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Caring for your roses in warm months

 

Last updated 8/28/2008 at Noon



August and September are usually hot months in our area, so take steps to protect your roses – give them a rest!

When flowers fade, remove only the spent petals; do not prune away the flower stems. This prevents the plant from initiating new growth to replace the flowers that have been pruned away.

New growth puts the plant under stress during the harshest time of the year and the tender shoots will almost certainly be damaged by the heat.

Likewise, during the hot summer months it is advisable to not fertilize or, at least, to cut back.

This does not mean forgoing soil amendments such as applying a layer (at least two inches) of mulch. You won’t make it without mulch!

True, mulch does provide a bit of nutrition, but not enough to push the plant into a major growth spurt. Its main benefits are to help the soil hold moisture longer and spreading it out in the root zone, as well as moderating soil temperatures. These are essential during our Southern California drought.

Mulch can include anything that shades to soil. I prefer to use composted mulch, available in bulk from various local suppliers, because its nutrients are readily available.

You can also use a combination of leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, pine needles and the like. (Pine needles are terrific because they tend to be very airy and allow water to penetrate easily, and they eventually break down to acidify the soil.)

Shredded wood products are often available for free or at a low cost from arborists, the county or municipalities. (Be warned, however: in a previous garden, I applied shredded wood products and was dismayed that it eventually bred mats of fungus that made the soil impenetrable to water!)

Another big help during the hot summer months is a drip watering system because it delivers water so efficiently to the root zone.

You’ll want to survey your plants regularly, however, to monitor the system’s output: watch for individual plants that show signs of wilting or stress, and look closely to determine if that plant’s emitters are operating properly. If the entire bed seems stressed, increase the duration of the watering time.

Also, schedule watering for before sunrise so your plants are well hydrated before the heat begins.

It is a myth that watering roses in the evening or at night fosters disease; such watering is harmful only if your already dusty leaves (which harbor mold spores) are splashed with water.

Drip watering keeps the water down on the ground where it can’t do any damage.

If you are an intrepid exhibitor and want roses for an upcoming show, count six to eight weeks back from the date of the show and dare to do a mid-season feeding and pruning – but stay vigilant for any signs of water stress!

I prefer to use organic fertilizers and I look for a higher level of phosphate in the products I use.

It is also a good time to make your second application of the year of magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts). Apply between three-quarters and one cup around the base of the plant to each plant and scratch and/or water it in. (Note: You can also remove rose thorns from your fingers by soaking in an Epsom salt solution!)

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