Rising to the rose challenge

Raised beds, soil amendment keep finicky flowers happy


February is the month for roses – giving, receiving and perhaps even wondering if such fragrant beauty can be brought to our home gardens come spring.

While we may not be able to duplicate what comes from the florist’s shop in our back yards, growing beautiful roses is possible for home gardeners who are willing to choose the rose and the site wisely, then follow up accordingly with care and maintenance.

At least six hours of full, midday sun are a must, for starters.

Master Gardener Carey Jacquay, who has given presentations on growing roses to Master Gardener classes (including mine years ago) and other audiences, suggests avoiding hybrid tea roses, as their complex, warmer-clime origins do not correspond well with northeast Indiana’s seasons and heavy clay soil. Not everyone wants to put the time and effort required to make up the difference, she said.

Better bets are shrub, landscape or English roses, Jacquay said, or the popular Knockout variety. The American Rose Society (www.rose.org), both the website and its “Encyclopedia of Roses,” can be very useful to prospective rose growers, she said, as the organization tests extensively and picks new species winners each year.

“That’s a good rose, if it’s been chosen,” Jacquay said.

But people do love those hybrid tea and floribunda roses for the attractive and abundant blooms they produce, said Lynda Heavrin, manager of landscape and horticulture for the City of Fort Wayne. This past summer, the city renovated the beds on the north side of Lakeside Park’s popular rose garden to raise the hybrid teas and floribundas growing there to provide better drainage.

“We lost so many because they were sitting low,” she said. Roses elsewhere in the park were already planted higher and were much healthier, so it made sense to dig them up and plant them higher as well. Raised beds are really the best way to keep those finicky floribundas and hybrid teas healthy, she added.

Jacquay agrees that raised beds are the best home for roses, both for drainage and for avoiding the soil compaction that can happen with traditional beds.

It’s also important to amend the soil, Heavrin said; compost can be put down in early spring (though manure should wait until fall). She’s had good luck with mushroom compost. “Make the soil nice and fluffy,” she said.

Jacquay suggests pruning the roses hard – down to 10 inches above the ground – in April to stimulate the hormones that tell the plant it’s time to get growing and blooming.

“The ones that bloom all season are the ones to prune in April,” she said, which means just about any rose you’d find at a big box store or garden center.

As with many garden topics, there’s much more to the story of growing roses in Northeast Indiana than I can address here. In addition to the ARS, Purdue publication HO-128: Roses has more information on site preparation, fertilization, disease prevention and overwintering.

Roses are not that hard to grow, Heavrin said. “Once you give them the right conditions, the right care and a good winter, they’re happy, beautiful plants.” Aren’t we all?

The Lakeside rose garden is tended by two seasoned full-time gardeners and two seasonal employees. These folks know their roses. Regardless of whether we grow roses ourselves, we are lucky to have this crown jewel in Fort Wayne and should enjoy it whenever we can.

Finally, no February rose column would be complete without a guide to the messages conveyed by different rose colors. So, for those of you sending or receiving roses for Valentine’s Day, here are the traditional meanings associated with a few hues . . . with room for interpretation. See below.


Red: Traditional: True love. Possible alternative: “Roses are red,” so they must not come in any other color. Done.

Pink: Traditional: Grace, appreciation. Possible alternative: I’m not ready for red, but women like pink, right?

White: Traditional: Purity, innocence, reverence. Possible alternative: I know how much you hate clashing colors.

Yellow: Traditional: Friendship, joy, caring. Possible alternative: I have you confused with someone from Texas.

Orange: Traditional: Enthusiasm and passion. Possible alternative: I’m rooting for Northrop.

First appeared in the February 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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