I Want Roses (sung to the tune of I Want Candy)
January 7, 2012 2:00 AM   Subscribe

Do I persevere with unexpected baby rose bushes growing out of sand which used to be the base of neglected turf? Rose experts, please advise me.

We moved into this house in June last year. It used to have a lovely English cottage style garden, with roses lining the path to the door, and herbs and flowers scattered (neatly) around the boundaries of the yard. Turf was laid in the front yard about a year ago, according to my neighbours. I've seen photos, so I know not so long ago it was a nice garden.

The previous tenants were, shall we say, less than interested in maintaining the garden, to the point where there was no garden when we moved in. (I guess that happens when you ride motorbikes naked, drunk, around the front yard at 8am on a Sunday morning.)

In the backyard I've got wysteria, japanese maple, irises, gladioli, crepe myrtle, a plum tree, a lemon tree, and various unknown shrubs and climbers back into shape. The backyard was patchy grass, and as I've watered it and weeded around anything that looks promising, it's come pretty good.

The front yard is a bit more challenging. When we moved in, it was like a beach. Mostly sand with a few straggly bits of grass. I've watered it as the warmer weather has kicked in, my lawnmowing guy has fed it (I don't know with what), and the grass is starting to fill in. It might end up looking like a lawn soon, I hope.

Then these 3 rose bushes popped up. I've heard from gardeners that roses which just grow anywhere don't flower. Something about they need to be root stock for them to be productive? So is there any point in me weeding around these, nurturing them, talking to them (I swear by it!)?

I don't have a terribly green thumb - cacti and succulents are my thing - but the established roses I've cared for have always flourished.

Here are the poor tragic rose babies.

It's just been watered in the photo, but trust me, it's sandy and slightly rocky. It was full of cigarette butts and beer bottle tops when we moved in, and everytime I water or it rains, more of them rise to the top.

And I know the grass is lousy, but it's a rental property, I'm not going to re-seed the whole yard. I'm happy to just give it as much tender loving care as I can, in the hope that one day I'll have a lawn and roses.
posted by malibustacey9999 to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're right that many types of rose (modern hybrid teas and floribundas, for example) really need to be grafted onto a suitable root stock to flourish. But for the most part, shrub and miniature roses, as well as many Old Garden Roses, can be grown on their own roots. Unless you know what kind they're going to be, I'd say forget about them. If you want roses in your garden, go and shop for the roses you want. Rose varieties are very much a thing where different people have wildly different tastes.

I think you'd have to dig them out and grow them on in containers to really give them the best start. They don't look very well situated at the moment.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:26 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard from gardeners that roses which just grow anywhere don't flower. Something about they need to be root stock for them to be productive?

The point is, if the previous roses were grafted (which they often are), then all you have growing is the root stock. What was on top died. And that stock was chosen to be hardy, good roots, resistant to disease, whatever, rather than for flowers so may not even be able to produce flowers. If they weren't grafted then you'll get a decent plant - probably a small bushy miniature - but there's no way to know until you've spent a lot of time and care growing them up. It's up to you how much you care.

Personally I'd probably leave them but not get too invested, and I'd definitely go buy whatever actual roses I want for the rest of the place. Putting them into containers would also be a good move if you do care. When you dig them up you may be able to tell if it's a solid chunk of root stock resprouting or the more spindly bottom of a miniature, thus giving you a better idea of what your chances are.
posted by shelleycat at 3:18 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, they look like suckers off the root stock to me. My mom was a great gardener and a big fan of roses and she would always cut the suckers off when they appeared as she said they adversely affected the growth of the rose itself. You could leave them and see what happens; if they're not in the way leave them in situ for a year (or transplant them to a pot, as suggested). If you do leave them where they are and they turn out to be OK as plants, remember that roses are traditionally very hungry and like lots of well-rotted fertiliser.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:43 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's also possible that those are just seedlings from some sort of wild rose, such as multiflora rose or dog rose. I don't know if you get any species of wild roses growing in your area, but in some parts of North America they are a mildly problematic invasive species. Most wild roses are nice enough to encounter by chance in bloom as a wildflower, but are not really good landscape/garden candidates. I get lots of multiflora rose seedlings sprouting up in my surburban East Coast US yard, and I have farm relatives who have a dickens of a time with them on cow pastures in Ohio, because the cows won't eat them.
posted by drlith at 4:59 AM on January 7, 2012

If they are "only" root stock, and they've survived horrible neglect and naked men on motorcycles, they're pretty tough root stock. So if they're putting up suckers in a place you want to grow roses, you might consider letting them establish themselves for a season or two to build themselves back up, then grafting something nice onto them low down on the stem, then cutting them back and using them for root stock again.
posted by flabdablet at 5:10 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

They look like suckers from the root stock to me, too.

We have a rosebush that came with the house. The good thing about rosebushes is that unless you literally mow it down to the ground, it's almost impossible to kill the thing. Years of utter neglect, crappy soil, strangled by bindweed, various common diseases and bugs...bah. We pruned it back hard, fed it, gave it a little TLC, and have a thriving rosebush.

The bad thing about roses is that are ridiculously beloved by a bunch of common garden insect pests, who will not only nibble the foliage, but often happily spread common plant diseases, so it's kind of a tug-of-war to keep the rosebush pretty.
posted by desuetude at 10:08 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I could no longer garden, my beloved roses died one by one because there is no way to pass the care of them along to someone who mows the grass as quickly as possible once every couple of weeks. They were all dead but, without my knowing it, he had been respecting what he thought was a rose bush and which now flourished in a place I could not see from my window. One day, I looked out from another direction and saw the "worthless" root stock sporting a spray of half a dozen red roses, pretty roses. I know it was root stock because I had planted a David Austin pale pink rose there and these blooms were very different. I asked him to pick the spray of blooms for me and I put them in a vase in my room. More surprisingly, they lasted longer than a week. I no longer "diss" root stock roses. I hope you'll be as lucky.
posted by Anitanola at 9:52 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I might just let 'em grow and see what happens. I'm not thrilled with the idea of putting them in containers (because they belong to the house owner, not me).

I coincidentally ran into the lawnmower guy and he told me he'd found some sort of covered mesh fencing material that he planned to put around them to a) ensure they didn't get mowed by accident and b) ensure the kids didn't walk over them while they're playing in the yard.

Yeah, I reckon I'll just give them free reign, feed them, weed around them, talk to them and see what happens. Thanks for your advice.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:02 PM on January 8, 2012

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