Friday, July 1, 2011

Maintaining Beautiful Bonica Roses

I have written about the tremendously beautiful 'Bonica' roses in the past (such as my blog entitled Beautiful Bonica Roses) and will no doubt write about them again. Today I feel led to write some tips about maintaining these roses to their luscious optimum.

'Bonica' rose
Let me first say that I find the 'Bonica' to be both easy and temperamental to maintain. To me, when I see these deeply intense pink buds just beginning to open, unfolding to the softer pink exterior petals, my thoughts of frustration are quickly pacified.

Instead of seeing the hours and hours of pruning and tender care that they require, I see beauty, God's glorious beauty represented in these most lovely flowers. And I'm not alone – in 1997, it was awarded the prize as the world's favorite hedge rose.

We currently have twenty-three roses in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden – sixteen are 'Bonica'. Our base soil is moderate to heavy clay which is ideal for roses, and we supplement that with lots of mulch over the years. The beds have been raised so that there is positive drainage away from the plants in the winter. Our location is somewhere between Zones 4 and 5, and we can receive very strong winds as the garden is located near the top of Onondaga Hill above Syracuse.

We try to clip the roses twice per week and we are fairly aggressive with the pruning. Because the garden is located at a church that holds services on Sunday, we attempt to optimize their color so that they peak that day. Weather permitting, this means we do our heavier pruning on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then a lighter pruning on Friday or Saturday. For purposes of photography, I like to take my photos exactly two days after the last pruning.

"How much should I prune?" you ask. If you are at all familiar with the 'Bonica', you know that the deeper pink tones quickly fade to an almost pure white, and then they fall to the ground. When I train our volunteers on how to cut the roses, they are generally astonished that I would take a rose that still has some color and cut it off. I explain, "You want to both catch the petals before they fall, and you want to optimize the color of the plant." I suggest that they look at the stamen at the center of the flower head – if it has turned or is turning brown, I propose that is the time to cut it.

Our 'Bonica' roses are very prone to Black Spot which is a fungus that is easily spread from plant to plant. Therefore, we do not trim them when the plants have any moisture on their leaves or petals. This makes it harder to get the work done because ours is a suburban church with members from many miles around; most of our volunteers simply do not live nearby.

The flowers of the 'Bonica' open in delicious clusters with seven or ten or even more buds on each cluster. Gardening books often dwell on how to trim the roses (on a diagonal so that water does not sit on the freshly cut stem) and about ¼-½" above the branch; when the last flower in the cluster has faded, then the entire cluster is cut to the second branch of leaves. I certainly agree with those recommendations, but will also say that mistakes will happen – I find these roses to be extremely resilient. It is certainly preferable that you enjoy your work.

The first roses blossom in our area of Upstate New York in mid-June. At first, the buds are most prolific which means lots of clipping for the first two or three times. After that, they require less work – typically we spend four hours per week clipping our twenty-three roses.

Roses optimally should receive one-inch of water per week for peak performance. If substantially less that, the plants will not produce new branches that carry the next group of rose buds. If substantially more than that, the petals yellow prematurely and quickly drop to the ground. For us, that often means we must supplement the rainfall that we receive because the summer months often have strong heavy rains that run off quickly rather than longer soaking rains that help keep the roots cooler.

For years, I used a sprinkler to fan the water onto two of the rose beds. I was mystified why the Black Spot spread so quickly when I did this. Last year, the Lord prompted me to add "soaker hoses" to the roses, which are placed underneath the two inches of natural hardwood mulch. Now, when I turn on the faucet, I am assured that all of the water is being dispersed onto the roots and is not spreading that ugly black fungus from one plant to another.

Plant Disease
Our two major problems with the 'Bonica' are Japanese beetles and the Black Spot fungus. This rose is relatively free from other forms of blight and mildew that is common with other roses – we also have a small collection of 'Knock-Out' roses that are much easier care but not nearly as lovely.

I must confess that I am not as good with disease control as I could be. If you look at the bottom of the adjacent photograph, you will see some yellow leaves with small black blotches – that is Black Spot. Optimally I should spray the leaves before the roses first blossom with a fungicide, but that is such a phenomenally busy time for me in most years that I don't get to it. Some years I forget the fungicide entirely, and then come to regret that decision, and some years I end up applying the fungicide after the leaves have already developed the problem which of course is too late.

The Japanese beetles are also a huge pain. We use fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides in other areas of the garden, which rules out the use of Milky Spore powder. I use Milky Spore at my house because I prefer not to use these commercial chemicals; it has had incredible results at eliminating the Japanese beetle problem. In the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, we have used insecticides such as Ortho's Rose Pride Disease Control and their Max Home Defense Garden Insect Killer with moderate success. If the temperatures are more moderate that particular summer, I will simply pinch all those nasty little beetles but it often has discouraging results.

Winter Protection
So far, we have not had to replace any roses at the end of the winter. Thank God! Initially I was protecting the 'Bonica' in the same way as tea roses are treated, meaning cutting them back severely and mounding mulch around their base to protect them from the bitterly cold winds. Last year, at the advice of a well-known garden shop that is nearby, I did nothing to protect them and they did fine. We had some branches that died back but the plant did extremely well – that dead growth was pruned back at about the time that the forsythia bushes came in bloom.

I truly hope you enjoy the 'Bonica' roses with their lightly scented fragrance and their lusciously intense pink flowers. In our area, they bloom from June to November, well beyond the first frost. We stop our regular maintenance of these beauties at the end of September or early October; the few flowers that remain into November are long lasting but not with the same passion as in the summer.

I recognize that for some, this amount of maintenance is simply too much, particularly the elderly. To those of us that still have some energy, the treat is ours. "A person will be satisfied with good from the fruit of his words, and the work of his hands will be rendered to him" (Proverbs 12:14).

End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.