Supporting some feral roses
February 28, 2017 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Over the past few years a large, volunteer rose bush has grown on the side of our house, a descendant of a monster (trellised to ~15' high and 6' wide by our old landlord) rose bush that was killed by some kind of blight back in 2014. I've been ignoring it, but it has now begun climbing the old trellis and I guess I should try and take care of it. What should I be doing?

It's growing in thin, crappy soil, but the other bush thrived in it for ~20 years before disease got it. Hivemind, what are your suggestions for fertilization or other basic care that will give this thing a fighting chance to thrive?
posted by ryanshepard to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What level of work are you willing to put in and where do you live? If you're in a colder area, now's the time to prune. I'm guessing since they're trellised that you have climbing roses, so you or your landlord could start tying them up to the trellis to support them.

Beyond that roses are really heavy feeders, so later in the spring some good compost and a layer of mulch (to protect the roots and hold onto soil moisture) should do the job. The compost is important because along with nutrients, it will improve soil health. It could help whatever the blight was from returning, because that's your big concern. Maybe go out once a week and check on it to see if the blight is coming back? If you notice it early, you can probably help it. You can ask your County Extension office what it is and how to fix it before it consumes the plant for free. You could also take a picture to a local gardening center and ask them for help.

Good luck!
posted by Bistyfrass at 12:39 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a humongous old rose bush about the same size as your previous monster and honestly, I don't do anything to it. It thrives (frighteningly so) just fine on my neglect. If the monster was happy in the previous location, I imagine the volunteer will do just fine. But yeah, if you want to prune, prune soon. (I'm in zone 5).
posted by sarajane at 12:57 PM on February 28, 2017

What level of work are you willing to put in and where do you live?

DC, where it has been anywhere from 30-80 degrees in the last month. I am willing to put in a modest amount of work - I don't know ... half an hour on this particular bush a week?

I have a bin with some good quality finished compost and some worm castings that I can side dress it with.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:01 PM on February 28, 2017

Agreed with sarajane that it shouldn't take much. I'd look online for a few videos on pruning and trellising, but if you have compost I'm guessing you're already a pretty seasoned gardener. You can deadhead the spent blooms. Roses are prone to some diseases and fungus but if you keep an eye on it, you should be okay. They love water. Don't prune in the fall because you can stress the plant out. My grandmother used to sprinkle epsom salts with her fertilizer. She said it kept the rose "bushy", but I'm not sure what that practically meant. She had beautiful roses though, so I would look into it.
posted by Bistyfrass at 3:05 PM on February 28, 2017

The work of keeping roses is usually in training their growth habit while they're growing and cutting them back after they flower. Feeding is great if you're looking for prizewinning blooms or a specific form, but it sounds like you're wanting to let this little feral buddy survive and thrive.

If it's already climbing the trellis, let it keep doing that. If a cane starts to waywardly vine out away from the trellis, while it's still young and pliable just bend it back to the trellis. You can secure it with a twist tie, a piece of twine, whatever you have on hand, just don't tie it too tightly.

After a flower has bloomed and the petals have withered, you can either leave it be (and a rose hip will eventually form there) or, if you want more blooming, conventional wisdom is to cut back the stem to the point where a leaf set has five leaves.

Then you're all set. If the rose survives and you want to make it bigger, bloomier, or bushier, then worry about compost and manure and all that. Right now, just keep it growing in a sustainable way and it'll be happy.

(I have a yard full of roses on the west coast, but even when I was a grad student in DC I managed to get roses growing at just about every house with a yard I rented a room in.)
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:10 PM on February 28, 2017

Most roses are purchased as a stem of the advertised variety which has been grafted onto a hardier but less beautiful variety. So what you get may not be what you used to get. This happened at my parent's house years ago, and the volunteer was a perfectly fine deep red rose.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:46 PM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was going to say, this is probably the rootstock now that the grafted rose has died back. Depending on what part of the country you live in, it is likely to be either Fortuniana or Dr. Huey. Dr. Huey is the red one -- it is a gorgeous rose but only blooms once a year and is prone to blackspot, so if you live in a humid area it is probably not worth the trouble. It's quite nice here in California. If the rose is thornless and produces white flowers with a violet scent, it's Fortuniana, a rose that is used as rootstock in more humid areas (but is not cold-tolerant). Multiflora is the rootstock used most in cold climates -- it's a wild rose but somewhat prone to disease.

I believe all of these bloom only once per year, in the spring. There are other roses used at rootstocks but these are the main three.
posted by xeney at 5:20 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, if it is the rootstock and it's only going to bloom once per year, you do NOT want to prune it before it blooms, because once-bloomers bloom on year-old growth, so pruning now means you won't get any roses.
posted by xeney at 5:22 PM on February 28, 2017

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