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A rose is a rose - is a rose

SHARE A rose is a rose - is a rose

Admittedly, the weather forecast is boring. Hot and continued hot with no relief in sight. Flowers are protesting, vegetables are protesting, trees are protesting and gardeners are protesting.

Take a peek at the rose garden. Most are shut down and looking dismal. Yet some rose gardens are blooming well and flourishing. What's the secret?

Enter Roger Keddington, rose grower and president of the Utah Rose Society. He spends his time growing roses and coaxing them through the hot weather. He helps other gardeners do the same.

I asked him to share his ideas of how to persuade roses to stay healthy, happy and most of all, in flower though the dog days of summer.

His suggestions run the gamut from variety selection to pest control to pruning. Knowing how to use this advice will help you keep your roses thriving in spite of the hot weather.

First, a lesson on pruning and deadheading. Pruning and deadheading are critical. If the spent blossoms aren't removed, the plants start to form seed heads or pods. When that happens, the energy the plant produces goes into forming seeds.

"Most people who grow roses have heard that they need to deadhead, and some even have heard about cutting back to a five-leaflet leaf," he said. "That means that you cut the old flower off at the first five-leaflet leaf below the spent blooms."

Keddington, however, is more aggressive, cutting down even further. He follows the stem down until it is about the size of a pencil. Then he makes the cut right above that bud. This give a longer thicker stem on the flower.

"Continue to deadhead the roses until later in the season," he advised. "When you want the roses to start hardening off, let the hips form. This slows down the vegetative growth and the plant can withstand the winters better."

He cuts further down on the stem because the bud there is stronger and will produce a better bloom. If you only remove the flower, then the buds below them are weak or nonexistent.

The roses will also have stronger necks that will not bend over if you use them as cut flowers, he said.

Diseases can also be a problem.

"Just plan to have increased fungus problems," he said. "Powdery mildew is probably the worst problem. I have to spray to keep the problem in check."

He uses Rubigan, Banner Max or Bayleton. (The first two are commercial products. Bayleton is available in small quantities as Monterey Chemical Fungi Fighter.) If possible, alternate the use of these fungicides to prevent the disease from building up resistance to the products.

"Powdery mildew just gets worse as the season progresses. As we start getting cooler nights, the disease will be more serious. If you have susceptible varieties, you have to take care of them throughout the season."

Other hot weather pests are aphids, mites and thrips.

Aphids have not been as much of a problem this year as in other years. They are sucking pests and curl the leaves and distort the blossoms. Spray them off with water or use insecticidal soap. Natural predators will often keep these pests under control if the predators are not killed by excessive spraying.

Spider mites are related to spiders and suck the plant juices out of the leaves and blossoms. The foliage turns gray-green, and tiny webs appear around the blossom heads. Try spraying the undersides of the leaves with a strong stream of water to wash the mites away. If the problems persist, use chemical miticides such as Kelthane or Vendex or rose systemics and insecticidal soaps. Systemics are effective but are no longer recommended by many rosarians.

Thrips are ever more difficult to deal with. They are particularly annoying on light-colored flowers. The insects have rasping, sucking mouth parts that cause damage roughly equivalent to rubbing sandpaper across the tender petals. This leaves the edges brown and damaged. Control is difficult because the pest often is inside the buds, making conventional sprays ineffective.

Keddington also recommends a regular fertilization and mulching program. "I like to use a combination of regular and organic fertilizer. For the fertilizer, choose a product that has nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Look for a 16-16-8, a 10-10-10 or any other combination that has nutrients in each category.

He also recommends a good organic fertilizer. His favorite is alfalfa pellets. They are high in nitrogen and as they break down they release the nutrients very gradually. They also add organic matter to the soil. You can buy alfalfa pellets at farm or feed supply stores.

You can use the pellets anytime because they never burn the plants. A layer of organic mulch also helps the plants and controls the weeds.

Keddington is an avid rose grower and credits his love of roses to his grandmother, who let him help her in the garden when he was very young.

"She loved to grow iris and roses and instilled in me a great love for all plants. I credit the various societies and clubs that I have been a member of over the years for the providing me with excellent information and expanding my interest in the plants."

Follow his tips for keeping those roses looking good and for keeping them blooming in spite of the heat. The roses will thank you for the tender care you give them.