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Roses – After-care of new and established bushes

Roses like a routine – mulching, pruning, feeding, deadheading, spraying. In addition they should be kept free of weeds. This is best done by hand, or light hoeing.

The subject of when to prune perhaps causes more argument between gardeners than any other garden practice. The autumn pruners (of whom I am one) say that unless you live in a very harsh environment, autumn pruning removes all unripe tissue liable to damage by frost and forces the bushes into a necessary period of rest and dormancy. If new shoots do start to appear during the winter months, they have grown during a time of lower temperatures and will therefore be more hardened to frosts and bad weather. The spring pruners contend that if you get a spell of really severe frost, the pruned roses will become damaged so close to the base that they will not be able to recover. It is really a matter of trial and error as to which method suits your particular case best, but I find that spring-pruned roses, which produce new growth during April, are very liable to have this new, soft growth produced at warmer temperatures cut back by late spring frosts.

Be that as it may, all bush roses and many others will require some form of pruning in autumn (mainly November) or spring (usually March).

You can also mulch in early autumn or spring; the main thing is to make sure you are applying it to comparatively warm, moist soil, and not sealing in cold and drought.

There are two types of feeders, the two or three times a year brigade, and the little and often lot. The first group feeds in spring when the buds are beginning to grow out, and after the first flush of flowers is over, to promote a further one. In addition they give a slow, high-phosphate food such as bone-meal in the autumn to promote root production. This is a quite adequate feeding programme for medium and heavyish soils, but on lighter ones when rainfall or watering has been excessive a lot of the food will have washed through before it has been absorbed by the plants.

The other lot feeds monthly, with a small amount of proprietary rose food, backing it up with an autumn feed as before. This is fine for roses grown on light soils, but you can get something of a build-up on heavier ones. Whichever method is most suitable, the food should be the same — fast-acting, high-potash food in summer and a slow-release, high-phosphate one in autumn. Proprietary feeds have the necessary trace elements such as magnesium, manganese and iron added. Without these, leaves can show deficiency signs such as browning or yellowing and ‘veining’, and the plant loses its vigour. A happy rose has a good appetite and objects to feeling hungry. There are pest and disease sprays which incorporate a suitable foliar feed to give the plants a summer boost.

Modern hybrid roses are more or less perpetual flowering, but can be encouraged to flower better if the dead heads are removed. In theory the correct way is to take off the spent head, plus a length of the stem, to a well placed bud, which gives the bush some summer pruning and shaping. In practice, if you cut the head off down to the next leaf it will still probably shoot again just as well, but the bush might need more shaping up during its annual prune.

You must be careful when pruning shrub roses as many produce coloured hips which are part of the attraction of the species – if you dead-head you will cut them off. Do not let hips form on hybrid roses, they tend to weaken the bush slightly as they are taking nourishment from it.

Roses look less than their best if they are not treated regularly for pests and diseases. It is a good thing to spray monthly as a matter of routine as soon as the new leaves begin to come in spring, before the problems start.

Do not forget to check stakes, ties and supports regularly.

Sometimes from the base of budded bushes, or the stem of standards, you will find a strong vigorous growth which looks nothing like the rest of the plant. This is usually a sucker produced by the stock and should be removed right back to the root it came from. Once the suckers are allowed to take over, the budded part will soon die as the suckers take all the strength from it. They are often produced from damaged roots so rose beds should never be dug over deeply, just the surface hoed or pricked over from time to time.

In very hot dry periods you will find your roses give much better service if they are well watered. Do this thoroughly, so it gets right down to all the roots, and not a little dribble applied to the surface of the soil. Thorough, regular watering is especially important for roses grown in containers, and roses grown at the base of walls and fences.

You should always check regularly that the bushes are firm in the ground, otherwise root damage may occur. Particularly risky times are during windy weatber and after frost, when you should go round your bushes and tread them in firmly.


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