In the Garden: Spring care of precious roses
Now is the time to attend to rose bushes for best results this summer. Roses are still hugely popular and are grown in many gardens, but not always with great success. For good results with rose bushes, a few things need to be done now. Pruning should have been completed during January and, if that has not been done, it should be carried out without delay. Rose bushes are pruned to keep them flowering well at a reasonable size. Otherwise, they would make tall ungainly bushes.
The old advice about waiting until March 17 is not correct, as pruning that late leaves the bushes with more growing to do and delays flowering. Growth is already showing strongly. If the bushes are pruned now, they will make good growth without major setback later. The risk of frost damage by pruning now is very slight and roses grow out of frost damage easily.
The best tool for pruning roses is a lopping shears, or loppers, as it has long handles that can reach into the bush past the thorns and it is easier to cut heavy branches. Cut out some of the oldest shoots with brown or greyish bark and leave the younger, green-barked shoots to replace them.
Use a secateurs to shorten the latter to a suitable height, 20cm to 30cm, cutting vigorous varieties hard back, weaker-growing kinds not so hard, as they take longer to recover. Check the bushes are not rocking in the ground in an exposed garden. If a bush is loose, fill in with some soil around the stems and firm well.
Next, take out weeds from where the rose bushes are growing in a bed or singly in a border. Roses do not like any kind of competition for nutrients or moisture as this reduces flowering.
Remove weeds by hand-weeding, with a hoe if they are small, or by chopping them out with a spade if they are larger. Straighten the edges of a lawn if it joins a rose bed. This is easier to carry out now when the soil is damp and soft than it will be later.
Roses need feeding to grow a full set of new shoots and flowers each year. Special rose fertilisers are made for rose bushes with high levels of potash to encourage flowering. Manure and compost can be used but often carry lots of weed seeds and can be too rich, making the bushes over-vigorous, soft, and prone to leaf diseases.
If there was blackspot or mildew last year, these will re-appear and it is necessary to spray for these diseases, using a rose spray, when the first leaves are two centimetres long. It is important to start early because the year's infection starts as soon as the first buds open. Except for some resistant varieties, most rose bushes are prone to blackspot disease, which seriously weakens the bush and reduces flowering.
My flower bed is soggy!
Q I thought I had good colour in a bed I see from a kitchen window, but Primula viallii and pasque flower have disappeared in wet soil. Winter heathers? Perennial wallflowers? Mini-daffs are doing well. Primulas are struggling.
L Campbell, Co Waterford
A If the area is permanently, or even regularly, wet, move plants that like dry ground and seek out plants that like moisture in the soil. For instance, some primulas like moisture in the soil, others do not. Winter heathers and perennial wallflowers do not like wet ground.
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