Some thoughts on roses

Rosa ‘Candyman’. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

At this time of year, my attention turns to roses. Now, I adore roses although I am not a fan of those so-called rose gardens, consisting of two rows of heavily sprayed and severely pruned rose bushes, pushed to one side of the garden. I’m not saying they’re wrong – this just isn’t my style.

Instead, I like to spread roses throughout the garden. While I prune them, I don’t subject them to the ruthless pruning that occurs throughout the Triangle. The key to enabling their spread throughout the garden hinges on choosing the correct varieties – and I never would consider purchasing a rose that lacks the description “disease resistant.” Yes, this cuts out many (but not all) hybrid tea roses, but mine is not a cutting garden. If you are interested in disease-resistant roses, my suggestion is to start out with the Texas A&M roses known as Earth-Kind roses.

I never spray my roses with insecticides, partially because I distrust their safety and partially because I don’t want to obliterate bees, butterflies and other beneficial pollinators. I add mulch in the late fall as it not only protects the roots from the cold, it also enriches the soil. Three times a year (March, early June and late July), the roses receive fertilizer. Is fertilizing necessary? The jury (in my mind) is still out as I have one good friend, a rosarian, who has beautiful roses despite resisting putting them on an established fertilizing program.

When roses are spread throughout the garden, eventually the gardener has to experiment with plants that either enhance their appearance or offers some pest resistance. Unfortunately, we are not the only ones who appreciate roses.

The recent issue of “American Rose,” the magazine put out by The American Rose Society, contains some good suggestions that also incorporate the principles of IPM – Integrated Pest Management. Roses not only attract us with their stylish looks and aroma, they also are seductive to many pests: Disease resistant roses are not trouble-free plants, alas.

Aphids are a problem in our gardens and they can overwhelm a plant if the aphid infection isn’t caught early. To halt an infection, I will employ insecticidal soap as it is approved for organic gardening. Aphids also avoid aromatic plants, such as alliums, marigolds and lavender. The smaller alliums, ones such as A. millenium (not a typo) that last throughout the summer, are particularly effective while complimenting the rose shrubs without competing with them. I also spread lavender throughout the garden and have found that Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal” looks terrific with the roses while effectively repelling aphids.

Japanese beetles are the bane of the rose gardener, especially in June as, like us, they adore roses. It’s hard to escape these dedicated chewers, but it might help plant those species these beetles avoid around the roses. Again, alliums, marigolds and catnip (Nepeta) help. The article also suggests chrysanthemums but I find that their height along with their willingness to spread can detract from the roses.

Plants that have a definite aroma appear to be the best choice for pairing with roses. Not only does their aroma repel many of the pests that afflict roses, many tend to be short in height, thereby accenting the roses without challenging them for attention.

Photo by Kit Flynn.

Alliums, including garlic, leeks, and chives are always a good bet, along with the aforementioned marigolds and catnip. Rosemary is also a good addition provided the accompanying rose bush is fairly large – you don’t want the rosemary to compete with the rose.

Identifying your roses first is The key to protecting them from unwanted pests. Aside from aphids and Japanese beetles, I have trouble recognizing many of the pests, such as thrips, so I always turn to a website such as this one to help me. Try to find websites with “edu” in the identifying name as that is a clue that the information is accurate and up to date.

I then try to seek out a solution without resorting to chemical warfare. In the first place, there are many chemicals I don’t want to come in contact with; in the second place, I feel strongly that gardening shouldn’t harm the environment, including the beneficial pests. Spooked by Japanese beetles? I sympathize but they will disappear sometime in July and Milky Spore, while it takes five years to take hold, will eventually cut down on the numbers.

So, try spreading roses throughout the garden. Plant “disease-resistant” roses savor their May and fall blooms while realizing that the presence of pests does not necessarily constitute a disaster in the making.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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