, you too can have wonderful fragrant showy roses.
Rose trees are no different. Be sure to choose a pot big enough for your rose and if the area is open to windy conditions you should consider a pretty stake for them or tie them to a garden feature. They spend a lot of energy producing magnificent flowers and you need to attend to their demands. When using large planters you can easily enrich the soil with amendments like compost or well-rotted manure and make sure it has good drainage. A bit of gravel in the bottom goes a long way.
Standard roses have two grafts and an elongated stem. The lower graft is between the rootstock and the stem and the other graft is between the stem and the variety at the top. Since growers use miniature, floribunda or hybrid tea on the top the roses can fit into a few categories.
When planting any rose you would normally place that union below the soil level, in some areas as deep as two to three inches or in colder areas as much as six inches. Your rose tree in the garden is no different. Some gardeners will hill up mulch or old compost around the lower level to further protect that union from the severe cold and fluctuations in temperatures throughout the winter. Come springtime the compost is simply pulled back a bit and offers valuable nutrients to the rose.
With rose trees or standards you have to protect the second, higher graft.
With all roses, refrain from fertilizing two months before the first killing frost in your area. Roses, as you may have noticed, love to keep growing, and I have picked blooms as late as November!
With the tree roses prune back your top to three-inch branches to keep it compact. Slide the whole plant out of its pot and roll it up in a ‘frost blanket’, which will allow the plant to stay hydrated during the winter and deter the rodents from nibbling on it. I believe the cloth is much like the white cloth you place over your veggie patch in the spring to keep bugs out. Place the whole plant in a trench next to the compost pile. In early spring bring it out and slide it into its pot and set in a sheltered spot. While it may be a little early and you don’t want the new buds to freeze, you also don’t want them growing into the compost! Water carefully, and as the daylight increases with the season, the buds will swell and break open, a good sign you can start fertilizing.◊
Rhea Hamilton-Seeger and her husband live near Auburn. She is a skilled cook and gardener.