Paradise of Prairie Roses

For those gardeners who have tried to grow tender roses without success, do not to take it personally; there are tricks to keeping tender roses.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit a rural southern Alberta garden, where I was delighted to find over 100 tender roses being grown.

This lady has successfully been enjoying her own ‘Prairie Paradise of Roses’ for 7 years. She is a member of the Calgary Rose Society and dedicated follower of the late Don Heimbekers’ methods of growing roses.

Many articles have been written on the various rose classifications – tender roses include hybrid teas, polyanthus, floribundas, and grandifloras – the garden centres usually distinguish between tender or hardy shrub roses for us newbie’s at gardening.

Tender roses prefer a good 18 inches of peaty garden soil. Our gardens rarely have this much topsoil, so Calgary rose beds are often mounded and raised. According to Grow Roses in Calgary, Don Heimbecker, a rose grower for over 60 years, recommends a mixture of 2/3 soil to 1/3 coarse peat. If you choose to use composted animal manures, ensure that it is very well rotted to avoid burning the roots.

Paradise of Prairie Roses

Roses need at least six hours of sun in order to perform; more is better. Locate the roses away from other shrubs and trees to avoid root competition. If you are collecting tender roses, streamline winter care by grouping them and spacing them 18 – 24 inches apart.

Buying -Ideally, acquire roses grown on their own root stock; many tender roses are grafted onto hardier rootstock. However the top part of the rose can die completely while the rootstock of the tougher rose survives. If you bought a short pink rose that suddenly has long lax canes with yellow flowers, now you know why – the shoot came from below the graft.

A plant tag may say “own root stock”, but more often than not, you have to order from specialty nurseries. Look to Pickering Nurseries, Hortico, Russian Roses for the North, and Brentwood Bay nurseries, amongst others. Own-root plants are generally smaller than grafted roses at purchase time and take a few years to look like anything; you are buying the increased likelihood of long-term survival. Even if the top of the rose doesn’t make it, the plant can send up shoots from the roots of the rose you want.

On-Slant Planting

For bare-root or boxed grafted roses, use on-the-slant planting method to improve survival chances. Set the rose in the ground at about a 45 angle with the graft (the knobby bit just above the roots) three to four inches below soil level. The lower parts of the canes will also be buried and the roots will be only slightly lower than the graft in the ground. Fill the hole part way with soil and water well. Add the remaining soil and water again; press firmly to remove any large air pockets against the roots.

Potted grafted roses can be planted upright for the summer with the graft at soil level. Cut the canes back hard in October and replant on a slant. On-slant planting encourages root-development on the buried stems of the desired rose above the graft. It may take several years for root development, but the result is a hardier rose for our climate.

The Calgary Rose Society recommends holding off on fertilizing newly planted roses for at least one month after planting.

Winter care

Cut back your tender roses to six or eight inches tall. Put several inches of moist, coarse peat around the base and top with dry leaves or rye straw to six-inches above the rose stems. Individual roses can be sheltered in containers such as pails with the tops removed so air circulates while the leaves cannot blow away.

Closely planted roses may not need individual housing as each rose can help hold the leaves in place. Surround the whole bed with winter fencing or cover with a tarp. In mid-April, remove the leaves. Once the peat has thawed, simply move it away from the canes and leave it on the soil as a top dressing.

Keeping tender roses in Calgary and area requires a bit of know-how and effort; I know gardeners who love tea roses and treat them as annuals, discarding them in the fall. You decide what’s best for you.