Mother Earth Living

Green Patch: Rose Gardening Advice

Expert gardening advice on choosing a rose variety and treating rose diseases.
By Kris Wetherbee
February/March 2010
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Roses with outstanding fragrance will taste the best, says Contributing Editor Jim Long.
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Q. I am a beginning gardener interested in rose gardening, but the process seems overwhelming. I don’t even know which variety to choose. Are most roses bred for beauty or aroma? Are all roses edible? Help!

A. With more than 140 rose species and 40,000 roses listed on the International Rose Register, it’s no wonder that choosing one to grow can be such a challenge. Centuries of hybridizing have produced an astonishing range of forms, bloom colors and shapes. Some roses are scent-laden, while others have little or no scent at all. Growth patterns also vary widely, from groundcovers only a few inches high, to erect and arching shrubs, to giant climbers and ramblers growing from 10 to 50 feet tall. So, then, are most roses bred for beauty or aroma? The short answer is a bit of both.

Keep in mind that fragrance is individually perceived—people typically have different reactions to and detect different nuances of the same scent. What smells heavenly to one person can smell unpleasant to another. Some say that antique roses as a group seem more fragrant than modern varieties. But many newer roses—including hybrid tea roses such as Fragrant Cloud and Mister Lincoln—are bred for fragrance, while some antique roses are completely lacking in scent. In general, the types of roses deemed to be among the most fragrant include alba, Bourbon, damask, moss, musk and rugosa. If a rose’s description doesn’t list fragrance, then its scent is most likely weak or nonexistent.

All rose petals and rose hips are edible, though some taste better than others. Just as with fragrance, flavors also vary depending on the type and growing conditions. Old-fashioned, aromatic shrub roses that are red or pink and organically raised are the most delicious, says Contributing Editor Jim Long. Some are sweet with subtle undertones, others are spicy, and still others hint of strawberries, green apples or other fruit. Some roses have a metallic taste, making them unpalatable to most people, though they are still edible.

Q. I think my roses have a fungus. How can I identify and treat fungal diseases? Are some products more environmentally friendly than others?

A. Several types of fungal diseases can affect roses. Black spot, powdery mildew and gray mold (also known as botrytis blight) are among the most common and serious. The best way to treat fungal diseases is to prevent them from occurring through careful selection, proper rose gardening techniques and organic growing methods.

For example, if fungal diseases are a problem in your area, then grow disease-resistant roses. Create healthy soil by using organic fertilizers and adding lots of organic matter before planting. Plant roses in full sun (provide afternoon shade in hotter climates), allowing plenty of space between plants to increase air circulation. Apply an organic mulch and be sure to water the roots and not the foliage. And always remove any diseased or damaged wood. If disease does take hold, here’s help on how to treat it organically.

Black spot appears as black or brown spots on leaves starting at the bottom of the plant. Remove crowded canes and infected leaves, then spray with an organic fungicide, such as sulfur or Bordeaux mix. Or apply a baking soda spray (1 tablespoon each baking soda and horticultural oil dissolved in 1 gallon of water) to the entire plant, starting at the bottom.

Powdery mildew results in a white powdery coating on leaves and flower buds and causes leaves to curl. Remove crowded canes and infected leaves, then spray weekly, switching between a milk spray (1 part milk to 9 parts water) and the baking soda spray.

Gray mold causes the vegetation and often the buds to blacken. To combat this, remove affected areas and treat as you would for black spot. 


Frequent contributor Kris Wetherbee grows herbs in western Oregon and lends gardening advice to Herb Companion's readers. 


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