I’m debating writing this column. There’s already too much written about rose care. Prune this way, feed that way. This disease, that disease, outward facing buds, five leaflet leaves, wet leaves, dry leaves. It’s enough to confuse and bewilder even avid gardeners.
In spite of an avalanche of rose information, it’s really not terribly complicated. Nonetheless, growing roses along the Orange County coast does deserve a few comments. Knowing which roses are inherently healthy and robust in a garden of morning clouds, cool temperatures, fog and damp air is the key to growing them with a minimum of effort.
I have the privilege of working closely with four very experienced rosarians; among the best in California. Stu Span, literally wrote the book on coastal roses, titled Coastal Roses: Selection and Care. Laurie Chaffin, the former proprietor of Orange County’s own Pixie Treasures rose nursery, is a breeder and well-known rosarian. Bonnie Andrew is past president of The Rose Society of Saddleback Mountain, an accredited rose judge and grows about two or three hundred roses in her coastal Laguna Beach garden. Denise Pulley is past president of The Orange County Rose Society and tends to a couple hundred roses in her cottage style Huntington Beach garden.
Unanimously, we all believe that success with roses begins with the right rose. In a coastal garden, a rose should not have too many petals. In cool, damp areas roses with too many petals have trouble opening completely. Called “balling” by rosarians, like other problems, this can usually be avoided by selected varieties with less than 50 petals.
Disease gets the most discussion when it comes to growing roses in coastal climates. Powdery mildew shows up as a fine white film that covers leaves and sometimes even stems and buds. In an inland garden, powdery mildew is primarily a spring and fall concern, when temperatures are moderate (60 to 80 degrees F.). But along the coast, with the wrong variety, this can be a year-round occurrence.
Rust is characterized by small rusty-orange spots that look like fine powder on the undersides of leaves. As the disease progresses, leaves yellow, turn brown and drop off the plant. Rust likes humid conditions. Like powdery mildew, in inland gardens rust often disappears once humidity drops in the summer months. Along the coast, however, rust continues during periods of persistent late night and morning fog.
Both diseases are encouraged by poor air circulation and semi-shady conditions. Contrary to popular belief, overhead watering actually discourages powdery mildew. Rust is also discouraged by overhead watering, but only as long as done during warm afternoons, when the foliage will dry quickly. There are fungicides available to spray. Some are toxic; others are not. But all are time-consuming and are a struggle.
Gardening is about enjoyment, relaxation and the appreciation of nature. Gardening shouldn’t be about relentless spraying, disease control and weekly battles with nature.
Without question, the best way to grow great roses along the immediate coast is to select the right varieties and plant them in the right location. With the right rose there is no medicine chest of fungicides, no mixing, no frustration, no battles. Daily, I am amazed how many gardeners will invest money and time spraying fungicides onto their roses in an attempt to circumvent nature’s forces. A sort of rose penance. Perhaps they just don’t know that this isn’t a rose requirement. Why not grow roses that don’t need such treatments?
So my advice . . . if roses in your garden are balling, if they are prone to powdery mildew or rust, stop struggling with them. Shovel prune them. If you had a pair of shoes that was too tight you wouldn’t keep wearing them. If you don’t like the taste of liver and onions you wouldn’t keep eating it.
Replace these troublesome roses with varieties that are bred to perform well in a coastal garden. There are hundreds of varieties that won’t ball and won’t be disease magnets. A knowledgeable rosarian can quickly point them out to you.
That’s enough; I’ve just written about a subject that I just said there is already too much written about.
For those of you who love roses I invite you to enter our 12th Annual Amateur Rose Contest. Just bring in a couple of your best rose blossoms tomorrow morning between 10:00 and 10:45 to Roger’s Gardens. Our rosarians will help you with the rest.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar