January: Pruning, Bare Roots, Repotting and Renewal
This month we force the roses into dormancy. How is this done? Pruning each bush back and removing all foliage forces the energy of growing back into the roots and canes. Look for a pruning class to give you the training or email us for help. You should always start with clean sharp bypass pruners. Seal large canes with white glue. Clean all debris under each bush. The final step will be using a dormant spray such as lime sulfur and/or horticulture oil to prevent disease and pests on the new growth. Finish the job with a 3 inch layer of mulch.
Pictured above: My Sunshine (Miniature: yellow)
Need a new rose? It's bare root rose season! Nurseries are ripe with young plants. Roses are rated in size by "grade." Stick with Grade 1 or 1.5 as they will have the best cane size. Canes should look healthy and green. If the canes are shriveled, do not purchase this plant. It is very dehydrated and will have a difficult time thriving.
While the weather is cool and the roses are quiet, January is an ideal time to repot roses. Potted roses need soil renewal every 2 to 3 years Soil gets depleted as witnessed with the soil level slowly dropping away. Always start with potting soil rich with organic matter with a soil pH around 6.5.
Do not fertilize your roses. When there is 3 inches of new growth, then you should fertilize.
February: New Growth and Finish Pruning
The weather will remain cool and growth comes slowly. Roses require a soil temperature of 60º F to grow. Roses in pots will resume their growth quicker as the sun can warm the soil easier. Some rosarians like to start all new plants in pots to see how they perform as well as giving them a chance to get a good head start. It is far easier to remove a poor performer from a pot than to dig it out of the ground.
It still is not too late to prune. Some rosarians believe the later you prune, the less disease you will encounter as the rainy season ends and prevents that ideal symbiosis of damp nights and warm days that lead to mildew and rust. It is still advised that a dormancy spray still be used regardless of when you prune.
March: Rebirth and Fertilization
The weather gets warmer and the sun graces us longer. Time to admire the new growth and buds! Some gardeners are lucky by month's end to see the first blooms. Due to their slow growth, these first blooms will be your biggest for the year.
When your plants have 3 inches of new growth, fertilizer may be added. Organic fertilizers release slowly and gently feed the plants. Inorganic fertilizers rapidly release and will need more frequent use. Whatever type you use, the package will describe the amount and frequency at which it should be applied. Do not feed and starve your plants! They will reward you with frustration, disease and little or no blooming. An easy program is to get a three-month time released rose fertilizer. Every time you water the rose, it gets fed. A good way to remember is March, June and September for the feeding schedule--a changing of the season, a change of food. Three times per year is all that would be needed. Easy!
Each fertilizer has a three-digit rating called an N-P-K rating. This stands for Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium. Each is a key ingredient to rose development. Nitrogen is the key to green growth and leaves. Early season feeding should gear towards this as you do not want to encourage early bloom, only leading to short stems and big flowers. Phosphorous is important for bloom production. While potassium creates strong canes to support those lovely flowers. Indoor plant food cannot be used on roses. The result would be a lush green plant with no blooms. Look for a fertilizer designed for roses or ornamental flowering plants. Contact the Orange County Rose Society to help guide you. It is free! Local nurseries can assist you also. You don't like to starve and neither does the rose.
April: First Bloom and Pests
By now you should have lots of buds and be anxiously awaiting the arrival of that marvelous color splash. Unfortunately, some outsiders may have discovered your rose buds, too. Common for this time of year are aphids. These insects are usually green and are found on the buds and neck of the roses looking for tender growth upon which to feed. Quick fixes for this are taking the hose sprayer and blasting them off, squish them with your fingers (best if done wearing gloves) or an insecticidal soap designed for this predator. Local sparrows and finches delight in eating these off your plants. Ladybugs and their larvae will help, but they do not stay long in your garden.
Another annoyance may be small holes appearing on the leaves. These are caused by rose slugs--larvae of the sawfly. They feast underneath the leaves. To locate them, follow the trail of holes up the plant until they stop. Turn over the leaf and you will see green caterpillar-like worms. To rid your garden of these you can once again squish them (which is very time consuming if you have many bushes) or spray underneath the leaves with an insecticide specific for this insect.. Our rainy season winds down so vigilance with watering is a must.
May: Disease Watch and Water
The first bloom cycle is over and now it is time to deadhead those spent blooms. Just as in pruning cutting back the old flower just above a five-leaflet that faces outward. Keep that center of the rose open all season to aid in air circulation. Another chore is to remove leaflets close to the ground to allow air circulation from underneath the plant. For hybrids teas, grandifloras, floribundas and climbers, clear 8" of leaves from the bottom. Smaller plants such as miniatures or minifloras 3-4" is a good rule of thumb.
Water your roses. How often? The warmer it gets, the more frequent this chore should be. Potted roses especially need to have frequent watering as they cannot draw from the soil like their in-the-ground counterparts can. Just like starving your roses of food, denying them of water will also cause your roses to shut down. A steady diet of water is a must. A quick rule to use:
- 70-80º: twice a week
- 80-90º: 3-4 times a week
- 90 and above: daily
- Above 100º: twice a day
It is hard to overwater roses if they are planted in loose, draining soil. Clay soil, which is prevalent in Orange County, will hold water and potentially suffocate the roots depriving them of oxygen. Clay soil can be amended to break down the clay with gypsum and compost. If you have trouble growing roses, a visit from one of our Consulting Rosarians might help you.
June: June Gloom
Nothing like the gray days of June especially for those living within 10 miles of the coast. Mildew watch must be done. Once mildew is on your plant, you cannot kill it. The fungus has invaded the cells to help it grow. To help prevent further spread, it must be removed. Disinfect your clippers before moving on to another bush. This can be accomplished quickly with a disinfectant wipe or a disinfectant spray. Dry the clippers after this. It is best to prevent mildew before it arrives. Fungicides are used to prevent mildew, rust, anthracnose, black spot and downy mildew. Consult with the Orange County Rose Society or your local nursery to find the product you need. There are also organic mildew sprays such as Neem Oil or potassium bicarbonate.
Don't forget about water. Water in the morning hours so that the sun may dry the leaves and this will help prevent fungus problems. Watering at night will add crucial moisture for the mildew to grow.
July: Water, Grasshoppers and New Pests
Did we mention watering your roses?
Grasshoppers are elusive creatures that frustrate gardeners. On roses, they will chomp at the buds and eat the leaves leaving an irregular border. Other than birds catching them, you'll need to invoke stalking them from behind and chopping their heads off to kill them. They can hide behind fences. Spraying the plants with water can flush them out so keep your shears close to nab them. Their outer skin (exoskeleton) is tough and rather imperviable to pesticides.
Spraying roses in hotter weather requires a little more TLC. Make sure your plant is watered prior to starting. Using half-strength sprays will be less harsh. If the temperature is over 85ºF do not spray.
Two new visitors may be visiting your garden. Thrips are very tiny insects found deep within the petals. They are 1/16" long and typically seen in the light colored roses. Their damage will be seen with a slight brown edging to the petals. Spinosad drenching of the buds will help this. The second and more menacing are spider mites. They nest underneath the leaves. Rubbing under the leaves you will notice a gritty feel. Long term damage will result in dying leaves and defoliation. An easy solution is to blast the undersides of the leaves with water. When the underside feels smooth, you have removed these mites. A miticide will also remove these critters.
August: Minor Pruning
Roses can get a bit tall by summer's end. A light pruning will help bring that rose back to earth. This time you do not remove the leaves! By taking the top one-third of the rose off, energy is signaled back to the canes, slowing the push to bloom and therefore bigger fall roses.
Japanese beetles are not found in Southern California. The Fig Beetle is similar but more than twice the size and may be seen in your garden. They will chew at your rose.
September: More Pests
Cooler nights are coming soon. Aphids may return so follow the program outlined in April to rid your garden of this. There may be different holes in the leaves. Big round ones. These are made by the cutter bee. They are taking the leaves and lining their nests. They look like black honey bees and are fascinating to watch how they make that perfect circle cut. Holes in the buds are catapillars. Remove these buds.
October: Final Feeding and Rose Shows
In preparation for the winter hibernation of the rose, you want to let the rose know it is time to slow down. October is the last month to feed your roses. Less food equals less growth. As the nights are cooler, the roses will not rebloom as quickly. Fall blooms are definitely larger than summer's. Keep your plants well hydrated ahead of Santa Ana conditions which can dehydrate plants very quickly and stress the roses. Stress may lead to more disease as the rose tries to recover.
Late September and October are rose show times in Southern California. These shows are free to the public after judging has finished. Visiting one of these shows can give you an idea of the selection of all types of roses that can be grown in our area. Little known varieties such as polyanthas or shrub roses are largely overlooked in favor of the stately hybrid teas or floribundas. Small garden spaces will easily allow space for the former, which are very disease resistant and prolific bloomers. The Orange County Rose Society presents their Crates of Roses show at the end of October at Roger's Gardens in Corona Del Mar. This is a two-day event that features hundreds of roses and arrangements.
November: Last Call
Depending on the weather, roses will still be blooming in November. A bouquet of orange and yellow roses look lovely on the Thanksgiving table. Keep watering until the rains start. Having a rain gauge will give you an idea of how much water your garden has received.
December: Rest and Planning
Like the end of the calendar, it is the end of the rose season. Late blooms may grace the dwindling light. Instead of cutting back or dead heading, remove the spent petals leaving the growing rose hip to add some late season green, red or orange fruit on your plants. This will also signal your plants to rest.
Heavy garden gloves, pruners and kneeling benches make wonderful holiday gifts for any gardener.
Rose catalogs are out and time to see if there are some duds to remove and replace with a fresh plant or two. Not all roses will grow well in our diverse Orange County climate. Generally, we have 2 climates to work around. First is the coastal area which is ripe with overcast/foggy mornings. Less sunlight available makes it harder to grow heavily petaled roses. If you find yourself in this area, roses with 25 petals or less are ideal as well as very disease resistant plants. Mildew is a big problem along the coast. Next is the inland climate where there is plenty of sunshine and hotter temperatures. This area can grow roses with greater than 25 petals. Look for roses that can take those 100º+ temperatures.