By Marianne Binetti
1. Prune roses when you see forsythia blooming. West of the Cascade Mountains this might be as early as February, while east of the mountains colder weather may delay your pruning until late March. The secret to keeping things simple: Shorten every branch by one third.
2. Fertilize with a complete plant food, one that contains micronutrients. I use Osmocote around each rosebush in April, and a liquid plant food, such as Miracle Gro, in late June to encourage a second flush of flowers. Alfalfa pellets and manure are great organic supplements for improving your soil, but roses crave all the minor trace elements as well. Always follow label instructions for plant foods.
3. Find the best location for planting. Roses bloom best in full sun away from the competition of tree roots. Tip: Do you get the most sun on a deck or patio? Contain your rosy enthusiasm by potting up a rose plant. For best results use a container at least 2 ft deep and 2 ft wide.
4. Prevent black spot. You can prevent this fungus by removing the lowest leaves from your hybrid tea roses so they are leafless for the first 2 to 3 ft from ground level. Water falling onto the soil doesn’t splash up and infect the low-hanging foliage. Strip the leaves before they show any signs of black spot. What? You don’t like the look of naked knees on your rose plants? See Tip 5 below.
5. Mix your rosebushes with other shrubs and perennials. When you group roses together they share disease and insect problems, and fight for nutrients. Mingling other plants around individual roses helps hide those naked knees.
6. Water your roses with a soaker hose, especially in August and September. The end of summer is when a lack of rain can stress out your roses, but overhead watering encourages black spot by wetting the foliage. Tip: Hide the soaker hose under a mulch of wood chips or bark.
7. Choose disease-resistant varieties. Look for landscape roses, such as Flower Carpet or Knock Out, which are bred to resist disease.
Coral Flower Carpet roses bloom for months in my garden. Insider scoop: I’ll be looking for a new rose at my local Lowe’s store this spring called Sweet Spot, with striking bicolor blooms in candy-bright colors. This groundcover rose stays low, flowers continuously, and resists all the most common diseases that attack Northwest roses. Sweet Spot roses are so non- demanding that they don’t even require deadheading or pruning. Now that’s a very sweet secret to share.