The naked ladies (belladonna lilies) have spoken. So have the ginger lilies, and the crepe myrtles. Summer is coming to a close, and if you want a rose-filled autumn, you need to act now i.e. this weekend.
This has not been an easy year to be a rose bush. Rose bushes love sun, and masses of tucker, and moist soil to deliver the tucker to their roots. Instead they have had a few days so hot you can fry an egg on the bitumen, followed by a deluge, then days of cool misty rain. New lush leaves and flower shoots are withered by the heat, then get the kind of weather that would give even a golden labrador black spot.
By now every leaf on your rose bush is infested by black spot or being attacked by sap suckers, or its blooms are withered mildew-ridden balls.
There is only one way to get a fabulous crop of roses before winter - chop 'em back. Now. Hard.
Roses thrive on summer pruning. Cut each branch back by about a quarter; feed them lavishly then water in the fertiliser - down at ground level. Don't wet the leaves or branches. Spray the leaves that are left and any new growth with Seasol or some other seaweed-based foliar feeder that also helps thicken the outer cell layer at the same time.
Your roses will grow like triffids trying to dominate the world, and give a hundred blooms in an attempt to produce viable seed before the first frost. Humans grow roses to have armfuls of glorious blooms. The roses grow flowers to produce rose "heps", or seed heads, which hopefully you'll prune off too, so the roses put their energy into yet another burst of blooms instead of maturing the seeds. It's a nasty trick to play on innocent plants, but that is what gardeners do - trick our flowers into trying to produce offspring while we prune them back so they bloom even more.
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Roses also like heat below as well as above, which is why rose breeders grow their bushes in tennis court-type gravel. Covering the soil with aluminium foil would probably give you even healthier rose bushes, but make an unsightly mess of your front garden.
One way to get disease-free growth is to pave around your roses, or mulch with ornamental white or pale grey rocks, or grow your roses in giant pots on a sunny patio. For those without a paved courtyard or sunny patio, the best idea is probably the old-fashioned one - a good mulch instead of petunias or dahlias below your rose bushes.
I still remember the days when women would follow the baker's cart around the suburbs. Even butchers delivered back then, carrying the meat on white enamel trays, with a free bone for the household dog.
Every time the baker's, milko's or butcher's horse dropped "apples", half the women in the street would make a dash for it. Some would even cheat, and have their oldest kid offer a Vegemite crust or a handful of grass to the front end of the horse so the back end would be stimulated to let loose.
Manure usually needs to be aged, or it can burn roots, but fresh horse manure goes well with well established, deep-rooted roses. Unlike hen manure, horse manure is not too high in nitrogen, and has a high undigested grass content. If you can't find a willing horse, use sugar cane mulch instead and bung a good helping of rose food on top of it, and water in well. Repeat each fortnight.
Your roses bushes will look like they've had bad haircuts for a few days but soon will be covered in lush growth again. By the end of March your should have roses, roses, roses, so healthy from all that Seasol that they bloom even through the first (hopefully light) frosts. And if we get a long, warm autumn this year, it means months with a glory of roses.
This week I am:
- Trying to explain "weeding" to those helping in the garden. Don't just pull up the top of weeds. That is "pruning". Weeding is not for wimps. You need a large garden fork, and extreme determination to weed well.
- Picking ginger lilies just as the blooms begin to open at the base, giving at least a fortnight of glowing golden flowers in vases.
- Trying to remember which variety of agapanthus has just begun to bloom. It's deep blue, almost purple, and begins to flower just as the others are finishing.
- Disposing of the rat that decided to nest in the passionfruit vine outside my window, unaware that I could see its beady little eyes. An old-fashioned "snap trap" at the base of the bush was enough to become rat-free again.
- Leaving the "lawn" to turn into a jungle for another week.
- Planting English spinach. Probably. Maybe. I've been planning to do that for the last three weeks, so I'm not sure it will be done this week, either.
- Urging everyone else to get in LOTS now. February is the time to plant the flowers and veg for winter and spring.