When I read a new gardening book I generally read it with a pen in hand. If I see something of special interest, I make a check mark in the margin. If I read something I agree with, and want to pass on to others, I underline. When I learn something important, I make a star in the margin. I recently finished reading - and marking up - "Roses for New England: A Guide to Sustainable Rose Gardening" by Mike and Angelina Chute of East Providence, R.I. The whole book is marked up and has several stars. If you've been leery of growing roses, this book de-mystifies the process and gives you all the information you need to succeed.
March may seem like a funny time for reading about roses, but it makes sense to me: we have time to read now, before the gardening season begins. And if you want to order special roses, it takes some time make and receive an order. Bare root roses need to be planted while dormant - and while available. The Chutes recommend planting bare root roses in April or October.
The book describes six easy steps to success: 1. Select good plants. They have 150 suggestions for roses that are winter hardy and disease resistant. Steer clear of roses that have spots, blemishes or disease. Don't buy a potted rose with wrinkled canes - it's dehydrated.
2. Start with good soil. Test the pH: it should be between 6 and 6.8. Add lots of organic matter into a large planting hole, and some limestone if needed.
3. Plant in a sunny location. Six hours of sunshine is needed for lots of blossoms.
4. Provide plenty of water. Water deeply, up to 5 gallons per week in hot times. Do not get the leaves wet.
5. Fertilize 3 or 4 times in the course of a summer. They use a combination of 10-10-10 and slow-release organic fertilizers, and sometimes give liquid fish fertilizers as a supplement to get more blossoms. As an organic gardener, I do little fertilizing and still do fine - my soil is good.
6. Manage pests and diseases by "maintaining strong, healthy roses right from the start Healthy plants have tougher immune systems".
Although the authors recognize that some gardeners will want to use chemicals, they use no chemicals for insects, and rarely for fungus. A stiff stream of water from the hose will wash off aphids and spider mites, they explain, and hand picking beetles is better than spraying. If you spray for insects, the beneficial insects are killed along with the pest insects.
If you purchase bare root roses, you may be troubled by the question of how deep to plant them (I know I have been, at times). We've all learned not to bury the trunk flare (the natural base) of a tree or shrub, but roses are not the same. Looking at a bare root rose, you can see where it has been grafted onto a rootstock, which is called the bud union. That union should be 2-4 inches below the final grade of the soil. The colder the climate, the deeper the roots. I plant 4 inches deep for Zone 4.
Pruning roses is another problem area for many gardeners, but one easily and simply explained in Roses for New England. Mike and Angelina explain that some roses only bloom once a year, while others bloom repeatedly. For one-time bloomers, prune after blooming. For the others, you should prune early in spring, and then after each flush of blossoms.
Pruning is important for rose health, too. To prevent fungal diseases, prune to open up the bush and allow good air circulation. You can direct growth by pruning just above a bud that is pointing away from the center of the bush, instead of one pointing in towards it.
I was fascinated to read (stars in the margin of my book) that the Chutes know how to prune repeat-blooming roses to get a flush of blooms on a certain date. Each rose has a certain time interval between bloom cycles. Cutting off all spent blossoms (and pruning back the canes) after a first blooming will stimulate a second set of blossoms. The more petals, the longer the period.
The simplest floribunda roses take just 40 days to re-bloom, while heavily petaled hybrid tea roses can take 55 days. Learn the intervals on your roses, and you can have them bloom for your August tea party. The average time for re-blooming roses is 50 days. Of course, 2 weeks of cold rain can upset that schedule.
I like that this book explains that you don't need a hazmat suit to protect yourself from all the chemicals that were used in the past. Buy roses that are disease resistant, plant them well, and they will resist most diseases - and make you swoon. To learn more about roses, go to the authors' Web site, www.rosesolutions. net. You can order your own copy of the book there, too.
For photos of hardy, disease resistant roses go to www.gardening- guy.com.
Henry Homeyer is a gardening coach and the author of four gardening books. You may reach him at P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746 or firstname.lastname@example.org; his Web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com.