• Carolyn Thomas

Balcony roses: my late summer review

Updated: Aug 20

A second round of new buds on my Coral Drift rose!

It's been a horticultural roller coaster ride with my balcony roses this summer.

From the initial excitement of learning how to plant bare root roses in spring. . .

. . . to the thrill of seeing the first fresh green leaves popping up. . .

. . . and then the disturbing first signs of the dreaded rose fungus afflictions Black Spot and powdery mildew (the fungus that my four Drift roses are supposed to be resistant to) . . . :-(

- to the explosion - finally, after a cool damp spring! - of gorgeous fragrant balcony roses in early July . . .

. . . and then after about three exciting weeks of bloom, it all starts again with the fading of those July blooms and the emergence of the second wave of new buds for a late summer display.

My observations as a novice rose grower so far:

* Balcony roses need a lot of sun (some experts suggest that for the the healthiest plants, rose bushes should receive SIX TO EIGHT HOURS OF SUNLIGHT DAILY). Morning sun is apparently preferable to afternoon sun (my balcony faces east, and gets about five hours of morning sun every day). If roses don't get enough sun, stems may grow sparse and leggy (as mine did). In a very hot climate, however, roses do best when they're protected from afternoon sun that can cause something called leaf sunscald.

* Balcony roses need AIR FLOW around them. Landscaping expert David Beaulieu says: "Growing rose bushes in conditions where adequate spacing is not provided is an open invitation to powdery mildew. Let your roses 'breathe'. Do not plant them too close together. Follow the spacing requirements indicated on the plant label."

Not only did I plant my Drift roses close together, their square pots are touching - as you can see in the photo of my first planting (above). As they grew, their branches actually intertwined; I could hardly tell where the Coral Drift ended and where the Apricot Drift began. No wonder I had problems with powdery mildew. . . I should not have planted them so close together, or too close to other plants. Close plantings restrict air flow around plants - which encourages fungal growth. Even careful pruning in early spring helps to make sure there's enough space between the rose canes for good air circulation so the rose doesn't become too dense. I'll need to address the important issue of air flow for next summer's blooms - even if that means donating at least half of my roses to Ben's garden to create more open space between the remaining plants.

* It turned out that I was unnecessarily concerned about PLANTING ROSES IN POTS rather than in deep earth in a conventional garden bed. I needn't have worried. My son Ben (who ordered his bare root roses on the same day from the same nursery for our respective spring plantings) has three of his four new roses also planted in large ceramic pots in his own back garden - and - unlike mine! - his are flourishing. Here's a beautiful example: his Violet's Pride (named after Downton Abbey's Lady Violet Crawley) - a standard (tree) rose in spectacular fragrant bloom in late August. It's about three feet across atop a 3-4 foot trunk. (Note the beautiful fungus-free healthy leaves all summer long).

* I learned a lot this past summer about PROBLEM PREVENTION - mostly around what I did not do.

Once a fungal infection gets established, it's extremely hard to overcome. That’s why prevention is so important. A fungus-free rose, for example, is a healthy rose to begin with. Whenever fungus is able to get a foothold, it's a sign that something's wrong with the general health of the rose garden. I just don't think I ever got on top of those fungus infections.

For example, the fungus spores of Black Spot or powdery mildew are already present and dormant. So we want to create a garden environment conducive to good rose growth AND hostile to the growth of the fungus - like disposing of affected leaves and pruned rose canes promptly. If left lying around, any spores can reproduce rapidly, spreading the infection as the leaves are easily blown about. If conditions around balcony roses are as uninviting as possible for Black Spot or powdery mildew, it's far easier to prevent its development than it is to cure it once problems become obvious.

(By the way, this observation is also remarkably true in life: it's far easier to prevent heart disease, for example, than it is to cure it once problems become obvious!)

Some rose experts recommend a weekly preventive spray all season starting in early spring (a teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of regular dish soap in a one-litre spray bottle of water). Natural solutions like this spray will treat existing fungus, but can't prevent new spores from creating new infections. For that, look for organic products like Safer's Fungicide spray at your local garden nursery.

Dispose of any pruned-off parts by placing them in a sealed bag and putting them out with the trash (NOT in your compost pile). Another easy prevention that I didn't do was adding a nice layer of MULCH to the surface of each pot's soil. This mulch can apparently prevent fungus spores being splashed up onto the rose bushes when watering. And it will also help to hold the water in the soil so we can stretch out the period between waterings.

Speaking of watering, roses like a good deep watering 1-2 times a week, right at the soil (not overhead watering that splashes the leaves) - and maybe more often in very hot weather.

Finally, choose roses that are marked "Disease-Resistant" that have been specifically bred to resist most rose diseases like Black Spot or powdery mildew. My Drift roses were advertised as "disease-resistant" - yet the combination of weather, poor air control around my over-crowded plants, and lack of simple preventive measures like mulching meant that those little roses were in trouble before we even got started.

What comes next? I'll need to carefully consider if I'll give these balcony roses another summer to settle in - or whether they should be replaced by more "well-behaved" summer blooms.

Meanwhile, I've taken "Stop and smell the roses" to a whole new level this summer. . .

This was also cross-posted to my HEART SISTERS site.

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