In the Garden:
New England
November, 2008
Regional Report

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When your outside roses go dormant, invite a mini rose to spend the winter indoors.

Growing Mini Roses Indoors

The flowers I miss most when the garden winds down are the roses. Even though I know I have to leave the last blossoms on the plants to signal the approaching dormancy, it's hard to refrain from cutting just one more on my way inside. After all, a vase can get lonely.

Fortunately for us rose-lovers, miniature roses will flower a good part of the winter indoors in a sunny window or under grow lights. Adequate humidity is important, too, because inside air is so dry (quite a contrast from outdoor summer weather). They are susceptible to spider mites and aphids, and overall quite fussy, so it's not an arrangement to be entered into lightly. But it's just the kind of challenge many of us gardeners welcome to keep our green thumbs in shape over the winter.

Give Them a Rest
Mini roses that have been blooming during summer need a dormant period before their next blooming cycle. In our climate, it's easy to provide a rest by keeping them outside as the weather turns colder. Reduce watering, don't fertilize, don't prune, and let them begin going dormant. After a couple of light frosts, bring them inside.

Making the Transition Indoors
The switch from cool, moist outdoor air to warm, dry indoor environments is hard on any plant, but especially on mini roses. Give them a bath with insecticidal soap to remove any insect pests, and continue to rinse them off with water once a week in the sink. Transplant into slightly larger pots if needed. Plastic or ceramic pots are best because clay allows the soil to dry out too quickly. Use a sterile potting mix that contains peat and perlite. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Roses don't like wet feet.

A sunny window is adequate in the short term, but grow lights are a must if you want to try to keep mini roses healthy and flowering over the winter. Keep plants about 2 to 4 inches below lights that stay on 14 to 16 hours a day (a timer will help). Use a mixture of cool white and warm white fluorescent bulbs, or full spectrum bulbs. Mist plants to raise the humidity, set a humidifier nearby or place the pots on a tray of stones that are partially submerged in water. Fertilize plants weekly with a formula high in potassium, such as 5-5-10, diluted to one-quarter strength. Roses will grow best at daytime temperatures in the low 70s, with a 5- to 10-degree drop at night.

Varieties
For indoor growing, choose varieties that grow about 16 inches tall (or shorter). You'll find the best choices in the spring, but in late fall plants start to appear again in local garden centers in time for the holidays. I don't often find many that are as fragrant as I'd like in the fall, but beggars can't be choosers.

I know of one woman who orders numerous plants by mail in the fall, keeps them under a sophisticated light set-up in her basement in winter to enjoy the blooms, and plants them out in spring. She must be a spider mite vigilante. I, on the other hand, am content to grow just one or two plants indoors, and if they lose their verve before spring planting, so be it.


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