Growing Antique Roses

The Vintage Rosery

Needville, Texas

This page is not how we grew our roses to sell. Rather, these are helpful tips on gardening and roses for the backyard gardener so your roses are at their best. Roses can be grown without synthetic chemicals. There are many organic gardening products available now and more coming on the market every year. However, be advised organic gardening does not provide instant satisfaction and immediate results. It is a process. Figure about three years before it becomes easier than chemical gardening with similar results.

All chemicals kill something. A particular product may target a type of weed, insect, fungi or bacteria or change the soil. It will always do more than is on the label. The most damage is done to your soil. Restoring the benificial organisms in the soil can be done. It just takes time.

While old roses are disease resistant and require very little maintenance, a little support will keep your plant healthy and blooming.

As a general rule, roses like full sun, good air circulation with well-drained soil. A site that has full sun six hours a day is just fine. There are some exceptions. See Selecting Antique Roses if you have a site with less sun or poorly drained soil. Good air circulation is essential. It aids in the rapid evaporation of morning dew thereby aiding in disease control.

Soil preparation is the most important step in gardening. Good soil is like the foundation of a house. A weak foundation will cause everything above it to fail. A little more time spent here will pay dividends for years to come.
There are three types of soil: sandy, clay and silt. A good soil is a balance of all of these. Too much sand causes water to wash through it too fast, removing the nutrients. Too much clay (we have "black gumbo" down here) is too dense to work with and will hold the water, drowning the roots. Fortunately, all soil can be fixed. But what is the quickest way?
That is an easy answer...raise your beds. That is, add good soil on top of your existing soil and plant in it. Raised beds have many benefits for roses, with the most important one being better drainage. Our recommendation is to start the remediation of your native soil by adding organic material and beneficial organisms to speed the natural processes. Then, add good soil on top of it and start planting.
Before working in your native soil, be sure it has the right amount of moisture. Dry soil is powdery and clumpy and may be difficult to work. Take samples at the surface and at a 2 to 3-inch depth in several locations in the garden plot. If soil sticks to a shovel, or if when spading, the turned surface is shiny and smooth, it is too wet. Working soils when excessively wet can destroy soil structure, which may take years to rebuild.
To start the process of restoring your garden soil, all you need do is to stir up the native soil and establish and maintain an appropriate level of organic matter. Add a four to six-inch layer of organic material over the surface of the soil and mix it into the top four to six inches. This amounts to eight to ten cubic yards of organic amendment per thousand square feet of soil area. Compost is the best organic material available. We now use "partially composted native mulch", which includes ground up branches and leaves. We found "bark only" mulch does not have as many nutrients.
After mixing in the organic material, the beds should now be six inches or so higher than when you started. With drainage taken care of, we now need to bring the soil alive.
On our new beds, we amend the planting areas with an organic soil conditioners.  Compost, wormcastings, rabbit manure and alfalfa meal are fantastic ammendments. A one time application of just a little humate, soft rock phosphate and Epsom salts will add much needed trace minerals usually missing in new beds. The latter is a one time amendment and should never be necessary again if you take care of your soil. They really make a difference, though. Use them!
Applying compost tea will increase the beneficial soil microorganisms and reduce disease-causing pest organisms. One gallon will cover an acre. Reapply once a month during the growing season.
After planting your roses, top the beds with 2" to 4" of mulch. Mulch is another critical ingredient. It keeps the soil cool on hot days and reduces evaporation, thus water requirements. Without mulch, your soil will dry out and harden. Mulch also improves your soil. Every year it will get better and better as it breaks down and becomes part of the soil.

Your new plants were watered at the nursery regularly. In the heat of the summer, that means every day. According to the season and time of year, newly planted roses will need to be watered immediately. However, regardless of climate, all newly installed plants will require a 30 to 60 day establishing period. During that time, it is critical to provide ample amounts of water. Water every day for the first 10 days, every other day the following week, every third day the next week and so on.
To lower your maintenance, lay drip irrigation lines under your mulch. All of our rose beds have drip irrigation. Not only does it reduce your effort and the amount of total water delivered, it deep waters your beds and does not get the foliage wet. Wet foliage provides a place for fungus (i.e. Blackspot) to grow. Not all drip hoses are the same. Ask someone with a successful background using a drip system (not just selling them) for his or her recommendation. Drip hose is a very inexpensive solution for the do-it-yourselfer.

Feed the soil, not the roses. Roses must have food if they are to remain healthy and produce good blooms. There are two ways to insure there is enough food: using synthetic chemical fertilizers for the plants or adding organic material for the soil. We prefer the latter method. If your soil is healthy, your roses will be fed all they need. Synthetic chemical fertilizers can create a vicious cycle of problems requiring additional chemicals to correct the imbalance. Old roses have survived centuries without chemical assistance. By providing minimal assistance, they should survive another few years in your yard.
Another advantage of organic fertilizers over synthetic chemical products, is that organics will not leach out of the soil. It will sit in your soil and wait for the plant to use it. Synthetic chemicals will be leached each time you water the plant or it rains. Organic food acts as a slow release food.
The organic rose food we use contains Alfalfa Meal, Soft Rock Phosphate, several types of compost, worm castings and rabbit manure (which build enzymes and provide a natural biological foundation in the soil.) Greensand is also added which provides iron, silica and some 32 trace minerals.
Thoroughly combine ingredients and apply one cup of mixture for each foot of shrub height. Lightly scratch the mixture into the soil using caution not to harm the roots. Water-in thoroughly.
Use this tonic immediately after spring and fall pruning (here, early February and late September.) It is so effective, supplemental fertilizations are not required but once a month in the spring. Both you and the roses should rest during summer's heat. It can also be applied to all blooming perennials, roses, azaleas and fruit-producing trees and plants.
For supplemental fertilizations, use a blend of fish emulsion and kelp liquid concentrate pour this around the watering well of each rose.
Finally, always make sure your soil is covered with mulch. This helps regulate the temperature of the soil and conserves moisture. 2" to 4" of mulch twice a year should be ample. You will know it is time to add mulch when what was on there is gone and your soil is visible in spots.
You may be tempted by those advertisements in gardening magazines about the fantastic results you will see for a particular chemical fertilizer. Don't do it! A single application will kill beneficial microbes and can require yeas of remediation.
Living in good soil, roses need little more than lots of sunshine and water. There are a few things you can do to produce more blooms.
Pruning. All roses need pruning at some point. Otherwise, they will get in the way. We try to prune every bush in early February down here on the Gulf Coast. About a month before our spring, prune away all dead canes and twiggy stems, and reduce the size of the rose by about one-third. These are landscape bushes. Prune so that it has a shape that compliments your garden.
Pick your roses. This is very hard for many people to do, as they want to leave them for other to enjoy. Keep in mind roses only want to do one thing...perpetuate themselves. The sweet scent of the bloom is not only for our enjoyment, but to also attract pollinating insects such as bees. The petals will drop and the bloom will eventually turn into a 'hip' or seed pod. When the hip is ripe, it will drop to the ground. As long as there are hips forming, the bush no longer needs to bloom. So, it slows down or stops. Picking your blooms, dead or alive, keeps the bush blooming for you all season long.
The Gulf Coast climate provides ample rainfall during the peak leaf growth period, moderate winters that rarely result in freezing damage, and hot, sunny summers for flower production. Roses planted over 100 years ago and abandoned are still being found, proving this is a favorable climate.

Unfortunately, the same conditions that favor roses also favor their diseases and pests. Frequent rainfall and high humidity encourage several leaf diseases. Mild winters allow pests and diseases to live through the coldest part of the year, and hot, humid summers give them the chance to build up their populations to survive yet another mild winter. Your solution is to seed your garden with a good supply of beneficial insects. Beneficial nematodes is but one bug that will work for you all year and is the equivalent to a broad spectrum insecticide. Spot treat with a neem oil based spray. It will selectively kill bad bugs (only those that chew on the leaves) leaving your good bugs to continue to hunt and eat the bad bugs.