• Carolyn Thomas

Balcony roses: what causes weak stems?

Updated: Aug 21

Just look at those gorgeous rosebuds ready to open! But here's what I'm worried about...

We've had weeks of unseasonably cool damp weather here in Lotus Land. Where is the glorious sunshine that will help my four Drift roses planted in March flourish in their new home? When will it warm up?

Although the little rose pictured above may look good (it's Coral Drift, one of four Drift groundcover roses planted in a row along my balcony railing along with its three sisters Red, Apricot and Pink Drift), I noticed something odd while out surveying the estate one morning this week.

Look at those straight stems poking above the purple/orange winter pansies edging the pots beneath. The leaves look healthy and shiny, and you can almost measure the daily growth inch by inch! But the stems (called canes in rosebushes) look almost too frail and thin to bear the weight of the blossoms that are soon to come. Won't they just flop over under this weight? And shouldn't healthy rose canes look sturdy and capable of holding up those fully-open blooms?

I did some homework and here's what I learned: I'm not the only rose grower asking those questions.

Some rose experts blame over-watering for drooping canes. Others blame under-watering. But one common culprit mentioned by many experts is this: NOT ENOUGH SUNSHINE.

This may well be true in our case. Because we've had day after day, week after week of grey drizzly days, our typically sunny warm spring has instead been damp and relatively dark. In May, for example (normally when all Victoria gardeners don their work aprons and joyfully head outdoors) we had just seven days of sunshine. SEVEN! Every other day that month was either cloudy or rainy.

But roses love full sun (recommendations range from five eight hours of consistent sun).

I can do something about over-watering. I can do something about under-watering. But what I cannot do is control our weather! P.S. I learned something scary recently: another thing I may not be able to control is the dreaded Black Spot (scary story here!) or another nasty fungus that loves roses: powdery mildew (scary picture here!)

I feel mildly relieved, however - despite those flimsy canes. I know that one day in the very near future, the skies WILL begin to clear and soon we'll all be complaining about too much sun and too much heat (like we did last summer during our record-breaking "heat dome" here on Canada's west coast). That was a catastrophic summer for many local gardens. My son Ben, for example, lost a number of large rhododendrons in his yard due to that heat.

I'll keep a sharp eye on these too-delicate-looking rosebush stems of mine, willing them to buck up once the sun comes back.

Speaking of sharp eyes, I spotted an unwelcome visitor to my balcony roses this past week: the dreaded APHID. Aphids are a common pest around all roses - yes, apparently even the carefree Drift roses. They're easy enough to flick off with a finger when they're only one or two at a time, or a short burst from the garden hose will knock off a bunch of them - very satisfying!

The best earth-friendly aphid spray is soap. Soap dissolves the protective outer layer of aphids and other soft-bodied insects. It doesn't harm birds or hard-bodied beneficial insects like lacewings, ladybugs or pollinating bees. You can buy ready-to-use insecticidal soap sprays at your local garden nursery. I like to use Safer's Soap for this, but you can also make up your own insect spray (a one-quart spray bottle filled with water and a few teaspoons of liquid dish soap). Then just spray or wipe the solution onto the leaves, stems and buds. Don't spray during the hottest part of the day - early mornings are best since roses do NOT like getting wet in the evenings (which can lead to yucky things like Black Spot).

Meanwhile, practice smelling the roses that will one day emerge from your charming little buds. . . .

UPDATE July 4, 2022: All four of my new Drift roses are now blooming this week - all at the same time! For the thrilling details, read this! Meanwhile, they are perfect reminders to slow down and smell those gorgeous roses. . .

UPDATE August 19, 2022: An illustrated review of the "horticultural roller coaster" out on balcony. . .

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