Friday, February 29, 2008

Easy Roses: Want beautiful roses with less work?

In the beginning, roses grew wild. From China through central Europe, they flowered with abandon for hundreds of years, needing neither fungicide nor fertilizer. Then hybridizers started fooling around with them, creating new plants that had beautiful flowers but were more prone to diseases. When these new varieties were marketed in climates where they had no business growing, roses gained the reputation of being finicky, fussy and easier to kill than to keep.

It's an unfair label, and fortunately one you don't have to accept, says Henry Everett, the president of the Greater Atlanta Rose Society.

In Everett's Southern backyard, steamy, humid summers provide prime conditions for the most devastating of the rose diseases: black spot, downy mildew and powdery mildew. And while there are very effective fungicides on the market, he says, not everyone wants to go out and spray their roses once a week. "So the question becomes, 'What will look nice without that care?' There are a lot of roses that meet the criteria." The solutions apply for most every growing zone.

Hardy Heirloom Roses
The obvious place to start when shopping for a disease-resistant rose is with heirloom, or old roses. "There's been a resurgence in the idea of the romance in growing 'roses of yesteryear' so now they're very available," Everett says. "Those roses lived in people's gardens before rose sprays were ever invented, so they survived for a long time without the benefit of any spraying." Look for these hardy, resilient roses at your local garden center. Check the label to ensure it's a true heirloom plant.

Healthy New Varieties
Everett's next recommendation is to look at the very latest varieties available on the market. Hybridizers have recognized that low-care roses have a wider market than the disease-prone kind, and have introduced roses to appeal to that trend. "Some of the newer varieties are really very deliberately bred to be disease-resistant and yet pretty," Everett says.

Shopping Advice
When purchasing your rose bush from a garden center, Everett recommends looking for a bushy little plant with lots of leaves. Check to make sure the foliage doesn't look dried out, wilted or droopy. No broken branches should be falling off, and the branches should all be green as opposed to dried-out and gray. And if you're still not sure what kinds to plant, go to a rose show in your area to scope out the options.

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