For those of you with roses in mind, here, as promised, is the first part of a simple guide to buying and caring for this ‘Queen of Flowers’.
We are lucky in that roses, properly nurtured of course, can be had in bloom almost all around the year in the plains of our climatically diverse country which, on the whole, is a gardener’s paradise indeed.
Of the various types of roses, it is those known as Floribundas and Hybrid teas, along with our very own, incredibly perfumed, desi rose, which are the easiest and most rewarding to grow. And they are, especially when planted in number, a hardy backbone to any ornamental or — as they produce (when cultivated 100 percent organically) edible petals and drinkable (once processed) rosehips — vegetable garden area, climbers and ramblers being especially useful around, up and along boundary walls and fences and over pergolas and archways.
Roses, of all kinds, should receive morning or afternoon sunlight for at least six hours each day for them to do well. They dislike the intense heat of noon and early afternoon which, as well as depleting their energy, causes strong flower colours to fade rapidly. Direct, hot sunlight, can turn a vibrant red rose into a rather dreary, lacklustre specimen in no time at all, and rapidly leaches colour out of delicate pastel-shaded roses too.
They also like to be in an airy spot, yet sheltered from strong wind, especially so if the wind is a saltish one blowing directly off the sea.
Soil should be prepared for them about a month or so in advance, even if this soil is going to be used in plant pots or other suitably large containers.
Endowed with exquisite beauty and a wonderful fragrance, roses capture the heart of the holder
Soil in beds should be deeply dug, any stones and roots of perennial weeds being removed in the process. Ideally, remove the soil to a depth of 18-24 inches, piling it at the side of the bed for ease of mixing in completely rotted down, organic if possible, cow/buffalo manure, organic bone meal and river (not sea) sand — a good mix being 50 percent soil, 25 percent rotted manure, 20 percent river sand and five percent bone meal.
If available, you may like to substitute five percent of the manure with 0.5 percent of pure, organic, wood ash but not the ash of pine, eucalyptus or walnut trees, as roses dislike these.
Once the soil and other components have been thoroughly mixed, any lumps being meticulously broken up, shovel about half of it back into the bed, water it down (without flooding it), leave to settle for a few days and then fill up with the rest of the mixture and water lightly again.
At this point, the soil mix will probably be mounded slightly above adjacent land surfaces but, in a surprisingly short time, it will settle down, especially if helped along by light watering every few days.
If making up the same mix for use in pots/containers, re-mix and lightly water the heap twice a week for a month prior to using it. During this one-month period, the soil and added manure etc. will, with the assistance of the water, beneficial insects and invisible microorganisms, meld together to form a nutrient rich, well-balanced, growing medium for the roses you intend to plant.
Now, let’s move on to buying your new roses.
Towards the end of this month — and over the following few weeks — nurseries will be getting in fresh stocks of both bare-rooted and pot grown roses, the vast majority of these originating in the fertile plains of the Punjab, where rose cultivation plays a major role.
Bare-rooted roses — their roots usually encased in a ball of clay wrapped up in coarse grasses or other fibrous plant material — are priced lower, for obvious reasons, than their pot-grown counterparts. They have been grown directly in the ground and dug up and wrapped just before being transported to nurseries throughout the country for seasonal sale.
Make your type and colour choice from amongst the wide selection, choosing the healthiest, strongest growing plants you can find. Take care to check that the root ball is complete and undamaged. Avoid any with visible signs of wilting, as this can be an indication of root damage or disease.
Do not let the nurseryman select plants for you as, if he can get away with it, he is liable to off-load weak/damaged ones on you, holding back the better ones for established, knowledgeable customers.
When you get your bare-rooted roses home, carefully — so as not to damage tender roots — remove the outer wrapping of dried grass etc., leaving the protective ball of clay in place as much as possible, and immerse the root-ball in a bucket of water, leaving it/them to drink their fill for at least 24 hours — no longer than 36 hours — before planting out.
This soaking helps the plant/s to recover from the recent shock of being dug up, wrapped, transported, lying around in heaps in a nursery and any other ‘shocks’ it/they may have gone through before reaching the safety of your home.
In a departure from our usual routine, we will skip next week’s question and answer session, continuing instead with this guide to growing the roses available in nurseries at this time of year.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, January 17th, 2021