Did you know that scientists have documented that the cultivation of roses dates back nearly 5,000 years? It is little wonder that they remain so popular with gardeners! How long a rose bush lives is impacted by a number of factors including weather patterns and how much TLC that the bush is given during its lifetime. It is not unheard of for a rose bush to live for 35 to 50 years but it is a fact that roses can become less productive as they grow older. So what do you do if you have a rose that is underperforming or you move into a home with an existing bush that you know has been neglected for some time?
There are 3 key steps to follow to restore that rose to its former beauty.
The first key step is what I refer to as “look up and look around”. What I mean by this is assess the environment in which the rose is currently growing. For example, are there mature trees in the proximity to the rose which might be shielding it from the sunny conditions it requires? Too much shade can impact the health of the rose by minimizing air circulation which will lead to diseases let alone the production of flowers. Maybe the rose has to compete for nutrients and water with tree roots or other plants in the area. Trimming the tree limbs, thinning out competitive plants or perhaps moving the rose out of that area might help to revitalize it.
The second key step is assessing the rose itself. If it is possible to identify the variety of rose that you are working with that could enable you to research its growing habits and discover what it needs to thrive. If that information isn’t available then take a look at the shrub itself. Is it losing leaves or are the leaves discolored? Is the bark on the branches damaged? These are sure signs of disease and/or insect infestation which can definitely impact the rose’s health. Are there areas where branches rub against one another or there appear to be a lot of smaller branches that are intertwined with one another? These are signs that the rose may not have been pruned in some time and this too can lead to a lack of air circulation which promotes diseases such as black spot. A significant pruning is probably going to be necessary. Don’t be afraid to remove up to ½ of the branches, known as the cane. You should also thin out branches that rub against one another, are diseased or appear to be thin and weak.
The final key step to take is addressing the soil conditions surrounding the rose. A pH test kit can be purchased to assess the acidity/alkaline nature of the soil. A rose does best in soil with a pH between 6 and 7. If the pH is less than 6 the soil is too acidic and you’ll want to apply some lime on top of the soil and gently rake the soil so the lime mixes with it. If your soil reading is greater than 7 it is too alkaline and you can apply elemental Sulphur to the soil in a similar manner. This is also a good time to mix in some 10-10-10 fertilizer as well.
Part 2 of this final key step is to aerate the soil. Over time soil can become compacted which hinders the absorption of water and nutrients. Aerating the soil involves taking a pitchfork, inserting it into the group at least 1 foot away from the base of the rose and moving the pitchfork back and forth to loosen the soil. The base of the rose is where the rose stem meets the soil line. Roses have roots that are quite shallow and if you get too close to the base of the plant you could damage those roots. You should aerate around the rose in a circle from that 1-foot mark to 3 feet away from the base.
If you have any other tips to rejuvenate an older rose bush, let us know on our Facebook page.