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Roses are red

05/31/03 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer has instructions for gardeners who want to grow beautiful roses.

(Homeyer) From Shakespeare to school yard rhyme, roses have been used as symbols of love and beauty. They are one of America's favorite flowers, though they have a reputation for being finicky and disease prone.

Actually, some roses are extremely tough plants, and many are pretty much pest free. Near the beaches of Cape Cod, for example, Rugosa roses thrive in pure sand and withstand salt spray without a whimper. They produce huge numbers of blossoms, and later rose hips that are a great source of Vitamin C. They don't make wonderful cut flowers if you want long stems, but their fragrance is superb.

Rose breeders have crossed the Rugosa roses with other types, producing wonderful hybrids that survive our winters while offering colors and flower types typical of the "fancier" roses. Just ask for Rugosa hybrids at your local plant nursery.

Growing any plant successfully entails preparing the soil well before planting. Roses want rich, slightly acidic soil with lots of organic matter. Heavy clay soils - or sandy ones - need to be amended with lots of compost or rotted manure to make them happy.

Perhaps you've heard the old saying about digging a $50 hole for a five dollar tree? Well, that is definitely true for roses. Dig a hole at least 24 inches wide and 18 inches deep, even for a small rose bush. As you dig, put the soil in a wheelbarrow. Throw away rocks, and about a third of the soil, preferably that from the bottom of the hole, which tends to be the worst. Mix in enough compost to replace the soil you discarded. Add a 1 pound coffee can full of an organic, bagged fertilizer. Mix well. Then start refilling the hole, first with 2 shovels of pure compost, then with your mix.

Remove the rose from its pot, and tease out any roots that are circling the root ball. Plant it so that when you are done it sits in a shallow well that will collect water. Use your hands to pack the soil firmly, eliminating any air pockets. Then water it well.

Roses do best when they get about 90 inches of rain a year, twice what we usually receive. To help your rose flourish, water twice a week - or more in dry times. Keep the foliage dry when you water if you can, as wet leaves are more likely to attract mildew. You will be rewarded with vigorous growth, and extra blossoms.

An expert rose grower, an old-timer, taught me two tricks which may help. He said to add a three-inch square of gypsum wallboard in the hole at planting time to provide calcium. And he said to bury in a couple of good sized nails underneath your rose to provide iron. I don't know if these amendments really make a difference, but I'm willing to try almost anything to get better roses.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is an author, columnist and the Vermont Associate Editor of People, Places and Plants magazine.
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