By Scott Calhoun
You may believe the term “desert roses” is an oxymoron. But although indigenous roses don’t sprawl out on the desert floor among cacti, some roses are easy to grow in the Southwest. When grown in full sun, black spot and powdery mildew rarely are problems. Below are some tips to success:
Choose Tough Roses
Standard hybrid tea roses have the largest flowers, but other varieties are more vigorous and require less attention. The toughest rose of all is the Lady Banks’, also known as the Tombstone rose (Rosa banksiae). This big, sprawling climber is great for training over an entry, pergola, or ramada.
Although it blooms only once in spring, it is oblivious to heat and requires very little water after establishing. Chose from the scentless double yellow ‘Lutea’ or ‘Alba Plena’, with scented, white double flowers. In general climbing roses, miniature roses, and carpet roses tend to be the toughest.
Select Proven Hybrid Tea Roses
If you still pine for big, single-stemmed roses, some of the best blooming and most reliable hybrid teas for the Southwest also are old standards. For big red roses ‘Mister Lincoln’, ‘Oklahoma’, and ‘Don Juan’ are longtime favorites that are hard to beat.
For white roses try ‘Iceberg’, and for yellow, ‘Gold Medal’ or Midas Touch. If you are looking for fragrance, Double Delight is strongly scented and a sturdy grower.
Standard hybrid tea roses are not drought tolerant and require watering two to three times a week during warm periods of fall and spring, and three to four times per week during the real heat of summer. In hot periods hose off leaves, which removes insects and increases humidity. You can reduce watering by using mulches, compost, forest mulch, straw, or wood chip layers 3–4 in deep around each bush.
In midwinter cut out all the dead and crossing canes from your roses, and cut the remaining canes back to about 18 in. During the hot months in the low desert, roses produce smaller and fewer blooms. Remove spent blooms by cutting back to the first five-leaflet set. Leave as much foliage as possible, which helps shade the bush.
Hybrid teas are heavy feeders; for best bloom in fall and spring, you need to fertilize. You can use a slow-release granular or a foliar spray. In general climbing roses (such as the Lady Banks’ mentioned above), shrub roses, and miniature roses require less fertilizer.
If you grow roses in the desert, what tricks do you use to keep them happy?