Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Q & A from my St. Pete Times column in 2006

La Reine

Lady Bugs boinking

E. Veyrat Hermanos

Dear Mr. Starnes,
Your article re "Roses don't abhor water on leaves" was of interest to me.
Over the years I have tried to grow roses and have always used fungicides and insecticides on them. Having done that for so many years is it possible that the roses can be retrained to live without these pesticides?
This year for the first time there were 'thrips' on the buds and I used a malathion spray on them every other day until they were "thrip" free.
What would you recommend for this type of invasion?
Hi Elizabeth,
I am glad to hear that you want to explore the non-toxic approaches to rose gardening that so many of the world's leading rosarians have relied on for years to make the hobby safe for the environment, much less expensive, and far less of the hassle that people associate with roses. In my garden and my clients' rose gardens no one technique is used for this-and-that pest. Rather, by withholding ALL chemical pesticides, adding beneficial fungi, bacteria, and predatory insects, we allow a natural balance to occur that prevents most bug and disease issues. I have never sprayed once since 1998 when I bought this south Tampa lot, have over 200 roses, and thrips are a very rare occurrence. Yet the sprayed gardens I visit fight them and other plagues throughout the year! My women friends have long told me they get yeast infections following an antibiotic regimen due to good bacteria in the GITand UT being killed off; they respond by eating and/or doucheing with yogurt. Adding beneficials to a long sprayed garden is like yogurt for the garden. Try to add a broad range of beneficial fungi and microbes and beneficial insects to your gardens' ecologies to begin creating a healthy balance. Sprinkling your gardens with any dry compost maker plus "Calf Manna" from a feed store plus Ringer Lawn Restore will allow you to add beneficial bacteria and fungi. And once you stop spraying, various native lady bugs, lace wings and tiny non-stinging trichogamma wasps (buy their eggs at 'Gardens Alive!') will colonize your roses as allies eating the bad bugs FOR you! Keep me posted!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Noisette 'Gold Blush'

Since the seed parent was Rosa moschata and the pollen parent was 'Abraham Darby', I see this hybrid of mine, 'Gold Blush', as an archetypal Noisette in the manner of 'Champney's Pink' (Rosa moschata X Old Blush). In Denver it was a very cold hardy arching shrub, here in Tampa it is a stiff-caned climber. Thankfully, in both climates it has that soul-penetrating cinammon-clove scent of Rosa moschata. Here are some photos and a link to more about it at HelpMeFind, THE best roses website on the planet. John

Friday, May 7, 2010

Xeric Roses

This is an article I wrote for my Rocky Mountain News column in 2005. Keep in mind that the list of xeric roses are of COLD HARDY roses that would likely struggle and fail in areas where the ground does not freeze, or where there is at least a sustained winter chill period. There are VERY few on that list I would even THINK of trying here in Tampa. Enjoy, John

Fragrant Shrub Roses: Sweet Yet Tough
Roughnecks for Colorado Landscapes
Have you ever pulled into your driveway and felt utterly underwhelmed by the bland "mustache" of boring junipers strangling the front of your home? Do you feel hemmed in by the insipid privets that form passionless parentheses constricting your property like cheap bookends? Is your shrubbery in general about as exciting as reruns of "Dragnet"? Do your hands ever lurch instinctively for the loppers and shovel to frenzily render a radical juniperectomy, only to feel paralyzed once again by not knowing of alternative INTERESTING replacement shrubs that are are also drought-resistant, winter-proof and low maintenance?

Believe it or not, some obscure but beautiful and TOUGH varieties of richly-colored and deeply fragrant Shrub Roses slowly becoming available in Colorado can artfully fill the void created by joyously tearing out colorless, scentless, soul-less and prickly overgrown junipers and privets. And unlike the the frail, finicky, short-lived grafted "garden roses" that convince so many folks they have "brown thumbs", these nuclear war-proof Shrub Roses, when grown on their OWN ROOTS, mature into beautiful flowering landscape shrubs that need no chemical coddling, and little watering once established. Let’s face it; few of us lovingly admire a sprawling blob of junipers....many of us would be awed by a privacy hedge bearing hundreds of richly scented pink, red, white or yellow roses each summer, a hedge that perfumes the yard while providing luscious Victorian style bouquets for the dinner table, fragrant petals for potpourris, plus bright red hips for winter color and attracting wild birds.

While many different kinds of near-xeric, cold hardy yet lusciously fragrant varieties may be lumped under the catch-all label of "Shrub Roses", those listed below share the same minimal care needs: one optional annual pruning in early to mid-July after last petal drop, a 6"-8" deep mulch of tree grindings (usually free from a tree trimming service) to keep their root zone moist, 1 or 2 deep waterings per month in summer, and one annual feeding of organic nutrients in April (try 2 cups each of horse manure, Epsom Salts, kelp meal, alfalfa pellets and cottonseed meal per bush). All are remarkably resistant to disease, insects, drought and winter freeze damage, yet are (mysteriously) rarely offered for sale by Colorado nurseries. Beware: those offered for sale in some quite famous mail-order catalogs are almost always GRAFTED onto a rootstock often grown in mild southern regions near the Mexican border; avoid these wimpy wannabes! These grafted, namby-pamby impostors are rarely vigorous or long-lived despite the alluring pictures in those glossy catalogs; bu only OWN ROOT Shrub Roses if you want the hassle-free toughness of junipers and privets PLUS wonderfully fragrant roses to plunge your nose into......breathe deep! is good!

Before FINALLY nuking those junipers though, seek out their replacements from this list of fragrant Shrub Roses known to thrive on the plains of Colorado with minimal care; those followed by an (R) can bless your landscape with a Repeat flush of blooms in late summer and early fall. Remember that Own-Root roses are generally small when when purchased...a turn-of-the-century saying about own-root roses’ slow initial growth rate is: "First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they LEAP!". Unlike grafted roses, they initially expend their energy forming an admirable root system THEN get big, living for many decades. That is why so many very old ones are seen thriving in abandoned cemetaries and old homes and farmsteads..they are true survivors in our harsh climate and high pH heavy clay soils. And the sensual symphony of their heady fragrances and broad range of colors can create a water-wise annual jolt of joy where monochromatic junipers once induced a near-coma with their numbing sameness.

So if you’ve ever felt you had to choose between keeping big boring bushes or yanking them only to have a starkly empty landscape, just remember Mr. Spock’s truism: "There is always a third alternative". And own-root Shrub Roses are that alternative, one deserving the long-overdue attention of our eyes, noses, minds and souls.So go ahead....DO that juniperectomy!’s the delicious menu you can select from:

Desiree’ Parmentier (Gallica, circa 1848). Deep pink, very sweet, full of petals.
"High Country Banshee" (unknown) Light pink, Victorian-style roses; very fragrant.
Harison’s Yellow (Hybrid foetida, 1830) Bright yellow, odd scent, indestructible.
Therese Bugnet (Hybrid Rugosa, 1950) Old-fashioned pink sweet roses (R).
Alba maxima (Alba, circa 1100 A.D.) Petal-packed wonderfully scented snow white roses.
Great Western (Hybrid Bourbon, 1832) Crimson-purple "cabbage roses", incredibly fragrant.
Complicata (Hybrid Gallica?, ancient) Big pink single (5-petals) fragrant roses, winter hips.
Baronne Prevost (Hybrid Perpetual, 1842) Rich pink, gloriously fragrant Victorian roses.
Fruhlingsgold (Hybrid Spinosissima, 1937) Giant arching shrub, fragrant light yellow roses.
Rosa eglanteria (species, circa 1551) Small, single pink roses, delightful apple-scented leaves,
abundant winter hips.
Rosa glauca (species, 1830) Silvery-plum colored leaves, scentless small single pink roses,
tremendous numbers of winter hips for wild birds.
Blush Damask (Damask, 1759) Medium pink, lusciously scented Victorian roses, big bush.
Sir Thomas Lipton (Hybrid rugosa, 1900) Clusters of fragrant white roses (R).
"Victorian Memory" (study name; Boursault hybrid?) Oddly-scented lilac-pink petal-packed
blooms on a tall thornless arching shrub-climber (R).
Austrian Copper (species hybrid, circa 1100 A.D.) Single, oddly-scented blooms of bright
orange-red and yellow.
Persian Yellow (species, 1837) Fully double, oddly-scented bright yellow roses.
Variegata di Bologna (Hybrid Bourbon (?), 1909) Fully double, cupped VERY fragrant
roses of pure white striped crimson and purple...very dramatic.
American Pillar (complex hybrid, 1902) Barely fragrant bright pink single roses in clusters
on a BIG arching shrub-climber. Indestructible.
Pink Clouds (Hybrid Multiflora miniature). This MONSTER rambler bears hundreds of small, very
sweet single pink roses. Gillions of winter hips!
William Lobb (Moss, 1855) Wonderfully fragrant, decadently dark purple-crimson Victorian
style big blooms on an arching shrub-climber. A living treasure!
"Champagne Arches" (study name) Big arching shrub bears scentless peachy-pink roses.
Rosa paulii (species, 1903) Single, sweet white roses on a low groundcover plant.
Rosa woodsii (species, 1820). Native to Colorado. Single, fragrant rose-pink roses followed
by numerous hips. Colonizes by runners.
Rosa spinosissima (species, prior to 1600). VERY cold hardy. Single, sweet, creamy white
blooms early in spring, numerous and beautiful black hips.
Rosa multiflora (species, 1868). Rampant rambling shrub, hundreds of very fragrant white roses
like apple blossoms. Multitudes of winter hips.
Alba suaveolens (Alba, prior to 1750). Very sweetly-scented, semi-double snow white roses
followed by flavorful red hips.
Hansa (Hybrid rugosa, 1905) Fully double, CLOVE-scented violet-magenta big blooms
followed by BIG flavorful hips. (R)
"Fairmount Red" (study name). Wonderfully fragrant, crimson-magenta Victorian-style
"cabbage roses" in clusters on a big arching shrub. Discovered in historic
Fairmount Cemetery.
Francis E. Lester (Hybrid Musk, 1946) Monstrous climbing shrub, big clusters of medium size
single roses of palest pink fading to white. WONDERFUL fragrance. Oodles
of winter hips for the wild birds to feast on.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cheap Non-Toxic Fungus Control for Roses

We’ve all had to deal with fungus problems on roses, squash and more. And we’ve all had aphids, mealy bugs, scale and red spider mites feast on garden treasures too. Those funky smelling chemical fungicides and insecticides rarely seem to work for long, and if they do, eating the produce or sniffing the blooms can be pretty scary! Plus, who wants to eat or inhale toxic chemicals? But for over 100 years Southern gardeners have relied on a cheap, non-toxic and VERY effective natural alternative they bought in grocery stores, and that thankfully we can now also order toll free or on-line.

What is it? An old-fashioned lye soap called ‘Kirk’s Castile’. Yup, dissolved in hot water this true soap (most "soaps" these days are detergents) is an organic gardener’s dream come true as a non-toxic all purpose garden spray. I was taught this concept in the 70's when I was an idealistic hippie/art major living in Seminole Heights with wise elderly neighbors who’d used it since the 1930's. These women said that back when they were young gardeners it wasn’t called "organic gardening"…. it was just a very cheap, tried-and-true common sense gardening aid…just splash the used dish and laundry water on plants with fungus and bug problems!

To make a small batch of soap spray, rub a bar of "Kirk’s Castile" against a cheese grater, then dissolve 1-3 heaping tablespoon of the soap flakes in 1 gallon of very hot tap water in an old plastic milk jug. Let it sit a couple days, shaking the jug daily to dissolve lumps. Then pour the spray into a trigger spray bottle or your garden pump sprayer then spray the affected plants every 7-10 days till they are dripping. Be sure to apply the spray when you don’t plan on watering for a few days so it can cling to the leaves and do its job. Don’t be afraid to experiment with slightly weaker or stronger strengths as it is non-burning unlike some of the dishwashing detergent liquids you may have tried in vain.

To make a big batch of concentrate for future use, drop a whole bar into a wide mouth gallon container. Fill that jug with 1 gallon very hot tap water and let sit a week, stirring daily. You’ll end up with 1 gallon of a thick soap concentrate that keeps just about forever in a lidded container. To make a batch of spray, dissolve 1 cup of this concentrate in 1 gallon warm water, shake, then pour it into your sprayer. Thus a cheap bar of soap will make you SIXTEEN GALLONS of a very safe and effective fungicide and insecticide that won’t harm the environment nor make your vegetables and flowers and herbs toxic. For tougher problems try 1 part soap concentrate to 10 parts water for a thicker, more potent soap spray. And there is little worry of leaf burn from harsh summer sun.

How does it work? The soap alkalinizes the leaf surface, but powdery mildew and black spot and sooty mold ( on citrus and gardenias) fungi need an ACIDIC leaf cuticle to grow on…plus as a soap it helps to rinse them off. Spray UP at the undersides of the leaves if you are after blackspot fungus on roses.

What’s cool too is that the coconut oil in the soapy water (true soap is an oil or fat plus lye) help suffocate bad bugs by plugging up their breathing holes and permeating their chitinous exoskeletons. (that’ll teach’em!) Aphids on new growth? Spider mites on leaf undersides? Mealy bugs or scale on the stems on shrubs? White fly on your tomatoes? Just spray the plant thoroughly till it drips. Quite often the wing coverings of our garden allies the ladybugs and lacewings seem to spare them by acting as umbrellas. Adding 1 cup of cheap vegetable oil to that soapy gallon and shaking it thoroughly will let you wipe out vast numbers of scale insects.

Okay, its 2010, not 1976, and I am a little more grounded and happily middle-aged now, but now more and more folks wish for less toxic ways to grow their garden favorites. So a century old secret deserves to be better known and tried before we resort to expensive chemical sprays that can kill many unintended and valuable inhabitants of our yards’ ecosystems and endanger our children and pets while adding to the burden of poisons endured by our own bodies, the groundwater and what remains of the planet's ecology.
Publix, Albertson’s Kirk’s Natural 1-800-825-4757

"Fairmount Red" is a "chameleon rose"

In Denver, the original plant, plus the clone in my south hedge, would make deep dusky red/magenta blooms when hungry, but when well fed, especially with kelp meal, would produce medium pink blooms!

My Tampa specimen, maybe because I used a soluble bloom booster a friend gave me a 20 lb. bag of, bore its most recent blooms in uncannily "Gallica-purple" color shades! As I expected, my camera barely captured those sumptuous purple overtones, but these pics give you some idea. What a miracle to be growing this VERY cold hardy once-bloomer in Tampa due to this third attempt in ten years being in a restricted-drainage container that in hindsight I see now was an early prototype of my wonderful Water Wise Container Gardens that are letting me grow Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals and Hybrid Teas, all own root and organic despite the widespread dogma they MUST be budded to Fortuniana and sprayed to even stand a chance. Many Florida rosarians state as fact that, with a VERY few exceptions, the Hybrid Perpetuals and Bourbons "can't" grow here and that once bloomers like "Fairmount Red" can't grow here at all.....good thing my roses don't know these "rules"!

Denver rosarian Cheryl Netter and I used to speculate that "Fairmount Red", which I discovered in Fairmount Cemetery in 1989 I think ( I just found some OLD notes!),might be a Hybrid China derived from a Gallica due its matte foliage, saturated color, and capacity to sucker. It can be purchased from High Country Roses in Utah. Enjoy, John

Monday, May 3, 2010

video tour of "Denver Roses" in my Tampa yard

'Seagull' Rambler in my Tampa Yard

I loved my 'Seagull' in my Denver yard that crept up the interior of a cedar tree then spilled out.....each June it looked like a fragrant white fountain! Years ago a noted Florida rosarian "informed" me and others that the Multiflora ramblers performed very poorly, if at all, in Florida, but he grew his on the Fortuniana rootstock plus used a toxic spray regimen, tons of water and chemical feedings. Since I'd seen 'Pink Clouds' do okay here in the yard of a Tampa friend I'd given one to, when I bought this property I decided to try 'Seagull' but on its own roots and all organic...and it THRIVES here despite years of drought! I took this pic yesterday by using my zoom lense since my hell zone front yard revealed by my cutting down my monster 'Mermaid' (which this same rosarian declared also performs poorly here!) in impassable to share how lovely 'Seagull' looks despite my not having fed or watered it for over a year due to that 40 foot across 'Mermaid' keeping me out of my own front yard all that time.

Once I clear out that "Hell Zone" front yard I am testing other Multiflora-based ramblers I've purchased like 'Rambling Rector', which I also loved in my Denver yard. I think it is more fun and more revealing to keep an open mind about trying differing kinds of roses vs. buying into the dogma "Oh, that kind can't grow here" since my Denver yard had a full collection of Teas, Chinas and Noisettes, all felt by many to NEED a mild climate.

Enjoy! John