Soil for the Roses
The Rose will only do its best in a soil that is rather heavy with clay, or a tenacious loam. It likes to feel the earth firm about its roots. In light, loose soils it never does well, though it frequently makes a vigorous growth of branches in them, but it is from a more compact soil that we get the most and finest flowers.
Some varieties do well in a soil of clay containing considerable gravel. Such a soil provides for the roots the firmness of which I have spoken, while the gravel insures perfect drainage, a matter of great importance in Rose-culture. Success cannot be expected in a soil unduly retentive of moisture. Very heavy soils can be lightened by the addition of coarse, sharp sand, old mortar, and cinders. If the location chosen does not furnish perfect drainage, naturally, artificial drainage must be resorted to. Make an excavation at least a foot and a half in depth, and fill in, at the bottom, with bits of broken brick, crockery, coarse gravel, fine stone anything that will not readily decay—and thus secure a stratum of porous material through which the superfluous moisture in the soil will readily drain away. This is an item in Rose-culture that one cannot afford to ignore, if he desires fine Roses.
A rich soil must be provided for the plants in order to secure good results. This, also, is a matter of the greatest importance. The ideal fertilizer is old, well-rotted cow-manure so old that it is black, and so rotten that it will crumble at the touch of the hoe. On no account should fresh manure be used. If old manure cannot be obtained, substitute finely-ground bonemeal, in the proportion of a pound to as much soil as you think would fill a bushel-basket, on a rough estimate. But by all means use the cow-manure if it can possibly be procured, as nothing else suits the Rose so well. It will be safe to use it in the proportion of a third to the bulk of earth in which you plant your Roses. Whatever fertilizer is used should be thoroughly worked into the soil before the plants are set out. See that all lumps are pulverized. If this is not done, there is danger of looseness about some of the roots at planting-time, and this is a thing to guard against, especially with young plants.
Care should be taken while considering the location of rose bushes always.Choose, if possible, one that has an exposure to the sunshine of the morning and the middle of the day. A western exposure is a great deal better than none, but the heat of it is generally so intense that few Roses can long retain their freshness in it. Something can be done, however, to temper the extreme heat of it by planting shrubs where they will shade the plants from noon till three o’clock.
Care must be taken, in the choice of a location, to guard against drafts. If Roses are planted where a cold wind from the east or north can blow over the bed, look out for trouble. Plan for a screen of evergreens, if the bed is to be a permanent one. If temporary only, set up some boards to protect the plants from getting chilled until quick-growing annuals can be made to take their place. I have found that mildew on Rose-bushes is traceable, nine times out of ten, to exposure to cold drafts, and that few varieties are strong enough to withstand the effects of repeated attacks of it. The harm done by it can be mitigated, to some extent, by applications of flowers of sulphur, dusted over the entire plant while moist with dew, but it will not do to depend on this remedy. Remove the cause of trouble and there will be no need of any application.
Because the Rose is so beautiful, when in full bloom, quite naturally we like to plant it where its beauty can be seen to the best advantage. But I would not advise giving it a place on the lawn, or in the front yard. When plants are in bloom, people will look only at their flowers, and whatever drawbacks there are about the bush will not be noticed. But after the flowering period is over, the bushes will come in for inspection, and then it will be discovered that a Rose-bush without blossoms is not half as attractive as most other shrubs are. We prune it back sharply in our efforts to get the finest possible flowers from it, thus making it impossible to have luxuriance of branch or foliage. We thin it until there is not enough left of it to give it the dignity of a shrub. In short, as ornamental shrubs, Roses are failures with the exception of a few varieties, and these are not kinds in general cultivation. This being the case, it is advisable to locate the Rose-bed where it will not be greatly in evidence after the flowering season is ended. But try to have it where its glories can be enjoyed by the occupants of the home. Not under, or close to, the living-room windows, for that space should be reserved for summer flowers, but where it will be in full view, if possible, from the kitchen as well as the parlor. The flowering period of the Rose is so short that we must contrive to get the greatest possible amount of pleasure out of it, and in order to do that we want it where we can see it at all times.
Very few of our best Roses are really hardy, though most of the florists’ catalogues speak of them as being so. Many kinds lose the greater share of their branches during the winter, unless given good protection. Their roots, however, are seldom injured so severely that they will not send up a stout growth of new branches during the season, but this is not what we want. We want Roses lots of them and in order to have them we must contrive, in some way, to save as many of the last year’s branches as possible. Fortunately, this can be done without a great deal of trouble.
Here is my method of winter protection: Late in fall—generally about the first of November, or whenever there are indications that winter is about to close in upon us, bend the bushes to the ground, and cover them with dry earth, leaves, litter from the barn, or evergreen branches. In doing this I am not aiming to keep the frost away from the plants, as might be supposed, but rather to prevent the sun from getting at the soil and thawing the frost that has taken possession of it. Scientific investigation has proven that a plant, though comparatively tender, is not seriously injured by freezing, if it can be kept frozen until the frost is extracted from it naturally,—that is, gradually and according to natural processes. It is the frequent alternation of freezing and thawing that does the harm. Therefore, if you have a tender Rose that you want to carry over winter in the open ground, give it ample protection as soon as the frost has got at it, before it has a chance to thaw out and you can be reasonably sure of its coming through in spring in good condition. What I mean by the term “ample protection” is covering it with something that will shade the plant and counteract the influence of the sun upon the frozen soil, as most amateurs seem to think, for the purpose of keeping the soil warm. I have already made mention of this scientific fact, and may do it again because it is a matter little understood, but is one of the greatest importance, hence my frequent reference to it.
If earth is used as a covering, it should be dry, and after it is put on, boards, or something that will turn rain and water should be put over it. Old oil-cloth is excellent for this purpose. Canvas that has been given a coating of paint is good. Tarred sheathing-paper answers the purpose very well. Almost anything will do that prevents the earth from getting saturated with water, which, if allowed to stand among the branches, will prove quite as harmful as exposure to the fluctuations of winter weather. If leaves are used, and these make an ideal covering if you can get enough of them, then they can be kept in place by laying coarse wire netting over them. Or evergreen branches can be used to keep the wind from blowing them away. These branches alone will be sufficient protection for the hardier kinds, such as Harrison’s Yellow, Provence, Cabbage, and the Mosses, anywhere south of New York. North of that latitude I would not advise depending on so slight a protection. Earth-covering is preferable for the northern section of the United States.
It is no easy matter to get sturdy Rose-bushes ready for winter. Their canes are stiff and brittle. Their thorns are formidable. One person, working alone, cannot do the entire work to advantage. It needs one to bend the bushes down and hold them in that position while the other applies the covering. In bending the bush, great care must be taken to prevent its being broken, or cracked, close to the ground. Provide yourself with gloves of substantial leather or thick canvas before you tackle them. Then take hold of the cane close to the ground, with the left hand, holding it firmly, grasp the upper part of it with the right hand, and proceed gently and cautiously with the work until you have it flat on the ground. If your left-hand grasp is a firm one, you can feel the bush yielding by degrees, and this is what you should be governed by. On no account work so rapidly that you do not feel the resistance of the branch giving way in a manner that assures you that it is adjusting itself safely to the force that is being applied to it. When you have it on the ground, you will have to hold it there until it is covered with earth, unless you prefer to weight it down with something heavy enough to keep it in place while you cover it. Omit the weights, or relax your grip upon it, and the elastic branches will immediately spring back to their normal position. Sometimes, when a bush is stubbornly stiff, and refuses to yield without danger of injury, it is well to heap a pailful or two of earth against it, on the side toward which it is to be bent, thus enabling you to curve it over the heaped-up soil in such a manner as to avoid a sharp bend. Never hurry with this work. Take your time for it, and do it thoroughly, and thoroughness means carefulness, always. As a general thing, six or eight inches of dry soil will be sufficient covering for Roses at the north. If litter is used, the covering can be eight or ten inches deep.
Do not apply any covering early in the season, as so many do for the sake of “getting the work out of the way.” Wait until you are reasonably sure that cold weather is setting in.
Teas, and the Bourbon and Bengal sections of the so-called ever-bloomers, are most satisfactorily wintered in the open ground by making a pen of boards about them, at least ten inches deep, and filling it with leaves, packing them firmly over the laid-down plants. Then cover with something to shed rain. These very tender sorts cannot always be depended on to come through the winter safely at the north, even when given the best of protection, but where one has a bed of them that has afforded pleasure throughout the entire summer, quite naturally he dislikes to lose them if there is a possibility of saving them, and he will be willing to make an effort to carry them through the winter. If only part of them are saved, he will feel amply repaid for all his trouble. Generally all the old top will have to be cut away, but that does not matter with Roses of this class, as vigorous shoots will be sent up, early in the season, if the roots are alive, therefore little or no harm is done by the entire removal of the old growth.
The best Roses to plant are those grown by reliable dealers who understand how to grow vigorous stock, and who are too honest to give a plant a wrong name. Some unscrupulous dealers, whose supply of plants is limited to a few of the kinds easiest to grow, will fill any order you send them, and your plants will come to you labelled to correspond with your order. But when they come into bloom, you may find that you have got kinds that you did not order, and did not care for. The honest dealer never plays this trick on his customers. If he hasn’t the kinds you order, he will tell you so. Therefore, before ordering, try to find out who the honest dealers are, and give no order to any firm not well recommended by persons in whose opinion you have entire confidence. There are scores of such firms, but they do not advertise as extensively as the newer ones, because they have many old customers who do their advertising for them by “speaking good words” in their favor to friends who need anything in their line.
In planting Roses, make the hole in which they are to be set large enough to admit of spreading out their roots evenly and naturally. Let it be deep enough to bring the roots about the same distance below the surface as the plant shows them to have been before it was taken from the nursery row. When the roots are properly straightened out, fill in about them with fine soil, and firm it down well, and then add two or three inches more of soil, after which at least a pailful of water should be applied to each plant, to thoroughly settle the soil between and about the roots. Avoid loose planting if you want your plants to get a good start, and do well. When all the soil has been returned to the hole, add a mulch of coarse manure to prevent too rapid evaporation of moisture while the plants are putting forth new feeding roots.
If large-rooted plants are procured from the nursery, quite likely some of the larger roots will be injured by the spade in lifting them from the row. Look over these roots carefully, and cut off the ends of all that have been bruised, before planting. A smooth cut will heal readily, but a ragged one will not.
I would advise purchasing two-year-old plants, always. They have much stronger roots than those of the one-year-old class, and will give a fairly good crop of flowers the first season, as a general thing. And when one sets out a new Rose, he is always in a hurry to see “what it looks like.”
Be sure to buy plants on their own roots. It is claimed by many growers that many varieties of the Rose do better when grafted on vigorous stock than they do on their own roots, and this is doubtless true. But it is also true that the stock of these kinds can be increased more rapidly by grafting than from cuttings, and, because of this, many dealers resort to this method of securing a supply of salable plants. It is money in their pockets to do so. But it is an objectionable plan, because the scion of a choice variety grafted to a root of an inferior kind is quite likely to die off, and when this happens you have a worthless plant. Strong and vigorous branches may be sent up from the root, but from them you will get no flowers, because the root from which they spring is that of a non-flowering sort. Many persons cannot understand why it is that plants so luxuriant in growth fail to bloom, but when they discover that this growth comes from the root below where the graft was inserted, the mystery is explained to them. When grafted plants are used, care must be taken to remove every shoot that appears about the plant unless it is sent out above the graft. If the shoots that are sent up from below the graft are allowed to remain, the grafted portion will soon die off, because these shoots from the root of the variety upon which it was “worked” will speedily rob it of vitality and render it worthless. All this risk is avoided by planting only kinds which are grown upon their own roots.
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