Frustrated Roses

My rosebushes are terribly frustrated, even though they are supposed to be dormant. That’s part of the problem. It’s been warm enough that they start to bud, and then we get three or five days with lows in the teens F and highs in the 30s-40s. And no moisture. That’s rough on plants. It’s not great for people, but we can layer and unlayer. Roses don’t have that option. I’m seeing more and more black or brown canes and stems that were green.

It didn’t help that we had a form of black-spot the last two years. It caused foliage to drop, so the plants had to spend more effort regrowing the leaves and stored away less in their roots. The plan is, come true spring, to get out the loppers and shears—and the bleach—and cut everything way back, dipping in bleach after every trim. We won’t get any flowers, alas, but it might help ward off the black spot. Pre-treating for grasshoppers is also in the works. They didn’t help. Native bees just trim the leaves a little. Grasshoppers strip plants bare and carry diseases.

it’s better for roses if it gets cold and snowy, and stays that way. Or at least gets cold and stays there. The up and down really do a number on them, especially when we get a high wind from any direction. The wind sucks moisture out of both plants and ground. The worst I recall seeing was in April 2012, when it went from the 60s to the teens with 60 MPH north winds. When I came home from Santa Fe, NM, I had a garden full of rose jerky. Everything had been freeze dried and dehydrated. A number of roses didn’t make it through that mess. It also caught the hawthorn tree. Interestingly, since then, the hawthorn has leafed out and bloomed later than before. Make of it what you will.

Cold and snowy insulates the roses, keeps the ground moist, and helps them remain dormant. While dormant, they just sleep, not using much energy. Come spring, they’re ready to go with full reserves of root strength. We’ve not had a “good” rose winter since the late 1990s. If you can’t get that, a cool, damp, but not too harsh winter works, so long as you don’t have more than one or two deep cold spells. Alternating warm days and nights with deep freeze is what kills the plants, splitting stems if it’s bad enough.

What can you do? You can try to swaddle the plants if it is going to be that bad and they are small. 10′ tall (three meter) climbers are not amenible to that. We use lots of mulch, and water every three weeks or so if there’s not been sufficient snow or rain. Prayer helps, at least for the gardener’s peace of mind.

The High Plains are not natural rose territory. They always need a little cosseting, even monsters like Harrison’s Yellow. I think it’s worth it. Most days. Don’t ask me when I’m trying to prune the sweetbriar and the wind is blowing.


7 thoughts on “Frustrated Roses

  1. My roses think it is spring.
    “Stupid plants, it’s still February!”
    This is not the first time. My solution? Own-root plants (no grafted roses) and roses that bloom on new wood.
    We have warm, humid summers here in SW Missouri, perfect breeding ground for fungal diseases. I learned to choose disease-resistant cultivars. A little blackspot, but NO SPRAYING!
    MY biggest problem? No soil. I live on a ridge, and after I dig a hole to plant a rose and take out all the rocks, I don’t have enough soil to fill the hole. I just add a lot of compost. The roses don’t mind.

    • All the roses at RedQuarters are own root. The last grafted rose succumbed four years ago, despite much cosseting. The soil here . . . well, the south end of the yard has some loam on clay, more loam now that we’ve been amending and mulching for 30+ years. The north end, closer to the now-vanished lake, has more clay to work through. No, the yard is NOT that long. The soil is just that Odd. Pretty alkaline, as you would imagine.

      • I have thanked my Maker more than once that I do not have the red clay that is so common here.

  2. Oldest brother lives in the Midwest, and has a bunch of smaller rose bushes. His fall prep includes shrouding the plants in rose cones (yes, they look like they were stolen from an ICBM factory), and removing them when the weather is “suitable”.

    My legacy yellow rose is entwined in a century-old lilac bush. It does what it does. Some years it blooms, though I was here over 10 years before I even knew I had a rose bush. (The lilacs are underachievers, putting more energy into growing suckers than big flowers. OTOH, they ignore neglect.)

    • If it stayed cold, then rose cones would work here. It’s the dry and ups-and-downs that keep us from using them. When we lived in Omaha, rose cones were de riguer starting in late November through March or early April.

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