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Miss Floribunda: Keeping roses pest-free and poison-free

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Posted on: July 8, 2013

- MISS FLORIBUNDA -

Dear Miss Floribunda,

I read in your May column that you are “a self-confessed rosemaniac” with presumably over 100 rose bushes in your garden. Well, much as you have touted poison-free gardening, I can’t believe you can have a thriving rose garden without using toxins. Please explain.

Gotcha on Gallatin Street

Dear Gotcha,

You are obviously after more confessions and I will give you only one.  Fifteen years ago, my oldest friend gave me the exquisite hybrid tea rose “Peace” as a housewarming gift. Almost as soon as it was planted, it was attacked by aphids. In a moment of desperation, I succumbed to the toxin of temptation and went out and bought a poisonous extermination spray.

As I walked out to the bush, weapon in hand, a ladybird (or ladybug) flew past my nose. Where there is one, there are always other aphid-eating coccinellids. That never-squirted spray bottle is quarantined in a dark corner of my basement. The same rose is presently blooming inviolate in the sun.

Since that time, my reading on organic rose gardening has led me to conclude that pesticides are far worse than a few pests.

If I have lost rose bushes it has been for the following reasons: 1) failure to dig the original hole deep enough to remove clay and substitute compost and organic fertilizers; 2) neglect of deep watering during its first three summers; 3) overly close planting, which fosters mildew from lack of air circulation and causes competition for nutrients; or 4) encroachment of tree roots and shade from other plantings.

I’ve also made occasional unwise choices of roses. Certain hybrid tea roses are indeed too fussy to be invited into my garden. The American Rose Association now sends me a booklet every year that rates new and old roses for excellence and ease of care.

My main criterion for roses is that they smell like roses. Many of those long-stemmed and fussy “showgirl” hybrid teas are all looks and no charm, being devoid of fragrance. The more easygoing floribundas sometimes do have fragrance, sometimes don’t. I choose those that do.

My favorites are still the classic antique roses, the beauty of which is incomparable and the perfume of which is justly famous as Old Rose. In midsummer I really depend on lilies, phlox and annual pinks for sweet fragrance. Herbs, marigolds, ornamental garlic and geraniums provide sharper notes to keep the olfactory olio from being cloying. They also ward off many pests.

I do not maintain a monoculture, but intermingle with the roses many annuals and native plants that attract beneficial insects. This companion-planting method has taken time and patience, but the result is a nice balance of fascinating and often beautiful varieties of insects in my garden and few mosquitoes.

Aside from pruning and providing lots of compost early in the spring, my only real chore in the dog days of summer is watering.

We are living at a time when pesticides are one of the greatest threats to ecology. The balance of nature is upset and the health of all is threatened. Years ago, reaction to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring saved birds from DDT. Nowadays more and more evidence links bee-colony collapse, white-nose syndrome in bats, the near-demise of monarch and other butterfly species, and other truly alarming ecological disasters to use of other pesticides. Responsible farming and gardening have never been more important.

To discuss this and other gardening concerns, you are welcome to come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 20, at the home of Jeff and Marsha Moulton, 6122 42nd Avenue.  Please send further questions to fl*********@gm***.com.

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Dear Miss Floribunda, I read in your May column that you are “a self-confessed rosemaniac” with presumably over 100 rose bushes in your garden. Well,...