February is the month for love, and roses are the flower of love. Poems, songs, and books are written about this plant dubbed the queen of flowers. Roses grow in most of the United States, and have blooms in every color except blue or black. There are roses with single blooms or full, peony-like flowers; stems smooth or covered in vicious prickles (roses have prickles, not thorns). Many old roses have fragrant blooms of various scents to attract pollinators, although we enjoy them too. Sadly, the scent is often lost when roses are bred for appearance or disease-resistance.
There are two broad types of roses: own-root or grafted. If you’ve ever had your yellow rose suddenly start blooming red or white, that’s an example of a grafted rose where the root stock took over. Roses are grafted to rootstock for ease of propagation, disease resistance, and adaptability to many climates. The most common rootstocks are Dr. Huey, a red climber, and Fortuniana, a white shrub rose. Own-root roses are raised from cuttings taken from stock plants, with no grafting. Make sure that you select an own-root rose that’s suitable to our wild and wonderful climate.
In Texas, you can’t go wrong if you pick one of the roses designated ‘Earth-Kind’® by Texas AgriLife Extension Service. These are roses selected for pest tolerance and landscape performance, that have been trialed across the state including Mineola and Tyler. Earth-Kind® roses perform well in most soils, as long as they have eight hours of sun daily and good air circulation. My favorite rose is the very first to win the Earth-Kind® designation - Belinda’s Dream, a fragrant pink rose with very full blooms from spring to frost.
To prepare a bed for roses, you should dig in three to six inches of organic compost to the garden bed; clay soils also need three inches of expanded shale. After planting, keep a year-round mulch of three inches of shredded tree trimmings, and water thoroughly only when the soil is dry (poke your finger one inch into the soil to check). If you follow this program, you may not need supplemental fertilizer. However, I find that roses like a banana peel or alfalfa meal worked into the soil around them.
If you have time, you can brew some alfalfa tea for your roses by adding one cup of alfalfa meal or pellets to a bucket, then filling with three gallons of water. Cover and let sit for about a week, stirring daily – it will foam and the alfalfa will be floating on the top. After a week, the nutrients are extracted from the alfalfa, which will settle at the bottom. You can dip out the liquid to feed your roses (about a gallon per shrub rose). If you normally add Epsom salts to your water for roses, you can add one tablespoon per gallon of alfalfa tea. Once you reach the alfalfa that’s settled at the bottom, you can brew one more batch of tea with that same material, then add to the compost pile.
Mid-February is also the time for major pruning of many of our Texas-tough roses. Don’t prune any climbing or once-blooming old roses like Lady Banks or Seven Sisters at this time, or you will prune off the buds that are forming – wait till after they bloom. For any other roses, remove any dead, diseased, or damaged limbs, or limbs that are crossing, and reduce the overall size by one-third to one-half. Always prune your rose ¼ inch above an outward-facing bud for the best form. Your shrub roses will look so much better during the growing seasons.
In addition to serving as specimen plants in your gardens, roses can be used as hedges or barriers. Many shrub roses such as the Knock Out® roses can be pruned into a hedge, while an old rose such as ‘Old Blush’ (pink, semi-double) is at home growing through a split-rail fence. The single climber ‘Mermaid’ has large, single yellow blooms and prickles like fishhooks that will discourage any interloper. I do believe the one on my fence would take a swing at me and impale my scalp if I came within a foot of the plant. It’s definitely not a rose to plant along a path. Roses have a health benefit – their fruits or rose hips are packed with vitamin C. At the Overton Plant Trials in 2016, the class of roses called rugosa roses displayed orange-red hips the size of cherry tomatoes. It’s definitely a plant to add to your herb garden.
If you’re looking for a rose to add to your garden, I recommend you head to Tyler to Chamblee’s Roses on Highway 69. They have a wonderful selection and the most helpful personnel. You’ll find the rose you need, for your East Texas garden.
About the author: Lin is a Texas Master Gardener in Wood County. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a handout on rose pruning. Join her and other volunteers each Wednesday morning at 9, at the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.