The article below was the basis for my talk at The Antique Rose Emporium Fall Roses Festival in 2008, and is how I have grown roses for myself and landscape clients for many years. Cheap, effective, and good for the environment!
"PRO-BIOTIC ROSE GROWING
I’ve been in many rose gardens over the years and one thing has been very noticeable....the most disease and bug-ridden ones are those subjected to regimens of toxic pesticides. "But I HAVE to spray my roses!" some folks protest. But just as many women get a severe yeast infection after taking a broad spectrum antibiotic like tetracycline, with the doctor THEN trying to treat that with a new drug that kills off more beneficial bacteria in her body, the sprayed rose garden is denied having bacterial and fungal and insect allies that would fend off diseases and pests FOR the rosarian...hence that poor soul feels, again, that they "must" spray yet another toxic pesticide in a classic vicious cycle.
The healthiest and most stable ecologies in the natural world are complex, multi-tiered ones, with predator and prey creating sustainable balances...you want a FEW aphids to insure your lacewings and lady bugs stay and do their job, and, like the human body, a healthy rose garden is teeming with beneficial bacteria and fungi that keep the pathogenic ones under control. Fungicides wipe them out, with the disease-causing ones being the first to re-inhabit the garden. Science has confirmed that a truly healthy human adult has in their digestive tract 3-5 POUNDS of living bacteria representing up to three THOUSAND species, and that their cell count exceeds the number of cells in the body! Seventy percent of our total immune system is comprised OF these microbes! And just as many of us refuse antibiotics and instead ingest pro-biotic foods like kefir, kimchee, yogurt, natto, tempeh, miso and more to keep our internal ecology complex, we can easily and cheaply duplicate this mind set in the rose garden, and thus transition to pesticide-free, organic rose gardening.
First, stop using ALL pesticides except perhaps BT (Dipel) since it is itself a natural bacteria that controls caterpillars. Switch from chemical fertilizers to natural ones like horse and sheep and poultry poop, kelp meal, alfalfa pellets, menhaden fish meal and ‘Calf Manna’ (which contains several beneficial fungi and bacteria) from feed stores, Mill’s Magic Rose Mix, and compost, since chemical fertilizers usually lack trace elements, can harm soil organisms, and can force a plant to exude a scent that ATTRACTS insect pests.
Next, just as you would eat yogurt or drink kefir after taking antibiotics, begin inoculating your rose garden with good critters to crowd out the bad ones that cause black spot and powdery mildew and rust. Favorites of mine include any dry compost starter (usually sold in a 1-2 pound box) plus fresh horse manure tea, compost tea, rich soil from an old growth forest or virgin meadow, plus commercial preparations of mycorrihizae that create a symbiosis with your roses’ roots to better absorb nutrients. Below is a recipe for a brew that you can sprinkle onto your roses with a watering can, or strain and apply with a clean new sprayer that has never held pesticides. While this recipe will never be on The Food Channel, it can help ease you into pleasurable, inexpensive and non-toxic rose gardening. Enjoy!
Fill a 5 gallon bucket with 4 gallons of well water or city water aged two days. Add 1 gallon of FRESH horse poop, stir daily for one week. Then add 2 cups Calf Manna, 1 cup compost starter, 2 cups good garden soil or fresh compost, 2 tablets of ‘Primal Defense’ (health food store or on-line) and 2 cups sugar. Stir, let brew for one day, and then sprinkle lightly all over your rose garden, both the plants and the soil. Since your garden will now no longer be toxic, these beneficial microbes will multiply and create a stable complex ecology to help make rose growing a joy."