Tuesday, October 28, 2014 4 comments

Don't sweat over fall rose care

Dear Readers,
Better late than never. I am in Australia and meant to post this sooner. And for those who read the last post about the flying foxes, they are now gone from the Royal Sydney Botanical Gardens. More on that story to come.

In a time when pumpkins and mums dominate the garden landscape, it’s a treat to see some of my favorite roses making their final appearances of the season. 

Cooler temps give Sally Holmes a pretty fall blush
These last roses of summer can often be the sweetest – the nip in the air deepens the colors and the blooms themselves are sometimes a bit larger than usual. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about pruning or fertilizing until 2015. I can just sit back and enjoy the fall show.

Of course, there are a few chores to be done in the rose garden before winter sets in. But the list is pretty short for most areas of the country and includes more  “don’ts” than “do’s.”

Munstead Wood
For starters, don’t cut your roses back in the autumn. If you prune now you’ll just suffer dieback and will have to cut back more severely in the spring.  Wait until the forsythia blooms in your area before breaking out the secateurs. 

An exception would be Ramblers that bloom on old wood  -- if you wait till next year to tidy them up, you may well cut off potential new flowers. Trim about one-third of the growth now and cut out any dead canes.

I also suggest trimming back bushes that have developed extra long canes. In my garden, English Roses such as James Galway and the hybrid tea Elina have thrown out eight-foot canes. I trim those back to waist height so they don’t whip around in winter winds injuring themselves, their neighbors or me.
Trim back taller roses like James Galway

Don’t trim off rose hips, the colorful fruits that form in the late summer and early fall. They often turn lovely shades of orange-red, and are a signal to the bush that it’s time to get ready for a long winter’s nap.

Hips are a treat for the eyes and the birds

Do tear off and destroy any leaves that display signs of disease or insect infestation. Also dig up and discard any bushes that have died. Never put diseased leaves or dead roses in your compost pile.

Do identify any bushes that might need extra winter protection. Most of the newer shrubs and miniatures don’t need special care.

Darcey Bussell can bloom into November
If you aren’t sure whether a variety is tender or not, play it safe and add an 8” mound of soil, compost, leaf mold or other organic material around the base of the bush. Check with an American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian in your area for additional advice and winter protection tips.

Finally, scour the catalogs when they arrive and start thinking about new plants you’d like to add to the garden next year.

It’s a flight of fancy that will transport you away from the woes of winter.
Sunday, October 12, 2014 2 comments

Hanging around Down Under

Dear readers, 
I originally wrote this article for The Christian Science Monitor while we were in Australia for son Sam's wedding in 2011. We're heading back Down Under soon, this time to meet baby Poppy. I wonder if the grey-headed flying foxes are still in the botanical gardens? I'll let you know!

Here is the original article. Enjoy!

Just after we sold our house in Maryland, my husband and I visited Australia for a well-deserved holiday and son Sam’s wedding.

One of our first sightseeing stops was the Royal Botanic Gardens where we checked out the Queen of Flowers and learned that Australian roses suffer from many of the same pests and diseases we cope with in the US.

The Sydney Opera House can be see from the gardens

Not long after visiting the Palace Rose Garden, we wandered over to the Palm Grove, where I spied what appeared to be some hefty coconuts hanging from the trees. 

Imagine my surprise when one of the “coconuts” suddenly started shrieking, unfurled its wings, and flew over my head on a path toward the Sydney Opera House.

Suddenly, one of the "coconuts" took off

Grey-headed flying foxes

What I thought were hundreds of hanging fruits turned out to be a colony of grey-headed flying foxes. Named because the faces of the creatures resemble a fox (I didn’t care to get close enough to confirm that), they are actually one of the largest species of bats in the world.

Flying foxes weigh as much as two pounds and have a wingspan of up to five feet. Although they generally feed at night, the bats often take a noontime zoom around the gardens. No wonder folks at the snack bar suggest sitting under umbrellas while dining. 

The bats are reputed to be very intelligent, with large eyes and an acute sense of smell and hearing. During their nightly sorties, they can venture as far as 25 miles from their campsite at the gardens. 

And because they are one of the few species that pollinates the flowers and spreads the seeds of rain forest trees, flying foxes are a vital part of the local ecosystem.

They’re messy guests

Sadly, though, they are considered a messy nuisance anywhere they decide to hang out.

And since they are damaging the trees in areas such as the Palm Grove, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has granted the gardens permission to begin a two- to four-week noise disturbance program to encourage the bats to settle elsewhere.

A similar program succeeded at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.

The gorgeous Sydney skyline