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Ask A Gardener: Everything’s coming up roses!

The Crossroads Chronicle is introducing a new series about gardening! Our first columnists for Ask A Gardener are Nancy Lisenby, a member of The Seedling Garden Club in Swainsboro; and Joyce Agress, a former president of The Glad Garden Club. In this week's feature, Nancy and Joyce address the subject of growing climbing roses.


For context, my interest in roses peaked many years ago, when a friend had given to my mother, Anna Smith, a Lady Banks climbing rose planted on a trellis at her home. That rose was an inspiration, as it was simply beautiful in the early Spring. Then my husband and I purchased M.L and Shirley Reid’s home, where they had installed a beautiful and relatively large rose garden. Since this time I have been trying to learn how to provide the care that roses need.

Given this, I would like to share with you some of the knowledge that I have gained from growing several different varieties of roses, realizing that the experiences of growing roses are always evolving. While there is nothing more enjoyable than the beautiful site of a blooming rose, it is true that there are not many flowering plants that are more demanding!

I think that everyone knows that roses do require maintenance. If you are to begin to grow roses, you will need to have time, energy and a passion to be successful in growing and nurturing them. I find this time to be therapeutic and rewarding, given that it is a diversion from the common, hectic problems one finds in a busy lifestyle.

What is the primary concern that we face in Emanuel County? Unquestionably, it’s our hot and humid climate. We are in growing zone 8B. This requires that we search out roses that are particularly disease and fungus resistant and suitable for our growing zone. I suggest that you can start by buying your roses from Yard Master in Swainsboro, given that they are aware of this issue, and will inventory roses that match our local area’s climate. Frank Canady and his family have good knowledge and can provide topical advice. In any event, I suggest that you read about a rose before you buy it, and that you pick one that is suitable for the space you have, considering sun requirements, growth habit, water requirements, and especially one that has excellent disease resistance. High disease resistance is critical. A second question may be that of whether to simply stick with the so-called Knock-Out roses. Many of the roses you see around town are Knock-Out roses which require less maintenance than other varieties. They look great in the Spring, but unless they are deadheaded their blooms can be sparse for the rest of the season.

Grandiflora, Floribunda and Hybrid Tea roses require more care than Knock-Outs but provide many more blooms throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall, assuming that you provide proper care. Another great option is a “ground cover rose.” These only grow 18 inches to 2 fee tall and wide and are covered with smaller blooms all throughout the growing season. They do not require deadheading and need less maintenance. “Drift” (a trade name) is a popular brand of ground cover rose and comes in a variety of colors. YardMaster sells Drift roses, and I have found them to be a healthy and beautiful selection for me, thus far.

Climbing roses are gorgeous. Nothing is prettier than a climbing Lady Banks rose, and it is hardy and flourishes in our climate. However, it only blooms once a year and requires a strong trellis to climb on. All climbers need good support. Many trellises are small and flimsy. Therefore, you may want to consider buying lattice fencing, and attaching it to your privacy wood fence or to a couple of fence posts. If you go this route, I suggest that you buy the sturdiest lattice in treated wood that Swainsboro Supply sells, and that you attach it with decking screws to your wooden fence along treated two-by- fours placed vertically onto the wooden fence, so that the lattice does not move once the weight of a heavy climbing rose grows to maturity. If you consider choosing climbers, I also suggest that you first search on youtube for instructions on pruning and training climbing roses before you buy one, in order to make sure you are willing to put in the time and effort they need.

Now we turn to what all roses need: “Tender Loving Care.” TLC means that you prune, water, fertilize, fight diseases and insects, and deadhead. With this TLC, you will have flowers all summer long. If you have the time, the reward is endless!

Pruning: Pruning is something many people don’t like to do. For successful roses, this has to be done in order to make the plant strong and healthy. My rule of thumb for shrub type roses is prune them on Valentine’s Day to about a foot tall. Additional pruning can be done throughout the growing season but not more than 1/3 of each stem at any one time Rake existing mulch from underneath and discard it for fungus control. Add a good compost around the rose and replace with fresh mulch.

Watering: Water one to two times a week from November to March unless we have adequate rainfall; April to October water, three to four times a week based on rainfall and heat. Water in the morning so plants will dry off before nightfall which will help prevent fungus. Try not to water the leaves.

Fertilizing: When you see the first leaves popping out in the spring, start applying a rose fertilizer every 2 weeks through the middle of October. I have used a granular rose fertilizer that is mixed in a gallon of water for each rose. There are many types of rose fertilizer available to choose from.

Control fungus and insects: It is easier to prevent fungus than to get rid of it after you have it. Blackspot has to be fought all year to successfully grow roses in our humidity. Many gardeners use commercial rose fungicides along with pesticides for insects or systemic rose products that feed, control diseases and fight insects with one product. Chemical conscious growers will use things like high quality 100% Cold pressed Neem Oil with Azadirachtin every 10 days beginning early in the Spring to try to prevent fungus. (The Rusted Gardener on YouTube gives instructions on how to apply).

Deadheading: Deadhead throughout the blooming season. After a bloom dies, use clean sharp pruners and cut above a cluster of 5 leaves with an outward facing node. This way the plant will put out a shoot at that node that will be facing to the outside of the bush. Too many leaves and branches facing in will cause poor air circulation and cause disease on the leaves. Keep it airy on the inside of the bush. In addition to removing the dead blooms, remove any leaves that appear to have blackspot or other diseases. Discard these to prevent spreading of the disease.

What is the best time to plant roses? Bare root and potted roses should be planted in January or February to give the roots time to get established before they start putting out leaves and flowers. Potted roses can be planted as late as April. Our soil is mostly sandy so add a good soil amendment when planting.

Growing roses can be very rewarding as well as frustrating. Roses cannot be ignored. Not enough work will result in scraggly weak bushes with few blooms. If properly cared for, roses can give you years of enjoyment.

Please consider joining us at the Seeding Garden Club. We meet at Swainsboro First Methodist Social Hall on the second Monday of the month at 5 p.m. Our next meeting will be January 9th. Our group would love to have you and will be glad to attempt to answer whatever additional questions you may have.


I have only a few climbing roses — a Joseph’s Coat, a New Dawn, and a Cecile Brunner (out of 31 roses), so while I know a bit, this is not my area of expertise. However, Cecile Brunner is a polyantha, like Fairy, so I can say some things from personal experience.

Cecile Brunner is a low-thorn climbing rose with very long, arching canes, small (but beautiful) blooms, which, for me, blooms lots in the spring and with random scattered blooms throughout the rest of the season. It is the very first rose I bought for my garden, in 2015, and I planted it on a trellis next to the back of my house. The trellis is a six-foot black aluminum, rectangular, purchased at a big box gardening store, not overly expensive.

It bloomed only in the spring the first two years — and then, my house burned down. Because the house was being demolished, which destroyed all the plants a good distance from the walls, we transplanted it, with trellis, in June (NOT an optimal time, but all we could do.) It was limp and looked awful for weeks, but then it put out new growth. So, just because the Fairy looks bad does not mean all hope is lost - these roses are tough! The following year I put it on a watering system (two times a week, moderate moisture) and I feed it commercial rose food every eight to 10 weeks, beginning in late February to early March. It exploded and began blooming much more prolifically.

I have my roses on a spraying schedule of every two weeks from March through mid-October: Bayer disease spray — which is NOT organic — and Neem oil for insects, which is organic. (The organic disease spray didn’t work well for me.) However, Cecile is the last rose in the yard to be sprayed, so it only gets “leftovers.” It is massive and hard to reach, and it really doesn’t ever get much disease or insect damage , so while spraying would be fine, I doubt that is a principle aim. Water and REGULAR fertilizing should be much more valuable. (Set your phone calendar to remind you.) If there are some weak canes, or some tight masses of crossed limbs, those could be pruned to thin the rose and open it to light and air. However, climbing roses do not need regular pruning to stay healthy, just to keep them in shape. I prune the first week in January for the Swainsboro climate, but rarely do I prune anything off a climber except a cane growing in an awkward place.

As a side note, a huge pecan branch fell into my tea roses a couple of years ago. They bounced back without unusual care. Roses have a well-earned reputation for needing lots of work, but they really aren’t all that delicate. Feed it, water it, spray if it is necessary, it should do well — just give it a little time.

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