In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2007
Regional Report

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Rose and bougainvillea live happily side by side in this Brisbane garden.

Rampant Roses

Every morning as I drive to the community swimming pool I pass a bower of wild yellow roses growing up a telephone pole. They have long since escaped into a tree, but the effect is glorious. Their sturdy, sunny blossoms abound, giving the tree the illusion of being covered with rich, creamy lace. I don't know who planted these roses, or how long they have been there, but I do know they are thriving on no care at all. The wild bird population enjoys the rose hips in the winter months.

To Fuss, or Not to Fuss
I don't know how roses got the reputation for being fussy. Perhaps people in humid summer climates have trouble with the fungus issue, but here in California roses are ideally suited to our environment. There is no other ornamental plant I know of that is so easy to grow, especially the new varieties of shrub roses. The planting instructions should read; dig hole, plant, water, stand back!

California gardeners spend oodles of money on fungicides, specialty fertilizers, magic mulches, and all the other accoutrements available for roses. I'm not recommending that you change your spending habits, however I do believe if you plant several varieties of roses so you don't have a monoculture that shouts to every insect in the neighborhood "EAT HERE," you can enjoy roses with very little fuss.

The Combination Garden
When I worked for the City of Napa, we had a rose/cactus combination garden at JFK Park in the south part of town. The "garden" (I use that term loosely) was watered every two weeks with two percussion kickers -- those big, brass sprinklers that you see plugged into the ground. The sprinklers were left on for several hours, watering foliage, flowers, buds and all. We never had a fungus problem. The roses and the cacti both got the same treatment. The park gardeners would come out once or twice during the summer to hoe down the ever-present weeds and deadhead the roses with hedge shears, but I know for sure that those plants never got fertilized. In the winter, we brought out the loppers and cut all the rose plants down to 12 inches, no matter what kind of rose it was. You have never seen such glorious roses!

I do know that you can overwater roses. The new growth will be weak and floppy and susceptible to insect and fungus problems. Roses have deep roots, which is probably why wild roses do so well. When you water, do so infrequently and water deeply, so that a probe inserted into the soil can be easily pushed down 18 to 24 inches.

Mrs. Sam McCready
At Sunset Magazine, we had a rose called Mrs. Sam McCready that was trained to grow along a split rail fence surrounding the perimeter of the property. Mrs. Sam wasn't really a climber but a hybrid tea trained espalier-style along the fence. For years we watered those roses by hand every week, dragging hoses up and down Middlefield Avenue. Now, they live on a drip system that delivers water directly to the roots. Mrs. Sam doesn't seem to mind at all.

I am not encouraging you to ignore your roses, however, I am giving you permission to take vacation now and then. They might actually thrive on neglect!


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