TPD, Friday, April 10,2009

Growing roses in Central Texas

The roses are in bloom in Central Texas! Come to Hummingbird Hill and see mine! Although this is just our third summer at Hummingbird Hill, I have gotten a good start and there are many roses to see. I have discovered that roses will grow beautifully in Central Texas. This is not news to most people who grew up around here, but for other out-of-state transplants like me, it was a pleasant surprise how drought hardy and heat resistant they are. There is a big difference in how you handle the roses compared to colder climates though, as you don't have to prepare them to survive winter in Central Texas, but to survive the summers. Our winters are perfect for planting roses and to propagate them. Roses generally do best when they are not grafted, but grown on their own roots. Now many nurseries tout that their roses are not grafts, unlike a couple of years ago when they were nearly all grafted. If you are not sure, you can look at the rose stem and see whether they have a graft knot where the stem bulges out just above the soil level. The reason nurseries graft is that a single plant can be used to make hundreds of grafted roses. They only use a small piece of a leaf bud and graft it onto a species rose root such as a wild rose. To grow a rose on it's own roots you actually cut off a new pliable branch and root it in damp potting mix. Obviously, one rose bush can be used for fewer cuttings than grafting leaf buds.

Many varieties of roses root easily by cuttings in our mild winter climate. I don't even use rooting hormone powder, although you can if you wish. I just cut off a young pliable stem that is about 12 inches long at an angle, and stick 6 inches of that into damp potting mix, or directly into the ground where I have amended the soil with humus and nitrogen so that the pH is around 7.2. You ought to mix the potting soil with sand and good garden soil in equal thirds so that it holds water better. Potting soil drys out very quickly, especially on a windy day, and that's why I like to put the cuttings directly into the ground. Some people use cottonseed hulls mixed with the potting soil to also help hold the moisture.

It might take a couple of months for the cuttings to grow roots, so don't disturb them. Just keep them watered. As long as the stem is green and it is growing leaves, it's growing OK. Around this area with Calache bedrock use rainwater. It's less limey, and more acidic. If you have sandy loam, you can slowly amend the soil with lime until the pH levels off. But be careful, it's easy to over do it. The time to root rose cuttings is in the fall. If you try to sprout cuttings during the summer you are almost sure to fail, unless you set up a special mist system. I'm going to try this method this year, so until then I won't write much about it. If you are interested contact the agriculture dept. at Texas A & M.

By spring you should have some new roses to place in your rose beds. I've been amazed at how quickly rose cuttings grow into large shrubs in Central Texas. I have some shrub roses that grew from a half gallon pot size into 4 foot tall shrubs in just two seasons! Remember that the newer varieties are patented, and it is illegal to propagate them by cuttings, but there are plenty of roses with expired patents to propagate this way.

The biggest key to success with roses is growing the right ones. Most hybrid tea roses are not the right ones. The best roses are landscape shrubs and old garden roses that are not grafted, but grow on their own roots. The old garden roses are tried and true and have been around a long, long time, belonging to a class prior to 1867. There are different kinds such as the musk, Bourbon, China, noisette, gallica, and polyantha. Not all, but many of these have that wonderful old rose smell, bloom throughout the summer, and are very tolerant of rose diseases. The newer landscape roses have the same attributes as the old garden roses, but are even more disease resistant, and bloom more continuously. Don't be put off by the size, for many of these are very large shrubs, but not all. If you don't have room for these, try some miniatures. I wouldn't advis you to try to prune your roses to fit your landscape design. An unhealthy rose is not disease resistant, nor hardy.

I am trying out Griffith Buck roses and have been very pleased. Dr. Griffith Buck developed his roses in the 50's specifically for the conditions in the mid-west with cold winters, and hot, dry summers. He was ahead of his time, and we are just now discovering how wonderful they are. Everybody has discovered the Knockout roses, but there are many different landscape roses that have full blooms and are fragrant, two attributes Knockout lacks. As long as you amend the soil with humus and fertilizer to keep the pH close to 7, mulch heavily during the summer to keep the roots cool, and water when the soil is dry you will have success growing these roses. Plant them where they can spread out naturally, and not too close to other trees and shrubs. Most of them need nearly a full day of full sun, although there are some that tolerate more shade.

People have the idea that roses need intense care. Not Mine! If I have a rose bush that does poorly due to mildew, blackspot, or rust I get rid of it and replace it with a more disease resistant variety. I don't bother with foliar feeding, (spraying the leaves with liquid fertilizer) or spraying with fungicide. I don't prune them except to cut out dead wood. I have too many roses and don't have time. Sometimes I might spray the light colored roses for thrips with Sevin if they are a problem, or for aphids, Japanese beetles, or cucumber beetles. Otherwise, that's it.

I'm anxious to try out as many old garden roses and landscape roses as I can. I love how bushy and healthy my roses look compared to the scraggly hybrid teas I grew up with. Years ago I visited England when the roses where in bloom. I was simply amazed. I had no idea that roses could be such giant healthy shrubs with so many huge, fragrant blooms! I decided that if I couldn't grow roses like that then I wouldn't bother with them. Fortunately, I found out I could. You can too!

If you are interested in hybridizing or propagating your own roses, contact The Bastrop Rose Society. The society meets four times a year in Elgin, TX. Visitors are welcome. Just contact President Earl Jones at 512-281-4641 for more information. Their website is Their annual membership fee is $10.00 which includes four issues of The Old Texas Rose newsletter.