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Roses - Location And Preparation

( Originally Published 1914 )

EVERY one cannot have an ideal location for roses, yet given enough sunlight it is astonishing what fine results may be obtained in a small bed bordering on a path or road should no lawn space be available. Too much shade will not give good results and the roots of trees are very detrimental to rose growth. Unless the trees overhang the beds, if you believe your plants will get direct sunlight at least half the day—there being no other place available—the chances are that your bed will succeed, but you must protect the rose roots from the roots of the trees. As a general rule a tree sends out roots in a circumference the radius of which equals its height, but the roots near the outer edge of the circumference are small and can be cut without injury to the tree; nevertheless where tree roots once grew they will come back again, and it is imperative that the roses be protected from them. The simplest and cheapest way is to line the outside of your rose bed with boards, but as these rot it is only a question of time before the tree roots will again force their way into the space reserved for the roses, so the boards must be renewed. The best way is to put in a small wall of concrete four inches in thickness, which will protect the bed for all time from this interference of tree roots. Mr. E. M. Rosenbluth, of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, lines the sides of his beds with coated galvanized iron, while Mr. Maurice Fuld, of New York, suggests lime used as a concrete wall, not only to protect from roots, but also to give lime to the soil.

Providing the roses get at least half a day's sun-light and the tree roots do not interfere, the bed can be successfully made as above proposed. The ideal location is a south to southeast exposure, especially with a windbreak on the north and northwest sides from which the coldest winter winds come. Wind-breaks may be in the form of trees, houses, or any-thing which will stop the direct force of the cold, bleak winds. Roses will do well even on a north slope if they get the sun and are properly cared for. Worse than a north slope is low land, which is not and cannot be easily drained, and where roses will get more late frost than they will on the exposed hillside.

Having looked over the ground and selected, in accordance with the general working directions given above, the most suitable place for the roses, consider next the shape of the bed, the extent of space to be given to it and the number of plants it will accommodate. Unless formal or landscape gardening is desired the most practical form of bed for roses is one three to three and a half feet wide, as explained under planting, and long enough to accommodate the number of plants desired when they are spaced at an average distance of twenty inches, center to center.* Some of the weaker growing roses will do better if set only fifteen inches apart, while the stronger growing varieties should be placed as far apart as three feet; but for a working rule, unless you expect to order only the very largest roses, an allowance of twenty inches will be found to give roughly the number of plants which the bed will hold. On Multiflora allow a trifle more.

Having decided on the number of plants, consider what steps are necessary to make the beds properly and have them in absolute readiness for the arrival of the plants. Then proceed with the actual ordering of the varieties, instructions for which will be found in the following chapter. The beds should be made some weeks before planting to allow for settling and if they should have settled too much below the ground level additional soil may be added, although to conserve moisture the actual finished level of the bed should be two inches below the surface of the adjacent ground.

The matter of soil, or of the best composition of soil, for the rose bed is a very interesting one, and when a person wishes to go into rose growing on a large scale, beds should be constructed for each particular kind of rose.

Pemberton goes most thoroughly into this subject of soils; any one contemplating the planting of a large collection of roses will do well to study his chap-ter on soils. He advocates for roses, where autumn blooms are desired, from forty to seventy per cent. of clay in the bed, and this statement of his has been borne out by our experiments with different soils.

The most complete and technical book on this subject which we have found is: "Soils," Lyon and Fippin; L. H. Bailey, editor.

A rule which seems to be endorsed by all rosarians is that Hybrid Perpetuals and the stronger Hybrid Teas do better in clay, and the weaker Hybrid Teas and Teas are more certain to thrive in soil containing some sand.

Until his death, the late Mr. Frederick W. Taylor, of Philadelphia, conducted a great many interesting and exhaustive experiments with different kinds of soils, particularly in relation to the growing of grass but to some extent in testing roses. Some of his beds have been made up in most complicated and expensive ways, and while good results have been secured, nevertheless, from careful comparison between his roses and those in our ordinary beds, we cannot see enough advantage gained to warrant our recommending his beds for general use, primarily on account of the expense and trouble involved in their construction. He explained in "Country Life in America" his system of preparation for the growing of grass and golf greens. His experiments with roses were on the same lines, except that the germinating and food layers used for the seed in the growing of grass were not necessary in the case of the roses. The bed designed for grass was used for the roses except the top eight inches, which were composed of a blanket layer usually of clay and loam, sometimes of Jersey peat.

This special bed has given the best results with roses such as Lyon, which loses its leaves early, and also with very weak growing roses like Hugo Roller. Collectors who wish to grow such roses to their greatest beauty should make beds of this description. It is not well, however, for growers to use these beds without great care, because there are a number of varieties which do not thrive in them as well as in the ordinary beds. Just as La France needs the poorest kind of soil in which to be grown to perfection, so many other roses would tend to grow wood and not produce bloom if placed in beds of this character. With good all-round roses the growth during the first year in the special beds exceeds that in the regular bed, but after the second year the difference is less marked and in many cases the blooming qualities are better in the regular bed. No doubt some one will eventually discover the best beds for each given type of rose, changes in the beds being made in accordance with the different habits of growth of the plants. When these new beds are developed it is hoped that their originators will bring them before the rose growing public and supply a long-felt want. It is our opinion that for the average rose lover who wants to grow his few dozen plants, such experiments, while interesting, would not as yet be practical and would certainly be very expensive. It is far better to order the best roses as carefully tested in the regular beds, and to construct beds from which good all-round and practical results may be obtained at a moderate cost. There is, however, one new feature of Mr. Taylor's experiments which seems very practical and useful and is so simple that we take great pleasure (with his permission) in recommending it for rose beds, i.e., the covering of the bed in the spring with a blanket of peat moss. This is a non-conductor of heat and cold, and will not only keep the moisture in the ground by protecting it from the sun's absorbing rays but also greatly reduce the actual temperature of the bed.

In July and August the ground temperature of beds covered with this mulch is several degrees lower than adjacent beds. Later, when the average ground temperature is below seventy, there is little if any difference. In addition to this it prevents some seeds of weeds from germinating, so that this cover practically eliminates constant weeding. It also gives the beds a neat and most attractive appearance. The best time to put on this peat moss is when the flower buds commence to form, except in very cool damp seasons, when it should be withheld until the ground surface becomes dried.

This peat moss may be secured from any nursery, and it should be ground fine by a machine, then sprinkled with water before it is placed on the beds, to keep it from blowing about. By putting on a six-inch blanket you will secure the finished depth required of from three to four inches.

In order to avoid breaking the rose canes the safest way to pack the moss properly into place is to trample on it carefully. It will be found that the roses so covered will give bloom about as early as plants left unprotected by moss, and during the hottest weather the covered plants will thrive to a greater degree, while the moss renders watering less necessary, and thereby somewhat prevents the likelihood of mildew.

The beds tested with and without moss show that the covered plants bloom only one day later, but hold the bloom much longer.

In some of our beds we are putting a four-inch layer of peat moss at each side of the bed and at the ends, which should still further act in keeping the temperature low. We do not think this necessary, but in districts where dry, hot weather of long duration occurs, and in seashore planting, where soil must be imported, and where the existing extremely sandy soil surrounding the rose bed becomes very hot, such side protection should be of great benefit. The moss should go from the surface to the bottom of the bed and make a four-inch wall between the bed and the hotter ground around it. Where cement or boards have been used to keep out tree roots, this side protection is, of course, unnecessary.

Under normal conditions peat moss is worth about fourteen dollars a ton by the carload and one ton will cover over one hundred yards of rose beds, averaging three and one-half feet in width, the finished level of the moss being over three inches; in other words, two hundred pounds, at a cost of less than two dollars, would protect ten yards of rose bed, or about forty plants. The hundred-pound price is a little more expensive than the carload rate. Since the European War the cost of peat moss has naturally increased. However, moss is being imported and, as far as can be discovered without an actual test, is practically the same. In England, one of the best growers, Herbert L. Wettern, who won the Amateur Championship of England, for exhibition and decorative roses, in 1915 and 1916, uses a mulch of spent hops on his beds. This may be secured from any brewery, usually for the cost of hauling, or for fifty cents a ton. Tested this year, it has proved a fair substitute for peat moss; the temperature of the beds covered with it has been about the same as other beds covered with moss, but it does not conserve moisture as well as the old mulch. It would seem that if a deeper mulch of spent hops was put on, it would be practically as good as moss. However, roses which lose their foliage early do better with the moss. Dr. Lewis Rumford, of Wilmington, Delaware, advocates the use of cut grass on beds in summer to protect them from heat; where moss or hops are not used this would undoubtedly be of value.

To return to the composition of the bed itself. We have found that there are two most important things necessary to insure success: First, the bed must underdrain, to get rid of any great surplus of water, so that in very damp seasons the rose roots will not be too wet; second, the bed must, on the other hand, retain moisture to a certain extent so that in very dry seasons the roots will not be too dry. To obtain the drainage it is necessary in soil which is greatly composed of clay to underdrain the beds by a layer of crushed stone; where the soil is more open, gravelly or sandy, this is not needed. Under very bad conditions tile should be used, but never to the extent of draining all the moisture away. The bed should be made two and one-half feet in depth if underdrainage is necessary, with about six inches of crushed or broken stone put in the bottom; small crushed stone lies evenly, and the earth does not sift through it enough to clog the drainage. Large or uneven stone should be covered by some-thing to keep the earth from sifting through. If the bed is made in a lawn the turf cut from the surface and turned upside down is a good expedient, or a couple of inches of fine cinders will be found all that is required. Fine stone is really the best. Of course, for a location which is gravelly or sandy, this stone will not be needed and a depth of two feet will be sufficient.

Mr. E. M. Rosenbluth, of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, secures better drainage for his roses by dynamiting the foundation of his beds.

We will now consider that we have dug a trench, the bottom either covered or not covered with stone to the depth of six inches, but which is now two feet from the ground level. It should be noted that in digging this trench for the bed the top soil should be placed in one pile and the subsoil in another. The top soil is the soil on the surface, which runs to different depths, usually about six inches, and which is composed for the most part of decayed vegetation from the roots of many generations of grasses, etc. It contains a percentage of humus and is, therefore, very valuable as food to the rose roots. Usually it is darker in color than the subsoil and can easily be noted. In soils where there is a large percentage of clay or loam it will not be necessary to use subsoil other than that taken from the trench, as far as one-third of the mixture to be put back into the bed is concerned; but where soil is very gravelly or sandy it would be best to secure some heavy loam or clay to make the proper kind of bed. The finished bed should be one-third top soil, one-third heavy clay subsoil, and one-third cow manure. There will not be enough top soil taken from the trench to supply the one-third necessary for the bed, and more must be provided.

In localities where there is no heavy clay or loam there will often be found heavy, dark soil which contalus decayed leaves, roots, etc., which is a very good substitute. Subsoil containing sand in any quantity should have loam and clay added and top soil containing much sand should have other top soil added. Reverting to what has been said before, and to make the matter perfectly clear, it will be remembered that the soil should be heavy enough to hold moisture, be rich enough for sustenance, and yet must drain at the bottom.

The ideal way to mix the top soil, clay and manure in three equal parts would be by machine, but for all practical purposes we have found the following procedure to be all that is necessary: Cover the bottom of the trench with a given number of wheel-barrow loads of the rich, darker top soil, then add the same number of loads of the lighter, clayey sub-soil, and then an equal number of loads of manure, after which the whole bed should be forked together thoroughly to mix the ingredients. After this first layer is thoroughly mixed, proceed as above with the wheelbarrow loads of each ingredient and mix again. After each mixing the bed should be thoroughly rammed, otherwise it will settle too much after it is finished.

In addition to the above, we would advocate adding, for every twenty-five feet of bed, the following: One bucket of lime, evenly distributed, to be added after the first layer is mixed, and one bucket of bone meal, evenly distributed, to be added before the last layer is put in.

When making beds for autumn planting it would be well to realize that very often roses imported from the other side are delayed. The season may be very late with the European growers, and the leaves not fall from the plants until after our heavy frosts (which may be early ones) have frozen the ground. For this reason, when the beds are made the ground conditions must be carefully watched, and if frost appears they should be covered with a heavy litter. This will usually protect the ground so that if the roses do not arrive until well into the autumn they may still be planted. We have successfully planted roses after hard freezing and six inches of snow in December, our beds having been covered with a heavy litter before the snow fell. When planting we removed snow and litter and the following year our roses did well.

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