Roses are the queens of the garden. But it’s no secret these picky flowers can suffer from different pests and diseases. Fortunately, growing roses organically in your garden can be done. It just requires a little effort.
Note: When I write about “organic” roses, I mean growing garden roses without synthetic chemicals found in many common pesticides or fungicides.
1. Plant the right roses
Save yourself headaches by growing garden roses suitable for your region. What grows in one area may suffer in another. Ask your local garden center, cooperative extension service, or neighbors about roses that perform well where you live.
Hybrid tea roses are very popular, but they are the most disease-prone roses. In humid areas, look for disease-resistant roses such as “Just Joey.” In cold climates, consider hardy roses such as “Mister Lincoln,” which tolerate arid and moist conditions.
Experiment with other shrub roses, such as “Carefree Beauty.” The rose lives up to its name, growing in hot, dry gardens as well as cool, humid ones.
Rugosa and hybrid rugosa roses are surprisingly easy to grow. They are disease-resistant, as well as tolerant to heat, cold and salty ocean air. Rugosa roses are so hardy they shouldn’t be sprayed with fungicides, pesticides or other chemicals; the sprays can damage the foliage.
2. Pick a good spot
Select a spot where roses receive at least 6 hours of sunlight. Leave space between bushes for air circulation. Crowded conditions can lead to pest and pathogen problems.
Roses thrive in healthy soil amended with composts, worm castings or well-aged manures. These plants will grow in alkaline soils, but they prefer a slightly acidic soil (pH 6.2 to 6.8). Make sure your soil has excellent drainage.
Don’t isolate roses all by themselves. These “Iceberg” climbing roses seen above are accented by “Pearl D’Azur” clematis in my friend Victoria’s garden. Your roses will stay healthier naturally when other flowers, herbs, fruits and even vegetables are planted nearby. These plants attract helpful pollinators and beneficial insects to your rose garden.
3. Fertilize and water roses correctly
Feed roses with balanced organic fertilizers that release nutrients slowly. Read labels carefully. More is not better. Avoid over-feeding roses with nitrogen-rich fertilizers. This over-stimulates stem and leaf growth, which can attract aphids that feed on these parts.
Watering correctly reduces rose problems. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to water at the roots. Avoid wetting the foliage to reduce fungal diseases. I like to water in the early morning so my roses can dry before evening.
4. Mulch roses
Apply mulch to your rose beds. It’s worth the effort. Mulch reduces weeds, saves water and regulates soil temperatures. Mulch also mitigates fungal diseases on roses, by preventing disease spores from splashing on plant stems. Always leave space between the mulch and your plant stems to prevent root rot and pests.
5. Avoid toxic pesticides
Make a personal resolution to avoid toxic chemicals in your garden, which also can kill beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings and bees.
If you spray, use a non-toxic solution such as insecticidal soap or neem oil. Follow the directions carefully, and avoid spraying on windy or hot days.
In the early stages of a problem, a strong spray of water can often get rid of aphids, spiders and other small pests on rose bushes.
If you have diseased foliage or stems, prune them away and toss in the trash (don’t compost them). To avoid spreading the disease further, always wipe your pruners with rubbing alcohol after each and every cut. I keep a little bottle of rubbing alcohol just for sterilizing garden pruners.
6. Accept imperfection
Over the years, I have learned to tolerate a bit of imperfection, rather than insist on a sterile, unhealthy environment for growing garden roses. In return, I’ve been blessed with beautiful roses – along with bees, butterflies and ladybugs, not to mention many species of wild birds.
Will these tips solve all of your rose problems? Probably not. But you’ll be surprised how well these good gardening practices do work, and you’ll be growing roses organically in no time.