Because now is the time for planting, it's helpful to ponder what garden techniques will provide the best success with rose growing. Roses need plenty of sunlight (don't we all?). An open space that gives them at least 6-8 hours per day in the summertime will produce bountiful flowers. Soil should be very well drained. Rose roots won't grow in soggy soil. The soil pH should be 6.0-6.5, about the same as what's required for a good vegetable garden. Amend soil with about 1/3 volume of well-rotted ("finished") compost.
Plan to give the rose at least 1 inch of water weekly if it's not provided by rain. Soaker hoses placed around the roots will deliver water without wetting the leaves, which will help with disease problems. Be sure you know how big the rose will become, because some "antique" roses can eventually grow to 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide! Place the rose in an area with good air circulation as well as sun. Fertilize regularly from the time growth starts through July. Don't fertilize in late summer or fall to allow the roses to harden off their growth for winter.
Choosing the species and cultivars that thrive and resist disease in western Washington makes all the difference. If you've grown up loving 'Mr. Lincoln,' 'Chrysler Imperial,' 'Peace,' or 'Queen Elizabeth,' you may not want to be told that none of these popular roses will grow happily in the Puget Sound area. This fact may not prevent you from attempting to grow them, but they are subject to the big three in rose diseases; black spot (irregular black splotches on leaves and canes), powdery mildew (gray powder on both sides of leaves), and rust (looks like rust, orangish or brownish dots of fungal material).
Fungicides will help these susceptible roses to grow well. If you choose to use a fungicide, you may want to look for two new ones with low toxicity: neem oil (sold as Rose Defense) and potassium bicarbonate (sold as Remedy).
But what if you want the most disease-resistant roses? Growers here have experimented for years with roses suited to our cool, shady, and sometimes damp summer weather. (At least that is an accurate description of June in the Puget Sound area!) How susceptible roses are depends on specific, local conditions, so go with a local list. Many nurseries will be able to point out disease-resistant roses, and local rose societies have compiled lists of their favorites.
Here are some disease-resistant roses I've grown or have seen thriving in local gardens. If you love the constant all-summer bloom of hybrid teas, with their classic rose form and beauty in vases, try 'Just Joey,' a spectacular apricot color with nearly 6 inch blooms when open. 'Elina,' a yellow blend hybrid tea, and 'Honor,' a pristine white, also do well here.
Floribundas offer a spray of flowers, blooming with 5 or 6 on a stem; a living bouquet. They too bloom throughout the summer. Look for 'Iceberg,' a clean white, or 'Sexy Rexy,' a medium pink (I imagine this one was named after the actor, Rex Harrison!)
If you want a climber scrambling over a fence or trellis, look for 'Altissimo,' a dark red, or 'Dublin Bay,' a medium red.
Shrub roses or "landscape roses" develop into large plants, but bloom all summer and can be spectacular. I'm growing 'Sally Holmes,' a disease-resistant white with a yellow center, resembling a wild rose. The species roses called Rosa rugosa grow with almost no problems in western Washington. They thrive, bloom constantly, and actually suffer damage if you spray them with a fungicide or insecticide! Look for the hybrid rugosa called 'Hansa,' a warm deep purple-red.
The newer roses hybridized by David Austin in England, called 'David Austin' or 'English' roses, combine the beauty of antique roses with a bloom that lasts all summer. Many of these resist disease problems in western Washington, and they are probably the most popular of roses being selected for planting now. Look for 'Mary Rose,' a medium pink with opulent blooms, or 'English Garden' in apricot. I've grown 'Fair Bianca,' a white, successfully for years in a less than ideal spot, somewhat shaded in afternoon, yet it has done well without much disease problem.
Growing roses can be a great gardening adventure. These are only a few of the many adapted to our climate. Talk to your nursery supplier, and look for those roses that fight off fungal diseases!
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