Some gardeners are intimidated by growing roses, and the idea of incorporating ecofriendly techniques is just another thorn in their sides. Nothing could be further from the truth! Rose care requires work, but it is straightforward, the rewards are rich, and many "green" tips make the work easier, are less expensive than traditional techniques, and are healthier for your garden.
The dirt on roses. The first step to ensuring gorgeous roses is making sure your soil is healthy. You can arrange to have your soil assessed, or do it yourself with one of the many kits on the market. Select rose types that are disease resistant. Many new landscape roses, like the Knock Out® series, keep disease at bay. Be sure the roses are mulched throughout the season. Mulch will hold moisture, adjust soil temperature, minimize weeds, and return nutrients. Select a mulch type that is acidic if possible.
Choose a sunny spot for your roses; they should receive at least five to six hours of direct sunlight daily—the more, the better. Provide enough space between the roses to ensure good air circulation, which will lessen the threat of disease. Prune your roses early in spring, once the ground has thawed and swelling buds are visible.
Prune Prudently. When pruning, remember to open up the center of the rose shrub to start the growing season on the right foot. However, know your specific rose's growth habits, as some shrubs should not be cleared from the middle. Make sure to sanitize your pruners with a 10 percent solution of bleach before moving from one plant to the next; this will lessen the spread of disease. Do not be afraid to prune fairly aggressively, leaving canes about a foot long.
Remove weakened stems throughout the growing season, and prune again after flowering. Throughout the growing season, always remove dead and diseased leaves, and quickly remove fallen leaves as well, which are often sources for reinfection. Consider composting: no need to buy compost when you can make your own! You can add the fallen rose leaves to your compost pile, since the pile's heat generally will kill leaf pathogens.
Water Deeply. Water your roses deeply, soaking the soil, not the foliage, just before or after dawn. This gives the plants a good, long drink before the water evaporates in the sun. Watering at night may foster a fungal disease like black spot. If disease control is necessary, try a natural fungicide like a potassium bicarbonate product. When spraying, be sure to coat both sides of rose leaves; follow the product label instructions carefully.
Fight Disease and Insects Naturally. Rose care commonly involves the use of strong chemical deterrents. As with the potassium bicarbonate approach suggested above, if cultural care fails, use ecofriendly products like botanicals, microbials, minerals, soaps, and oils for disease and insect management. Don't panic at the first sight of aphids; often there is just a brief lag time until ladybugs move in and naturally reduce an aphid outbreak. If you must act, try spraying off the aphids with a strong stream of water, or use an insecticidal soap and follow the labeled instructions. Some companion plants, such as garlic, chives, and ornamental allium, serve as a pest deterrent. Lavender, salvia, and scented geraniums add a blend of color in addition to keeping bugs away.
Try These New Varieties for Chicagoland
The Knock Out® Rose Series (developed specifically for our region)
EasyElegance® Roses, those hardy to the area (up to about Zone 5b)
Easy-to-Love® Roses and Home-Run Roses
The recent All-American Rose Selection (AARS) winners (usually disease-resistant and gorgeous)
Don't forget the true blues. Many of the old rose varieties are still with us for a reason…they withstand the test of time and are usually a safe bet.
Coming Up Roses at the Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden has evaluated different shrub roses, and has lots of information online about roses in general: