GV Gardeners: Celebrating official national flower in June

Newcomers are often amazed to learn that even delicate-looking roses can be grown successfully in the desert. It is no wonder that these lovelies have been chosen as our country's Official National Flower.

Roses are in a family of thorny shrubs or climbing plants with hundreds of hybrids. In addition to being one of the bestselling floral gifts, roses can be grown in all 50 American states. They are valued by the perfume and cosmetic industries, and interestingly promoted for home security because of their prickly stems.

The late President Ronald Reagan declared the rose “The National Floral Emblem of the United States.” Furthermore, the month of June annually is “National Rose Month.”

Many important White House meetings take place in the country’s official Rose Garden. There are floribunda and hybrid tea roses, miniatures, climbers, and “old-fashioned garden roses” where hundreds of hours must go into pruning, fertilizing, grooming, water management, and weeding.

Newcomers frequently ask if there are secrets to growing roses in the Sonoran Desert. They are often surprised to find that roses can be grown year-round here, usually blooming in six-week cycles. Of course, weather conditions must be considered, along with the alkaline soil, low rainfall, and the many varieties available.

In our desert, the annual average number of days reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit is 46; however, it can reach as many as 75 days of triple-digit temperatures. That these lovely, delicate-appearing beauties can survive such punishment seems incredible!

Briefly, a routine year for growing roses here starts in January when the bushes are seriously pruned back and leaves are removed. This forces dormancy, allowing plants to rest during the shorter winter days. Late February begins the fertilizer cycle. In March the plants are sprayed for insect and disease control.

By mid-April the first big rose bloom period begins. The tasks of deadheading, weeding, and fertilizing start in May. By the middle of June, the second bloom cycle should appear. This time of year, high winds and hot temperatures can stress the plants and dry out the petals. Buds may be smaller and tiny insects called thrips will be searching for their favorite white roses.

Any needed watering and deadheading continues through July and August with a small amount of fertilizer added. A wand attachment for the garden hose is a good tool in the rose garden. Use one a couple times weekly to wash off both tops and bottoms of leaves. This will remove dust and spider mites, of course depending on frequency and amount of monsoon season rainfall.

During September, the rose bushes are lightly pruned (no more than one-third of the bush), and a regular dose of fertilizer is applied. Around the end of October is time to welcome the third bloom period. During November and December, allow the rose hips to develop, without further deadheading or fertilizer. It then is time for a rest period, for both the impressive rose garden and the proud gardener!

Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.