Roses are often surprisingly successful here in the great American Southwest. Although growers have been hybridizing them for many generations, these very pampered and fussed-over members of many landscapes are not tender things that melt in the summer heat or curl up and die in the winter chill.
The amazing variety of shapes, colors, petal number, and growth patterns means that one could have five rose plants and each would be different.
Poets talk about red roses and their thorns, but that describes only a small segment of the thousands that are available. Some, ‘Lady Banks’ for instance, do not even have spines. This hybrid produces all its small cream to yellow flowers in a spectacular display that lasts from March to April, and is only a green shrub the rest of the year. Breeders have developed other nearly thornless cultivars that produce red or deep pink flowers.
What some people would once call wild roses are now known as “single roses”. These have five petals, usually pink to deep red, but some cultivars may have 40 or more. Modern varieties of hybrid teas can come in any color — white, yellow, pink, orange, or lavender — in addition to the traditional red.
The extremes of weather are challenging for all landscapes, but most roses appear to take them in stride. This is not to say that they do not have any problems, only that the problems that do occur are not difficult to either prevent or solve.
Like every other type of garden plant, once they have become established they have some requirements that will help them remain healthy.
In the Mojave Desert, irrigation is the most obvious landscape requirement, and roses are no exception. They do best if they receive infrequent, deep watering. The amount and frequency will depend on the soil — sandy soils dry faster, while heavy clay soils can remain moist, even wet, for long periods. If the gardener has added compost to the planting bed that can help improve both water holding capacity and drainage in addition to fertilizing the growing plants. Placing a layer of organic mulch on the soil will help moderate soil temperature and evaporation.
Fertilizing roses is another important practice to help them grow their best. There are fertilizers specifically designed for roses, but they do not require the same amounts of each nutrient throughout the year. High levels of nitrogen (the first number on any fertilizer container) will encourage leaf production at the expense of blossoms, but some nitrogen is required at all times in order for the plant to create necessary proteins. The percentage of element phosphorus is the second number on the container. Phosphorus is critical for flowers and roots. Potassium, the third number, is necessary to utilize water and move sugars from the leaves to the rest of the plant. Apply a tablespoon or so of Epsom salts as well. During spring and summer, do not prune roses, except to remove spent blooms or broken stems. This is when roses are at their best — enjoy!
Angela O’Callaghan, Social Horticulture Specialist for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, can be reached via email or call or 702-257-5581.