Roses are Fussy!

Guest post by Emira Mears

Who knew!?! But seriously. Our house came with a number of lovely roses of different varieties. Some traditional pink, very fragrant lovely ones in the front, two of what I believe are dog roses also in front beds and a very prolific climbing rose on the back fence.

roseLast summer all of these plants kind of took me by surprise in terms of how very much I fell in love with them. Not that I’ve been harbouring a life long hate-on for roses or anything, but they had just never really caught my eye in gardens in the past. I think it was that each of these different roses (and I’ve already reserved a book at the library to help me identify them, and figure out just what they need in the way of care) brought back childhood garden memories. Their various scents reminded me of the hot summer days that my best friend Kate and I used to try making “perfume” from flower petals mixed with water from the garden hose in 4L ice cream pails that were then set in the sun to cure. The look of the different flowers from each bush was of such a simple, but iconic beauty that I was pretty much charmed from the get go. I also really loved how old each bush clearly was (you could see the gnarled past branches trimmed down to allow for new growth), and imagined how many years they had been tended and loved by their previous owner (I’m such a sucker for things with history, whether its a history I embellish or one that has some actual legs, give me a “heritage” seed variety any day).

Anyway, aside from needing to learn the basics of rose pruning last year me and the roses got on famously. No real problems. No real fuss. In exchange I enjoyed beautiful cut blooms and scent in the house for months. A perfect arrangement. And I will admit, I had a few passing thoughts about how much easier roses were to care for than people seem to think.

And then the problems started.

A few weeks ago, one of the dog roses in the front became infested with black spot and aphids (common companion problems). I quickly ran to the internet (of course) and the Forums here for advice, and soon found myself spraying a baking soda, castile soap mixture on the beloved but beleagured plant, but not until I had brutalized it pruning off the blackspot and cleaning up infected leaves. The evening that I did that emergency pruning I ended up out in the garden until nightfall carefully saving every part of the plant that I could, while sacrificing what felt like way too much to the garden waste bin. And as I cut off a number of yet to open buds, I actually found myself pretty upset by the process. Over the few weeks that plant has bounced back a bit, but certainly has a ways to come before it is back to its full glory.

A few weeks later I determined that the other dog rose in the front was really suffering from its position (which I think used to get much more light in past years, but is now heavily shaded by a large japonica). So I carefully dug it out, dug a new hole, followed all directions I could find for transplanting roses and moved it to a new sunnier home. It is reacting much as I would have expected and really it wasn’t doing at all well in its previous spot, but inspite of frequent waters and plenty of measured attention it certainly hasn’t yet re-established itself as the jewel in the garden or anything. I’m trying to give it time.

Then we come to yesterday and what I thought would be a fairly easily, though somewhat prickly task to prune the suckers and some of the very prolific growth off the climbing rose on the back fence. Until I notice the mildew. That’s right: powerdery mildew seems to be taking over on this plant now. And so, I ended up pruning off a lot more than planned and am really not yet done with removing everything.


There are two things about all this rose drama that really get me. The first, is that I can’t quite believe that these roses made it this far if they’re such fussy critters. Our house was previously owned by a 99 year old woman and from what I’ve heard for the last year at least she wasn’t out pruning the rose bushes. So how did they survive all the pitfalls that seem to plague them? Second, I can’t quite get over how emotionally attached to these plants I’ve become in such a short while. Each time I have to do this it causes me such distress, distress arguably disproportionate to the task at hand.

Anyway, as I say, I’m trying to amass rose resources, and if anyone has some good ones please pass them on. From what I’ve learned so far one of my biggest mistakes in each of these cases has been not pruning and tending them earlier in the season, but other information and tips would be wonderful.

me pruning the climbing rose

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7 thoughts on “Roses are Fussy!

  1. no real resources here, as i’ve never grown roses, but two things you might want to look into:

    -i read that spraying a weak mixture of baking soda in water on the leaves can help with the powdery mildew

    -i just saw something on companion planting (can’t recall where…) that said chives ward off aphids, and that you can plant them around the base of the rose bush to help keep them away

    ps. cute sweater!

  2. Thanks for the chive tip. Funnily enough I just planted some little chives groupings around my roses (the ones that had aphid problems) as a way to get some more herb/veggie garden space. Nice coincidence!

  3. I know what you mean when you say how attached you’ve become. Of all the plants I’ve got in the yard, my antique roses are the ones I talk to. You want history it’s living in my backyard. Roses are better than puppies in my book.

  4. I just planted some roses in my backyard a couple of weeks ago, on a whim. I read up on some companion plants to help keep aphids at bay. Apparently Verbena is really good. I planted some purple verbena in a container next to my roses. Don’t know how it will work but it looks good :-)

  5. garlic is a good companion plant for keeping aphids away from roses. my neighbors have garlic all around their roses. good luck!
    Does anyone know if leaving cloves of garlic in water, to steep a bit, and then spraying the roses would work too? i’m happy to say i’ve seen a few ladybugs around my roses so hopefully they are eating all the aphids!

  6. I’ve got pretty much the same situation – last fall we moved into a new house, and the back patio garden has about half a dozen rose bushes. They were beautiful, but growing too much, so I cut them way back – and I think I did too much. Now, here it is spring (I live in Peru, so I’m on opposite seasons) and I’ve got powdery mildew and aphids. I had a gardener in to weed, and he said the humidity here is part of the problem with the mildew. The tips about chives, garlic and verbena are great – now I just need to figure out where to find them here, and what they’re called in Spanish!

    I wonder, would lemon verbena work as well?

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