Earth-Kind Roses

By Bobbie Reed, Consulting Rosarian

This is the time of year when we page through glossy, exquisitely photographed rose catalogs and dream of beautiful roses in our gardens. But many of us have found that the reality of growing those roses requires a massive outlay of time and chemicals to keep them healthy and productive – perhaps more time than we have, and more chemicals than we care to spray in our gardens. Do we have any options that would give us such beautiful roses with a smaller investment of time, and suit a more environmentally sensitive approach to gardening?

We're not alone in wondering this. Frequently rose catalogs have told us that their roses are disease resistant, but all too often that statement turns out to be unrealistic in our hot, humid climate. Fortunately, Texas A&M University has been approaching the issue from a scientific basis. For the last several years they have been studying 117 varieties of roses recommended by industry experts, to find the hardiest, healthiest roses.

In their study, roses were planted in unamended soil, often in heavy clay, although Texas soils tend to be alkaline rather than acid like those we find in Georgia. These roses received no fertilizer during the trials, and were never sprayed during the three years of the tests. Roses were evaluated for disease and insect resistance and/or tolerance, were subjected to typical Texas heat and drought, and were pruned only to remove dead wood. In their favor, the candidate roses were grown on their own roots, in full sun, and with good air circulation. They were drip-irrigated and well mulched. They were allowed to grow for several years, and performance was noted to vary from year to year.

Frustrated gardeners will not be surprised to learn that many of the initially recommended roses fared poorly in these circumstances. However, a few roses produced outstanding results. While none were immune to blackspot, the winners were remarkably tolerant, losing relatively few leaves during the growing season. None had significant insect problems when beneficial insects were allowed to help. And the roses continued to bloom through extremely hot summers, although with somewhat smaller blooms in summer heat.

The results of the trials so far have identified a double handful of roses that produce lots of beautiful blooms, that allow the gardener to use much less chemicals, and that are compatible with an organic style of gardening. Those roses include the following:

Some Texas-based publicity has also included The Fairy on this list, although the rose may not recommended for blackspot-intensive climates like our own. While Texas climate and disease problems are not identical to our own, they present gardening pressures more similar to ours than those faced by major rose producers in southern California. That makes these Earth-Kind roses good selections for gardeners interested in a more manageable rose garden in Atlanta. We grow seven of them already, and find them to be durable and healthy members of our rose garden. Try some!

From the January 2003 issue of The Rose Vine, newsletter of the Greater Gwinnett Rose Society.

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