Wednesday, July 21, 2021

CAUTION: Another Garden Post ABOUT ROSES

This is going to take longer to read than will be to absorb and use, so get the fuck over it and read it.  I'm doing you a favor. 



Everyone thinks 'Roses are so DE MAN DINGGG!" and I am here to give you realness:  They are no more demanding than any other garden plant.  

Here's the thing - roses are so popular and have been so loved by so many people over the centuries that there is a metric buttload times ten butts worth of information out there about roses - and it's been accumulating since the Dark Ages, kats and kittens.  They aren't difficult - they just have a lot of press.

A rose, just like any other plant, is a monster in the right place.  Here's how simple it is.  In fact you can take these rules and apply them to all garden plants, perennial or annual.

To Do In The Dead Of Winter, Before You Plant - You PLAN.    

There are five things to know about roses, or any plant you plan to purchase before you purchase:  

Culture, PH, water and light requirements, and USDA zone.    

1. Determine your soil type. Is it a high PH or a low PH?  Is it sandy loam or heavy clay? Go to Daves and read up on what I mean by that shit, I'm not your mother.  

Soil is not just stuff smeared all over the planet like peanut butter.  Different locations have different - let's call it  "Ingredients".   Before you plant ANY PLANT you must learn about your local soil type. 

You see, the plant that you buy growing in high-nutrient growth medium (what you look at and think of as dirt there in the pot) is sitting in very different stuff than what you have surrounding your house. 'Growth medium' is a highly processed material filled with things that you do NOT want to know about, like 'growth limiter' and 'pest drenches' and - but you don't want to know about it.  Take my word for it - the stuff is a combination of disparate natural and un-natural ingredients mixed to support the root system of a plant and enable it to survive shipping and mistreatment on the store shelves.  It's nothing whatsoever to do with soil.

Now.  Go to the nursery and browse. Take time to fall in love.  Experience the ravishment of the senses that only a rose can provide and open your soul to beguilement.   

Now.  DO NOT BUY ANYTHING.  Just take the name of the rose you love down, and better yet; steal the tag (I do this all the time. Catch me if you can.) and then look up all that information online.  

Can't steal the tag?  Copy down the name and the brand, then look it up.  Here's why:   They used to put all that info on plant tags.  Not so much these days.  Similarly the USDA zone info is also now missing from plant tags so do what auntie FN tells you - take down the name and brand of the plant, and then look it up online and you will eventually find this absolutely, all-important information.  It's the difference between a living and a dead plant, kids.

-Bravo!  You did it! You have a zone 6-8 rose that can grow in full sun/light shade in acid to neutral soil!  Look at you and your research skills!  Of course you don't know what the fuck soil PH or soil type are.  Well then.

You can find out what your Soil PH and Soil Type are by calling  the Agricultural Extension Office, which is FREE, and either telling them where you live, or telling them where you live AND bringing along a sample of your soil to their office.  There are actually things called 'soil maps' of where you live that you can access online after a lot of fucking around, but they're pretty technical.  It's just easier as a beginner to call up your local Agricultural Extension office and ask for a soil expert, and explain your issue and get an answer.  \

Or here's the fast and dirty route:   Roses want acid soil, and they like a little clay in the mix.  You have no idea what I mean by that.  Look it up online.

2. Determine your USDA zone.  Hella simple.  Chuck 'USDA zone' and your town name into Mr. Google and you will get an answer to that question jiffy quick.  Why do this? Because big box store and hardware stores and general retail PLANTS ARE SOLD BY USDA ZONE.  And you cannot always trust their information.  What is a USDA zone?  LOOK IT UP ONLINE.  (Note:  Home Depot  doesn't give a flying fuck about you or your garden.  They'll carry things like Confederate Jasmine, Flame Lilly and Bougainvillia here in zone 7 and figure you'll blame yourself when those zone 9 - 10 plants die, and then buy more to replace them. Fuck you, Home Depot. And their roses are garbage.)

Instant replay of information already given follows:

So go to the nursery or big box store, or just look at pretty pictures online, and FFS take a notebook and write down the name of the rose you just fell in love with, and then look that bastard up online BEFORE YOU BUY.  That's where you'll find the information you need on culture, ph, water, light requirements, and USDA zone. Enter the name of your darlings into Google Images, find your beauties, click through and read the USDA and soil PH requirements on MULTIPLE SITES because it's easier to find retail sites and culture info this way.  If you don't find them on one site, you will on another, or on Daves  Make a note of these favorites in your bookmarks or by copy/pasting the links to a document so that you can go over them in the long cold months of winter.  Go to every site that has a reference to your dream rose and read every single thing you can about it.  It won't take long, and it will save you time, money and heartache come spring.

3. Starting out, buy in person from a REPUTABLE nursery.  This is the hard part.  Go online, hit Yelp, get those recommendations.  Hit up your local Garden Club online and ask them. Connect with people who live in your USDA Zone  - within a 25 mile distance of your ass - on Daves' and ask those people.  Or just, like, if you know your neighbors, ask them. 

4. Do not buy the roses that you love and want. Exercise some self-restraint. SELECT ROSES THAT WILL GROWN ON YOUR SOIL AND IN YOUR USDA ZONE.  Now, if all three elements happen to coincide, well that's good karma!  And lacking good karma, you can still get really, really close to what you want in the rose world these days.  There are roses bred to grow in Canada and Alaska!  There are roses bred to grow by the seaside in high winds and shitty, sandy soil!  There are roses that will grow in swamps, and roses that will grow in deserts.  There is even a climbing rose!  There are roses that never get any bigger than a guinea pig, and roses that will grow to the size of small houses over time.  And all the blossom forms and colors!  Wahoo!  It's a smorglasferd!

5. THINK ABOUT THE COLOR OF YOUR HOUSE.  If your house is duckie yellow or peachy peach, there are colors you should avoid.  Green, of course, will be the bass note in your symphony.  Green is a mix of yellow and blue.  Add the color of your house.  That's three colors you now have to work around.  Go online and check out the Pantone Color Wheel, which will tell you what colors will go with your house paint and what colors will blow.  (My personal bitch to pick is  the combination of a hard, hard red rose out in front of a white house.  No matter what color of red it is, the white will suck all the life out of it and it will look black to the passing glance.  GAAH)

OK.  You've spent maybe an hour all told on this shit out of the whole winter, period. You have dreamed, fallen in and out of love, and learned amazing things.  Now, armed with this information, go forth and SPEND come the first hint of Spring, and get there early.  Us plant nerds are dangerous animals come early spring when the first shipments of David Austin and Jackson and Perkins roses are put on the ground, just waiting for our lust to engulf and devour them.

Digression follows.     

This is a tale of living and learning.

Rosa 'Intrigue' will grow like gangbusters in a solid zone 7 location with a regular application of well-rotted horse manure, because rosa 'Intrigue' is what's called a heavy feeder. It wants rich, rich soil.  It will beguile you with it's perfect, imperial murex purple color and continuous blooms. It has a 'true rose' fragrance. The blossom form is classic, a whirl of petals, high-centered, just gorgeous.

Go on Google Maps and look up Deming, WA.  Rosa 'Intrigue' will grow into a generous, beautiful igloo of fragrant purple blossoms in Deming.  

22 miles away here in Sumas? Fuck off and die, bitch. 

I am talking about a distance of 22 miles, people.  22 miles between the Sumas USDA zone 7 and the geothermally warmed soil of  USDA Zone 7 in Deming.  Locally Deming is referred to as 'The Banana Belt' by old fuckers for this very reason.  Just a small area in the foothills, but only 22 miles makes the difference between a live, sexy 'Intrigue' rose and a languishing clump of thorns that hates you here in Sumas, where I live.  So, half the reason that this rose died was out of my control.

The other half of the reason it died was because I was ignorant of it's specific needs.  It wanted full sun, horse manure and lots of elbow room in a solid USDA Zone 7 garden.  I gave it half a day's shade, compost tea and crowded it with bluebells and calendula in a Zone 6 microclimate garden because I fell in love at first sight and whipped out my debit card.  And I learned my $35.00 mistake the hard way because I didn't do my reading.

You will make mistakes.  

Digression Ends.

A note on traditional rose tips and tricks:  

Some people give the soil around their roses a little Epsom Salts (for magnesium) and a little sulphur (to acidify the soil and kill fungi.)  

Some folks will put used coffee grounds around the base of their roses (to acidify the soil) and mix in banana peels (for potassium.)

Some folks will put a banana and a an old rusty piece of iron in the planting hole to add, well, iron, and potassium.

Some folks will put three smelt in the planting hole of a new rose (to enrich the soil just generally, because there really isn't any other use for smelt.)

All of these things Do Work Absolutely.  Now they don't work miracles, but they provide a boost, and they are safe, and a strong plant resists disease.  I would not do all of them at the same time, and I would err on the side of too little.  

I swear by epsom salts and sulphur.  It works, and you can't tell me any different. Experience and my 23 years of records stand to prove the fact. 

 My father swore by the 'smelt' method and we had a fantastic landscape.  My grandmother used the 'handful of rusty nails and a banana' for her roses and they were man-eaters!  

Now go online and see every single one of those methods debunked by some mook. 

 And you may wonder to yourself 'I wonder if some Big Chemical Company might be paying that alleged garden blogger to say those things?'  And you may ask yourself ' What is that beautiful house?  And you may ask yourself 'Where does that highway go to?' And you may ask yourself 'Am I right?  Am I wrong?" And you may say to yourself 'My God! Enough with the Talking Heads references!'  

But pay attention to what I've written here.  Roses are not difficult!  My roses are fuck off and die sluggers.  They'll steal your car and make you write bad checks.  And it's because I chose the right rose for the right location.  When people bitch about roses being difficult, it's because they fell in love at first sight with something not suited to their location and are now a slave to the chemical corporations and the shovel and the watering can, trying to keep their high-maintenance bitch happy.

And that's all you really need to know about roses.

Except for pruning...


  1. There's a house down the street that has recently become a rental and the renters moved out. This house has a small rose bush that no one has maintained and no one knows what its named (not the lovely owners that used to live there.) It's now in bloom and since no one is there at the present I really want to take a cutting and see if I can get it to root and try growing it in my own yard. I've never tried to grow anything from a cutting before. I do know there is stuff called a "root hormone". Should I try it? Any tips or tricks? Thanks!

  2. Oh, dear... I almost always fall at the first hurdle: "DO NOT BUY ANYTHING".
    However, I do have a practical tip which you may consider using now that you have a certain piece of technology: Forget scribbling down plant names and types, or trying to unclip that label from the pot, instead take a photo of the plant label with your handy-dandy phone camera!

  3. I've been lusting over David Austin catalogs for years now. Thanks for all these great tips for growing good roses! I've been trying to decide on some varieties to plant at our "new" house. (We've been here over 2 years already). My neighbor has some beautiful roses that her late husband planted for her 30 or 40 years ago. I've considered trying to root them and start some bushes from them. Unfortunately, she has no idea what the varieties are. Apparently they came from her mother in law's yard, decades ago.

  4. Blackadder: "I seek information about a Wisewoman."

    Young Crone: "Two things, my lord, must thee know of the Wisewoman. First, she is... a woman. And second, she is..."

    Blackadder: "Wise?"

    Young Crone: "You do know her then?"

    Sound advice, Ms FirstNations! As for pruning, that's something I love doing. It is remarkable how many people get it wrong, however.

    To answer your question, Proxima, rose cuttings work best if taken as 6-8 inch woody stems in autumn, stripped of their leaves and pushed into the ground. You can leave them to their own devices all winter and Spring, and it you're lucky you will see new growth in early summer. I've done it, and our Veilchenblau rambler (taken as a cutting in 2014) is now spreading ten feet in all directions!


  5. Jon: Thank you so much! FYI, I just posted something on my Blogger site I think you'll like. Maybe you've already seen it though.

  6. You can also buy an electronic pH meter if you're into gardening gadgets and spending money when you don't need to.

  7. Proxima Blue: Jon speaks the truth. I have grown a good 1/4 of the roses on my property from cuttings! His method is sound. As for rooting hormone? One aspirin dissolved in a gallon of water. NO SHIT. Take an empty gallon milk jug, drop in one aspirin (Mg doesn't mean jack shit in this instance) and fill with water. Shake it all up. Water your cutting with this solution, or better yet, soak the cutting it in this solution, cut side in the water, over night, and then plant it in and dump the rest of the solution on the soil. For the science behind this, look up 'salix used as rooting hormone, aspirin used to start plants' and you'll see. It works like GANGBUSTERS!

  8. Inexplicable DeVice: You, as always, are a beacon of modernity and sense. Me, I write everything down because 1. I am a serial killer of cell phones, and 2. You still have paper (or the stolen plant tag) even if the batteries are dead. A sensible and careful person, like most folks, can do the phone thing and it's all good. Me...not so much. Like not at all. So what he said, kids.

  9. Jennifer: You WILL get a rose if you take cuttings. But will it be the rose that you see growing this year? Maybe not - and that's because some roses are GRAFTED. They take a wimpy rose, whack off the roots, and then stick that wimpy rose into tuff-ass root stock. Look it up. You might end up with growth that came from the root stock, which will be tougher than nails but not what you were expecting. Or you might end up with a beautiful little cutting off the top stock that languishes for a few seasons and then dies spitting up blood like Camille.

  10. The Mistress: You can get one for $5.00 at Lowes! You know what you can do that works just as good? Use cabbage. No shit, red cabbage will tell you if you have acid or sweet soil. Look it up online "Using cabbage to determine soil PH" and the reason I mention this is because most ornamental plants just want ballpark figures. You only have to get super, super specific with certain very specific vegetables, desert, alpine and tropical plants - and gawd do not START me on orchids.

  11. Thank you for the extra advice and about the aspirin! I love Salix as in coming from Willow family.