By Elaine Gray
and Heather Hacking
As promised last week, we’re ready to reveal the weird recipe that’s practically guaranteed to make you look like you know what you’re doing when it comes to roses.
To get the details, we went to people who really do know what they’re doing: Julie Matlin and Cindy Rogers.
Both Chico residents, Julie and Cindy are certified rosarians, which sounds really impressive.
Julie is president of Butte Rose Society and she and Cindy write the group’s newsletter. Julie’s camera-shy, so you’ll just have to imagine what she looks like.
As soon as we started talking with these two, we knew we were in over our heads. They know roses like Alan Greenspan knows the economy, like Carl Sagan knew stars, like the chihuahua knows tacos. We were dazed after 90 minutes of rapid-fire information.
Julie’s pristine little garden contains more than 100 rose bushes. She also makes room for vegetables, flowers like phlox paniculata and butterfly bush. And a dozen active daycare toddlers. And a big dog. And a rabbit. And a teenage daughter.
With gratitude to Julie and Cindy, here’s the definitive Sow There! guide to helping roses thrive. We’ll share more from these rose experts as the year unfolds and we catch our collective breath.
Why talk about roses now?
It’s the middle of a dry summer, and temperatures are routinely in the ’90s. Roses aren’t blooming as much as they did in spring, or are looking a little worse for wear.
Julie recommended the following organic recipe for perking up a rose that’s failing to perform to expectations. Think of it as Viagra for your roses.
Julie also hit us with a startling revelation: “You’re in charge of your rose bushes, they’re not in charge of you.” Wow. What a concept. We were sure it was the other way around.
That said, we should point out Julie is so good to her roses she gives them baths, reads them stories and tucks them in at night.
This recipe can be applied after the first blooms in April, and again now. We’ll call it …
Fumier de Vache è Poisson Surprise
(We thought cow poop and squished fish might sound more appetizing in French).
1 big bag steer manure (costs less than a buck)
1 small bottle fish emulsion
1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup epsom salts
1 pound alfalfa rabbit pellets from a feed or pet store
Cultivate lightly around your rose. Sprinkle a tablespoon to a quarter-cup epsom salts at the base of the plant. Use the smaller amount for newer or smaller roses; the larger amount for large, established plants.
Then sprinkle on a cup of alfalfa rabbit pellets. Follow that with two shovelsful of steer manure, taking care not to cover the crown of the plant. The crown is the knotty knob at the base of the plant, where it sticks out of the ground.
After the epsom salts, rabbit chow and steer manure, follow the directions on the fish emulsion, which should say something like, “Mix a tablespoon in a gallon of water.” If you like the smell of this stuff, you can dab a bit behind your ears, maybe in your cleavage.
Pour the emulsion mixture over the manure, rabbit pellets and epsom salts, letting it soak in. Finally, water well.
At this point, may we respectfully suggest a bath? Between the manure and the fish emulsion, you’re bound to be pretty ripe. But your roses will love you.
This regime is especially important for gardeners in areas of town with really poor soil. It’s so bad, we’ll call it dirt. That’s pretty much everything east of Notre Dame Boulevard, especially California Park, Chico Creek Estates and similar subdivisions, plus most of the whole Keefer Road area and Butte Creek Canyon.
Water, water, water
During the summer months, water is vital for roses. In a past issue of the Butte Rose Society newsletter, Rose Notes, we found some pearls of wisdom about watering.
Roses need to be watered consistently when the temperature reaches 85 degrees. During its first year, a rose needs to be watered every day. The second year, watering can be reduced to two to three times per week, and the third year, reduced further, to once or twice per week.
Julie waters her roses 3 1/2 gallons every other day. Cindy said her roses get five gallons of water once a week, if they’re lucky. We water ours whenever we get around to it, and we haven’t heard them squealing.
Julie said it’s OK to water roses overhead as long as the sun is not shining on them (because the leaves will burn) or it’s not late in the day (if they stay damp overnight, the leaves may be susceptible to powdery mildew and black spot, two ultra-common rose afflictions).
So basically, you can go outside in the pre-dawn hours and give your roses a shower if you’re so inclined. Personally, we have our hands full with our own morning beauty regimes.
The benefits of an occasional bath for roses include washing off spider mites and aphids, Cindy said.
But Julie warned that people who live north of town and other areas with particularly hard water might see grayish spots on their leaves if they water overhead much, because hard water has so many minerals.
In another issue of Rose Notes, we found a recipe for “Alfalfa Tea,” which can be applied to roses as a growth-stimulating potion, spring through fall.
Alfalfa contains small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, all of which feed the plant. Alfalfa also contains the hormone Tracontanol, a plant growth regulator.
While putting it on top of the soil and watering works, quicker results are realized when alfalfa is applied as a tea. Alfalfa should not be mixed in with soil when planting, because the heat it generates could damage roots.
Dump 10-12 cups of alfalfa meal or pellets into a 32-gallon plastic garbage can with a lid. If desired, toss in two cups epsom salts. Add water and stir.
Keep tightly covered, stirring occasionally. The concoction will start to smell in about three days, and will be ready for use in four or five days. In this heat, it will probably brew quickly.
Use a gallon of alfalfa tea on established rose bushes. Use a third that amount on miniature roses. And no fair feeding it to your mother-in-law.
When you’ve used the whole can of tea, fill it up with water again; one recipe of pellets is enough to make two batches.
Remember, it’s a tonic, not a substitute for watering. Reportedly, you’ll see greener growth and stronger stems within a week of application.
While our rosarians both occasionally use a timed-release chemical fertilizer like Osmocote, they favor organic amendments like alfalfa, animal manure and compost. Both rose wizards keep pet rabbits, and swear rabbit poop is nectar to roses.
Neither recommends commonly-available products. Julie, in fact, calls them “horribly dangerous.” (She may be exaggerating just a tad.)
“That stuff is potentially harmful to pets,” she insisted, “and there are plenty of roses that don’t like it either.”
Off with their heads!
All this tender loving care will be for naught, though, unless you also consistently remove spent blooms from your roses throughout the growing season. This process is known as “dead-heading,” but has nothing to do with Jerry Garcia, funny-tasting brownies or music that only sounds good if you’ve eaten those brownies.
If spent blooms aren’t removed, they form rose hips (the rose version of seeds), and the plant will stop producing flowers.
Invest in a good pair of shears (about $15-$30), because lousy ones damage your plants and break easily.
Always use bypass-type pruning shears, so named because the top blade bypasses the second, slicing the stem off. Avoid anvil-type pruning shears, which cut through a stem by crushing it between a blade and a flat surface.
Snip the spent bloom at a 45-degree angle, about a quarter-inch above the first pair of five-leaflet leaves.
A tiny bump at the base of that five-leaflet leaf, called a “bud eye,” will form a new stem and new flowers in short order.
If that bud eye happens to be facing toward the inside of the rose, go down to the second set of five-leaflet leaves or as far down as you must to find a bud eye facing toward the outside. That way, you’ll help your rose bush maintain a desirable vase shape.
What are these holes in my rose bushes. Is something eating my plants? Can this hurt them? (See photo).
HERE’S THE DIRT: Cindy said these strange holes are made from leaf cutter bees. True to their name, the cut holes in leaves to line their nests. “It won’t hurt your roses. It just looks strange,” Cindy said.
One more thing