Soils provide anchorage as well as sustenance to plants. The growth of your roses will largely depend on the soil in which they are grown. Therefore, it is very important for you to ensure that the soil you are using to grow your roses is appropriate for the plants. It is also important for you to have a fundamental understanding of the manner in which the soil works. This is vital for managing your rose garden effectively. In fact, you should not just consider soil to be growing medium onto which you can pour bagful fertilizers again and again. Instead, you need to realize that soils are basically multifaceted, vibrant and living systems that respond to any change we may bring into effect.
It is said that a clay soil is necessary for the perfect growth of roses. It is, however, important to note that this is a sort of exaggerating facts or somewhat misleading. There is no doubt that time and again clay is recommended for rose gardeners. This is mainly because clay soil possesses the aptitude to retain more water, thereby ensuring that the rose plants will not become dry easily. As we all are aware, when rose bushes become dry, they neither grow well, not flower properly.
There is another reason why rose gardeners are suggested that they use clay soils. This is primary because the majority of the rose varieties are propagated by means of budding the preferred variety on top of a healthy rootstock. Generally, the gardeners use the root-stocks of Rosa canina or the Rosa multiflora, as both these species grow excellently in soils that are relatively heavy. Nevertheless, several roses grown by the northern planters – for instance, the Scotch rose and the rugosa rose have a preference for lighter soils when they are growing on the own roots. It is important to always bear in mind that irrespective of the variety of rose, they require a constant supply of water as well as nutrients for their optimal growth. Practically, you can grow roses successfully in any type of soil, provided they have a proper drainage and contain sufficient organic materials that would ensure proper growth. In addition, the soil should possess the ability to retain moisture and maintain a steady supply of nutrients to the plants.
When we talk about soil pH, we actually refer to the relative alkalinity or acidity of a soil. Usually, the pH is a number which lies between 4.0 and 8.5. A lower reading denotes that the soil is more acidic while a higher reading indicates that the soil is more alkaline. The pH of a soil is vital, as the roots are unable to take up nutrients from any soil that is either very acidic or extremely alkaline. The majority of the roses prefer a soil pH that is between 5.5 (reasonably acidic) and 7.0 (neutral), as this not only promotes optimum growth but also produces the best flowers.
In case you reside somewhere in the Southwest or West or in Southeast regions like central Texas, you will notice that the soil in your region is particularly alkaline and its pH is above 7.0. You can deal with this issue by planting China roses and tea roses – plants that have grown on their personal roots. These two rose varieties possess the ability to endure alkalinity more compared to other types of roses. In fact, these roses can flourish when grown in soils having a pH of between 7.5 and 8.0. In case you want to plant grafted roses in alkaline soils, you should ensure that the plants have been grafted on rootstocks that are called “Dr. Huey”, as this particular rose variety can also tolerate alkaline soils.
On the other hand, if you desire to plant other rose varieties or the alkalinity of your soil is above 8.0 (something that is not very normal), you will require modifying the pH level of your soil by adding sulfur or sphagnum peat. Both these substances help to decrease the alkalinity of the soil. However, the amount of these substances that you need to add to the soil will differ depending on the soil type as well as the strength of the alkalinity. Therefore, you need to go for a soil test whose results will come with a comprehensive prescription.
However, you need to understand that treating the soils with sulfur or sphagnum peat does not offer a permanent solution, as the alkalinity will gradually return to your garden from soils in adjoining areas. At the same time, you need to find out the alkalinity of the tap water at your place. You can know this from the company that supplies water to your home. In case the water is alkaline – this is most probable, as the water in wells or stored in reservoirs percolates through the soil in your region, thereby restoring some amount of alkalinity to your garden each time you irrigate the plants with this water. Whatever is the case, it is suggested that you go for fresh soil tests to find its alkalinity at least once every year or at intervals of two years.
If you happen to live anywhere in the Northwest or Northeast regions, the pH of your soil will possibly be extremely low – in other words, it will be very acidic. This condition can also be overcome by treating the soil by adding powdered limestone. In this case also, the quantity of limestone you need to add to your soil will vary and it will solely depend on the soil type as well as the intensity of acidity of the soil. Therefore, undertake a soil test and the results will come with a detailed prescription, which will help you to take the right decision in this regard. Similar to alkaline soils, you need to test the acidic soils from time to time to ascertain their level of acidity at different times. You should know that using chemical fertilizers continuously will also have the propensity to increase the level of the soil’s acidity.
In general, soils can be classified under two heads – sandy soils and clay soils. Clay soils have a very elevated proportion of minerals, including mica and feldspar, which are composed of minute, plane plates that bind together closely. As a result, it becomes difficult for air and water to pass through them. In order to break up clay soils, it is essential to blend significant amounts of organic materials having a rough texture. While these chunks of organic materials may have odd shapes, they actually help to keep the clay particles separated, thereby making space for water as well as air to flow through the clay soil. As the roots of most plants grow very close to the soil surface, it is important that you work these organic substances into this layer of soil. Working the soil close to the roots will help the roots to receive more oxygen as well as other nutrients obtained from the organic matter break-up.
The problem with sandy soils, which are made up of silica and/ or quartz grains, is just the opposite. The silica and quartz particles are not only irregular in shape, but also have large spaces between them. As a result, both water and air can pass freely. As sandy soils contain very little organic substances, it becomes dry very rapidly.
In the case of clay soils, water passes very slowly, dissolving the outside of the mineral particles in the soil and releasing them later. On the other hand, the particles contained in sandy soils do not dissolve readily in water mainly owing to the composition of these particles. In addition, as water passes freely through sandy soils, whatever nutrient or mineral is present in the soil is washed away fast. This is the main reason why sandy soils are never so fertile. However, you can solve this problem quickly by adding organic substances to sandy soils. In fact, some best soils in the world are a combination of sand and very fine organic particles. It has been found that a blend of excellent drainage and the ability of organic substances to retain nutrient and moisture result in conditions that are most favorable for plant growth. At the same time, loose soils made up of gravels and sands are relatively easy to work on.
Most soils found in different gardens are something between two extremes – they are either pure clay or pure sand. Irrespective of whether the soil in your garden is pure clay or pure sand, you can certainly improve their quality by adding organic substances. Organic materials have their origin either in plants or animals. When micro-organisms present in the soil break down these organic materials they release the nutrients contained by them. Eventually, these elements combine with the water that seeps into the soil. These substances mixed with water provide the plants with their required nutrients. If you take a close look at the roots of any plant, you will find that these delicate roots penetrate the chunks of original materials in the soil. In fact, the roots are aware where their food is available.
There are two main sources of organic substances – manure and compost. In addition to these two, there is another important soil conditioner – peat moss, which is extensively used by most gardeners. Peat moss contains very fine fibers, which have been pickled chemically by soaking the substance in highly acidic water for several centuries. Peat moss contains very few nutrients, but when it slowly breaks down, it helps the soil to retain water as well as air effectively for several years. Apart from manure, compost, and peat moss, many gardeners also use shredded barks as well as other by-products of the forest industry to improve the quality of the soil. All these are very effective but in varying degrees.
While it may seem amazing, the fact is that an unspoiled cultivated garden is not only unnatural but usually, it also presents an environment that is unfriendly for any plant. When the weather conditions are hot and dry, such a garden will virtually turn into a desert because a clean surface will absorb as well as emit massive amounts of heat, thereby losing moisture rapidly. In addition, the top layer of soil in your garden may also be washed away by rains. At the same time, the garden’s surface may also be packed due to the effect of raindrops. The problem of a clean garden does not end here. Once the rains are over, the sun will possibly bake the mud-spattered soil into a solid shell, which, in turn, will lessen the levels of oxygen in the area where the roots are present underground. As a result, the problem will aggravate when it rains again.
It has been observed that majority of plants have a preference for an environment that bears a resemblance to a “forest floor”. The mulch layer serves as an equalizer in any healthy forest. Similarly, mulching the plants in your garden also works to create a “forest floor” environment. Mulches possess insulating properties mitigate the summer heat as well as winter cold. Mulch soaks up as well as scatters the consequences of raindrops, thereby preventing erosion as well as thwarting the bacteria and fungi present in the soil from splattering up onto the plants and cause problems for them. In addition, mulches also promote the continuous activities of insects, worms as well as other micro-organisms present in the soil, thereby creating a pathway system that augments oxygen circulation to the plant roots.
What is possibly the most important value of mulching the plants in your garden is that organic mulches help to create an environment in your garden that actually promotes the growth and presence of several insects, microscopic plants as well as animals that are essential for the soil to remain healthy. It is worth mentioning here that these active organisms help to break down the organic substances and make them useful for the plants. Precisely speaking, when the organic materials are broken down, they give out nutrients into the soil and these are taken up by the plants through their roots.
However, you should know that simply adding large quantities of organic materials to the soil is not sufficient. In fact, you need to ensure that the soil gets enough nitrogen to be able to break down these organic substances. This can be achieved by adding nitrogen fertilizers to the soil. However, nitrogen fertilizers may prove to be detrimental to some micro-organisms present in the soil. Nevertheless, including superior quality compost in the soil surface prior to adding the mulch will not only help in providing sufficient nitrogen but also enhance the texture of the soil as well as its fertility. In case you do not work the layer of mulch into the soil, the plants’ requirement for nitrogen will be relatively less. When the mulch becomes steady or constant, you may just add a new layer of mulch to the soil surface every year or once in two years, which will, in effect, prevent the nitrogen supplies from being overtaxed. Mulching the soil gradually in layers is something similar to the “forest floor”, which keeps adding dropped leaves every year.
Remember that the process of weeding actually starts even before you plant the first rose in your garden. In case you are growing your roses in an unused area in your garden, the first thing you need to do is get rid of all the weeds that you can. Ensure that you also get rid of their roots so that the weeds do not reappear. While this certainly is not a thrilling job, remember that every hour spent in preparing the site for growing your roses will pay your multiple dividends in the future. After completing the initial preparations, you may also decide to add some manure or compost to the soil.
After planting the roses, you should seriously think of providing the plants with a layer of mulching, comprising organic substances like shredded bark or other substances. However, ensure that these organic substances do not enclose weed seeds. Some weed seeds only germinate when there is light and the mulch will keep them away from light. Applying a thick mulch layer will help to check some weed seeds from going to the soil surface and germinate there or prevent the germinated seeds from reaching the soil surface. Despite this, there will be some seeds that will succeed in receiving sunlight and if any of the roots are perennial, they will give rise to shoots. However, you can remove them easily when your garden is mulched. On the other hand, if the soil is hard and baked, it is almost impossible to get rid of weeds and if you are persistent on removing them, you will have to toil very hard. When you mulch your garden, it helps to keep the soil looser and also much more aerated. This makes it a relatively easy task to get rid of the weeds – both their tops as well as the roots.
While you are making plans for your garden, you should bear in mind that it is very difficult to keep up a one-off flower. In addition to the fact that the grass in your garden will grow very rapidly encroaching your rose site, keeping the roses free from weeds can also be a difficult task. Therefore, it is advisable that you plant your roses in beds or in groups, as this will be helpful in ensuring that the ground between the flower beds is kept clean. In addition, it will also help you to cultivate the ground better and more easily. In fact, it will make undertaking mowing a lot easier. It will enable you to use the mower more freely along the edge of flower beds, rather than that pushing under the rose bushes from different sides to keep the place free from weeds and unwanted grass.
In addition, you need to cut the edges every spring using a spade with a view to check the weed roots and grass from invading the rose beds. In fact, you should ensure that you leave a cut face along the edge, as this will help to “air prune” roots that may be growing towards the rose bed. It is worth mentioning here that when we talk of “air pruning”, we denote a technique whereby the roots are exposed to air in the absence of high humidity and effectively “burned” off, and resulting in the production of new and healthy branching roots continuously. In case the plan of your garden requires growing individual plants in the lawn, you should ensure that the cultivated area’s edge is at a distance from the roses. When you do this, it helps you to maintain the edges better and without much difficulty.