Growing roses is becoming simpler. It has gone from a high-effort task involving many chemicals to a much simpler hobby where picking the variety is the toughest job.

In the late 1970s, when our backyard had full sun, my wife Nancy and I surrounded our patio with hybrid tea roses. These required lots of fertilizer and pesticides as well as Styrofoam covers that protected the roses during winter. In addition to being ugly and interfering with sledding, the covers blew away in windstorms no matter how many rocks and bricks we put on top of them.

We gave up on roses, even though we found them beautiful. They were just too much work.

The Rose Circle in Deering Oaks in 2015. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

A lot has changed since then, with the development of low-maintenance roses. One result has been that the Rose Circle at Deering Oaks gave up being a test site for All American Rose Selection contests (the contest has since ended) and instead became a test site for easy-care roses.

When the Maine Flower Show announced that Mike and Angie Chute of RoseSolutions, a landscaping company in Rhode Island that specializes in roses, would be speaking about easy-to-grow roses at this year’s show I knew I had to attend.

They discussed just 20 roses during the program, but noted that they have a list of 150 that they recommend for various conditions.

The keys to low-maintenance roses are cold hardiness and disease resistance.

What makes a rose cold-hardy is how it deals with water in the plant cells, Mike Chute told the crowd. With these hardy roses, dormancy actually begins in August as the plants slowly begin losing moisture; that process ends in late October. To help keep them in fighting form, homeowners should not prune or fertilize the roses after August.

The Chutes prefer to prune in early spring, before the roses show any life, although they will prune out any dead or damaged parts anytime they see them.

For fertilizer, they like Rose-tone, an organic product from Espoma, but said any balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 will do just as well. Angie Chute recommended that rose growers do the first feeding as soon as the roses come to life in spring, a second feeding after the first flush of blossoms and a half-strength feeding after the second flush of blossoms. Don’t feed the roses beyond Aug. 15, she said.

They recommend against using pesticides, even organic ones. Roses that are disease-resistant shouldn’t require them. “The dirty little secret of organic products is that they are just as toxic as regular products,” Mike Chute said.

If a rose develops black spot (a fungal disease), dig it up and put it in the trash – not the compost. And be sure to clean up all the litter  – the leaves, etc. that contain the fungus.

When planting roses, the Chutes said, use loose soil that is rich in organics, and plant the graft five or six inches underground. Even if a healthy rose is removed, don’t plant a rose in the same hole immediately, as too many nutrients will have been used up.

The Shutes described 20 “remarkable” roses. I’m going to narrow that list further and name a few I liked best.

Earth Song variety pink rose. Corina Daniela Obertas/Shutterstock

Earth Song is a Zone 3. It has fragrant blossoms, deep pink blooms that grow in clusters. The bushes form a nice mound about three feet tall and 3.5 feet wide. A grandiflora like this one, Mike Chute said, is “a hybrid-tea in disguise. It has a cluster of blooms instead of a single one at the end of a long, glorious stem.”

For people worried about salt spray, hybrids of rugosa roses work best. A good example is “Party Hardy,” developed in Quebec, so it has been tortured to survive there. The flowers are a pink blend, and the bushes can reach as much as eight feet tall.

The Crested Moss rose is a spreader, low-growing and highly fragrant. It is one of the oldest roses in the group, dating to 1829, and it has remained in the market all these years because it is so good.

The best climber is Ramblin’ Red, which will grow up to 10 feet tall but only five feet wide, so it doesn’t take up too much space in the garden. The color is a true red, with larger blossoms than the other climbers that the Shutes recommended.

With all this, it might be time to bring some roses back to our garden.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

 

filed under: