Roses prove toughness during drought

March 24, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. ó Lance Walheim has heard plenty of head-scratching questions about roses. Heís not surprised. After all, he wrote the best-selling guide book "Roses for Dummies."

"The No. 1 mistake people make with roses is improper watering," said Walheim, author of more than 30 gardening books. "I keep running into people who water every day, or their roses are watered from lawn sprinklers. Itís time to change."

A lot has changed in the rose world since the second edition of his book was published in 2000. Hundreds of varieties have been introduced, including a whole category of easy-care roses that was practically unknown when "Roses for Dummies" debuted in 1997.

"Walk into any (home improvement center) and youíll find lots of Earth-Kind, Knockout or other easy-care roses," he said. "Itís getting hard to find hybrid teas."

Itís not just the available varieties that have changed. During the recession, growers and wholesale nurseries underwent major upheaval, forever changing the rose industry landscape.

Walheim, the national gardening expert for Bayer Advanced, makes his home in the heart of Californiaís rose country where acres and acres of bushes are field grown for nurseries. He lives on a citrus ranch in Exeter near Visalia, Calif.

"It seems like all we talk about is water," he said of the statewide drought. "Weíre in a situation where weíre trying to save every drop while also trying to save our plants."

While he frets over his mandarins and blood oranges, Walheim isnít too worried about his roses.

"A lot of people donít realize how tough roses are," he said. "At most, my roses get watered once a week. A lot of times, they get by with a lot less."

Older varieties such as Iceberg tend to do the best with less water, he added. The Earth-Kind series of landscape roses do very well with irrigation only twice a month.

Walheim has experimented to find the answer to one basic question: "Do you apply less water at each irrigation or do you stretch the time between watering?" he said. "The interesting thing Iíve noticed is that the roses do better with deep watering. Water less often, but make sure you do it right ó get the water down to the roots.

"In a drought situation, roses will get by on deep watering once a month," Walheim said. "They learn to accept less. They may not flower as much, you might not get as many roses, but youíll still have roses."

Roses need water to produce flowers, Walheim noted. "Even the landscape roses; if you want to keep them blooming, you need to keep them hydrated. By cutting back (water), the bloom cycle takes longer ó eight weeks instead of six. But you want to slow them down in a drought."

While Walheim still recommends fertilizing roses (usually every six weeks during bloom season), he suggests cutting back on rose food, too, with longer intervals between feedings.

"You donít want to prompt too much new growth," he said. "Cut back on pruning, too; let the hips form in summer. That will slow them down when they need the most water."

New foliage is particularly susceptible to drought stress, he added. "It transpires (loses water) much quicker."

Walheim recommends mulch ó preferably bark, wood chips or other organic material, not rocks ó to help maintain soil moisture and keep rose roots comfortable.

"Stay on the lookout for pests," he urged. "Drought stresses plants, and thatís when pests attack and when you need to apply pest control. This could be a bad summer for bugs."



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