In the Garden:
May, 2012
Regional Report

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The timing is odd as rosebuds open near an azalea in full bloom on April 24th this year.

Are Your Summer Roses in Spring Bloom?

Are you as confused as I am? Last week some garden roses gave me serious pause. Late April by my calendar. Mounds of bright, lush spring-blooming azaleas and rainbows of breathtaking tulips brightening garden borders are in sync.

Yes, some early-bird bearded irises are flowering before the tulips drop their petals. Traditional May-blooming lilacs are past their peak as flowers wilt and fragrance declines.

The roses are most perplexing though. An overgrown salmon beauty in a Philadelphia courtyard garden held dozens of showy buds ready to burst. Meanwhile nearby, a gorgeous, rosy-pink azalea had no clue it would momentarily be upstaged.

If all were normal, summer roses would be taking their turns on stage after spring delights fade. Most roses in the mid-Atlantic region had some dormancy time, though many did not die back. That's not the end of the world. Roses flourish in the hotter climes of points south -- Texas, California, the Carolinas. Usually nursery workers in warmer latitudes remove rose foliage and hips to force dormancy; roses do need a rest.

To Prune or Not?
Our outsized roses pose a dilemma. Yes, we want to keep the buds so we don't loose early flowers! No, we don't want the over-thriving shrubs to outgrow the garden. In the courtyard, budded Knockout rose canes were a hazard -- long and high enough to brush the shoulders and faces of people using the gate. Of course, they had to go. Clip, clip, clip.

Earlier at another property, I literally faced six eight-foot-tall, pink Knockout roses in bud. Five years ago these were advertised as four-by-four feet at maturity. Seems the roses never read the label. By summer's end, they've always grown huge, with canes reaching the driveway.

I made a quick executive decision. Down they'd come, to about two feet. Five roses and eight trash cans full of branches later, I decided to experiment. I left two roses "as is," overgrown and full of buds. They'll flower soon. The pruned plants are leafing out quickly.

What would a rosarian have done?
I emailed Michael Marriott, Senior Rosarian at David Austin Roses, for advice.

"If the roses are that far advanced, I would certainly leave them alone," Marriott replied. "They will most probably make magnificent plants this year, perhaps a bit tall, but magnificent."

He predicted that early flowering "shouldn't stop bloom later unless it gets very dry. In that case, watering roses as needed should keep them flowering." Careful summer pruning may be helpful to encourage bloom and shape an ungainly plant, he added. "Cut the flowering shoot down after the flowers have finished to a few inches above the point of origin."

Marriott practices organic, sustainable rose gardening. To control diseases and promote "good, solid growth, feed them well with an organically-based fertilizer and a liquid feed, too, especially one with seaweed." Encourage beneficial insects, he added. "I'm not sure how much truth there is in warm winters meaning more pests. It is likely that the beneficial insects will have survived well too. So be sure to look after them in your garden by not spraying or being very careful what and when you spray. Be willing to have a few aphids in your garden, as they will be supper for the beneficials."

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