AND CONSEQUENCES OF THE WINTER OF 2003
article by Al Ford first appeared in the May-June 1994 MRS Newsletter. The
winter of 2003-2004 was nearly as bad as the one a decade earlier. Here
is a slightly updated version of Al's insightful text.)
Normally, the winters in this part
of the country are not too bad. Some snow in January and cold weather in February,
but all in all, not so adverse. We will remember 2003 for a long time: beastly! 2003
was the wettest year in Maryland's recorded history. It followed on the heals
of our driest year, 2002. The 2003 growing season was capped in September
by destructive Hurricane Isabel and heavy, early snows. These climatic extremes
have taken a toll on our homes and gardens. Here are some thoughts on picking
up the pieces in 2004.
Knowing that every once in a while we have
a bad winter, I always mulch around my roses. When I was new at this game I
used twelve inch wire fences held in place with bamboo sticks which I grow in
the back yard, then I would fill the fenced in area with oak leaves. I would
even rake a neighbors yard for oak leaves if my yard didn't supply enough. Worked
well too, very seldom did I lose a rose to winter kill. This project was such
a time consuming effort, however, especially in the spring when all those leaves
had to be removed and disposed of, that I thought of a better method, at least
less time consuming. I reasoned that hardwood bark mulch would do the job as
well, or almost as well, and I could dispense with the fencing and the arduous
task of removing the soggy leaves in the spring. There was a bonus to the use
of mulch also, I would be mulching in the spring anyway, and the material would
be in the rose beds already. I wouldn't have to cart it in and spread it around.
I would pour hardwood bark mulch around each of the
rose crowns and mound it around the lower part of the canes as high as I could get
it without wasting the material. This method worked like a charm. What a time saver!
Each fall, I would order three cubic yards of the mulch and would gleefully spread
it around some 400 roses, hybrid teas, old garden roses, miniatures and seedlings alike.
No problem. The mulch did change the pH of the soil somewhat by increasing the acidity
from say 6.6 to 6.1, or so. Since I measure the pH and lime as required in the fall
anyway this was no deterrent to the use of mulch as a winter protection.
Then came the fall of 1993 and the onset of the worst
winter in history and because of a variety of other activities I didn't mulch at all!
Didn't think seriously about it in fact until it was too late. But I reasoned that
it wouldn't be too bad because the past two winters had been reasonable without a single
loss of a rose and plenty of good canes to work with in the spring. Thoughts of disaster
plagued me in January and February, the worst of which was images of being wiped out
by spring. I even speculated on how many corpses I could remove and replace in the
spring before complete exhaustion set in and I would be confined to bed or an institution.
Finally I adopted the simplistic philosophy of "What will be, will be" and
decided to await spring with a certain amount of dignity and aplomb despite the fact
that more and more black canes were appearing.
In March, the roses began to send up red shoots and basal
breaks and each was a joy to behold. I was even more gratefully surprised when I began
to prune the roses to discover life amongst the dead canes. Pruning had to be very
hard this year to get down to good white pith. Some of the cuts, by necessity, were
at or very close to the crown, whereas I generally like to leave the selected canes
no lower than eight inches. This year, selection of canes was out of the question;
any cane that survived was welcomed and some admittedly showed some brown in the cross-section
of the cut. All split, discolored, darkened or black canes were removed and the remaining
nubs were painted with Elmer's Carpenter's Glue.
Generally, nearly all of the roses showed some sign
of life, even though some were down to a few shoots or a few new basal breaks. This
is not to say, they will thrive in the coming year and will not need replacing. Thus
far the mortality of the big roses, hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras has been
very low. `Sweet Surrender', `Canterbury', a Shrub rose, and `Topaz Jewel', a Hybrid
Rugosa, are the only ones known to have succumbed to the winter's fury. `Canterbury" was
a year-old cutting of a Shrub purchased a number of years ago. The original grafted
plant expired the winter of 1993, even though it had been mulched. This rose should
be considered "tender" although I intend to replace it anyway because of
its special form and beauty. The demise of `Topaz Jewel' surprised me because all the
other Rugosa and Hybrid Rugosas came through the winter with flying colors. All other
heritage and old garden roses in our garden did very well indeed.
The question arises naturally as to the reason for such
relatively good winter performance of the big roses despite the absence of winter protection
over the course of such a beastly winter. There are a number of reasons that occur
to me. First, all the roses entered last winter in good condition, having been well
fed during the year and were also relatively free of blackspot, mildew or other disease.
A healthy rose has a better chance of winter survival than one in relatively poor health.
Second, snow occurred and was followed by freezing rain and ice formation prior to
the cold blowing winds. The snow and ice offered a kind of protection to the crowns
of the roses.
It is known that snow is an effective insulation for
roses, but, of course, it cannot be counted on. There were relatively few days of cold
blowing wind that occurred at a time when the crowns of the roses were not protected
by snow and or ice. The greatest danger to roses, it is generally agreed, is when the
crown is exposed to very cold temperatures and a cold drying wind is blowing fiercely.
A third reason, I believe, is that I have a tendency to plant roses with the crown
a little below the surface rather than trying to keep the crown at ground level or
slightly above. A number of rosarians in this area have independently arrived at the
conclusion that the crown should be placed somewhat below the surface. Fourth, there
was ample mulch in the rose beds although not piled around the roses. This mulch offered
some minor protection and in some cases blowing leaves had accumulated in the rose
beds. I don't think I'll count on this in the future, however.
There were many successes of the big roses over the winter,
and some I didn't expect. For example, `Brandy', `First Prize' and `Ore gold' -- each
considered "tender"--all survived, but required very hard spring pruning.
Each is trying to make a valiant return. Roses like `Eyepaint', `Fimbriata' (HRg),
`Hannah Gordon', `Escapade', `Impatient', `Stretch Johnson', `Matangi', `Orangeaid',
`Graham Thomas' and many others Floribundas and Hybrid Teas and the old garden roses
seem to regard the worse winter in history as "..a piece of cake." `Oskar
Cordell', my only hybrid perpetual, survived beautifully too.
Proportionately, I lost more miniatures than big roses
which was unsuspected. Most of minis that were lost seemed to have been heaved to the
surface of the ground by thawing of the soil. In a few cases, part of the root system
could be seen. The lost miniatures were `Loving Touch', `Arizona Sunset', `Anytime',
`Georgette', `Mary Bell', `Cornsilk", `Figurine'(2) and `Old Glory'(2). It is
of interest that I had multiple plants of the first three and lost only one of each.
This point emphasizes that location of the plant has something to do with the surviving
potential of the variety.
SPRING TREATMENT OF SURVIVORS
Assuming that you have already pruned out all blackened
and discolored canes and have cut back into seemingly live tissue to good white pith,
continue to observe the plants and remove any further significant dieback. If you have
not done so already, remove all pruned material and leaves from last year that probably
harbor disease. Use your regular spring feeding program even on those plants you may
have some doubt about. Water the spring fertilizer in well and maintain a water rate
of at least an inch or better per week. Start your spraying program as soon as the
plants have started to leaf out and follow it rigorously. The idea is to give your
plants the best sendoff possible for the new growing season.
Some writers have warned that following a hard winter the
first growth may be from the understock, especially if the canes have been pruned hard.
Sucker growth probability is increased if the grafted variety has suffered significant
stress over the winter. Wait on this new growth, don't respond too quickly. Be certain
it is different than last year's normal foliage before you take action to remove it,
even though the growth seems to be coming from below the crown. By the same token,
once you are convinced you are dealing with understock growth dig down to its origin
and pull it out. In cases where such growth is the only growth, you will have to decide
if you wish to care for R. canina, R. multiflora or some other understock.
Should you have any specific questions about your rose
garden, as usual, please feel free to call any of the Consulting Rosarians listed on
the back cover of the MRS Newsletter. If you would like to share with other readers
your experience during the aftermath of the terrible 2002-2003 period, please drop
us a line. Which of your roses faired well over the winter and which did you lose.?
Did you winter protect your roses? If so, what material did you use?
-Al Ford, 1994
Warm-weather months and rose season approaching so here is seasonal treat that takes
advantage of both: