We brought roses to our favorite doctor yesterday. He was struck by the beauty and strength of the hybrid tea roses I selected - Mr. Lincoln, Veterans Honor, John Paul II, Peace, and a few others. Mr. Lincoln was in full bloom at the end of a long cane, so it looked like a dinner plate Dahlia. Veterans Honor was in the tangle of straw, raspberries, and weeds, with perfect blooms calling to be displayed.
The receptionist was so awestruck that she forgot to check Mrs. Ichabod in, which meant we waited extra. I usually talk to the doctor about gardening or theology.
The doctor asked for suggestions on better roses. He was disappointed in his KnockOut roses, so I will aim this at KnockOut roses, which are disease free and very productive.
The four major factors are:
- Buying red wiggler earthworms, to aerate, fertilize, and mix the soil. They contribute enormously in helping the microbes do their work in keeping plant nutrition in the top foot of soil.
- Placing shredded wood mulch promotes composting on the spot, feeds soil microbes, holds water evaporation and wind erosion to a minimum, and retards weed growth.
- Watering when necessary keeps the roses blooming.
- Pruning, pruning, pruning. KnockOuts are so productive that they quickly turn into a bush full of spent roses, which look rather sad. After our torrential rains, KnockOuts looked...knocked out. The solution for a large bush full of spent and soggy flowers is to cut it back by 50%. I did this several times this summer, starting in early spring, and have 6 foot roses with 35 flowers on each one. Roses are hormonal. They want to be become parents and go to seed, slow down. When pruned, a rose bush will recognize its Creation-driven urge to grow buds and bloom.
- Pesticides. Even "safe" oil spray, will kill all the pests and the beneficial bugs - including hundreds of spiders. That is doubly bad in killing hard-working bugs on the spot but also in removing the food that sparks beneficial bugs into attacking and thriving as plant protectors.
- Inorganic fertilizer. - The big rose gardens and Queen Elizabeth abhor inorganic aids. Chemical fertilizer harms roses by slowing down the soil microbes and creatures that make plants productive. Most of the potent chemicals simply sink into the water table, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown - as Lord Byron would say.
- Fungicides and herbicides. They attack the soil creatures without being beneficial in the long run for the roses.. KnockOuts do not need fungicides at all, and my two years straight of growing roses here have proven that some blackspot (a fungus) will come and go without anything more needed than pruning away the bad places. KOs will not blackspot.
- The rototiller. Colonial farmers did well in breaking up the forest soil to convert the earth to farming, but osterizing the surface is now counter-productive.
- Beneficial bug plants will serve to keep the best creatures in the yard to do their duty when wounded roses call out for help.
- Sunflowers, coreopsis, cone flowers, and daisies will harbor parasitoid bugs, who will lay eggs on, near, or in the pests.
- Spiders will rest in the wood mulch and among the bushes to devour insects.
- Toads will populate a yard where logs on the ground, flat pans of water, and organic insects will make them feel at home.
- Birds will attack pests with tireless energy to feed their young. If given bird baths and natural food (sunflowers, berries, seedy plants) they will flourish, remain, and earn their keep.
- Wild areas, such as tall grass, piles of leaves, and stick or wood piles will harbor beneficial insects like the beetles than roam at night and kill pests, returning to their peaceful homes in the leaves and clutter to raise their young to do the same.