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To have beautiful cut flowers all the time, plant a rose garden

Ah, Valentine's Day.

A time to stop and smell the roses, perhaps those gorgeous, long-stemmed ones in a bouquet, bought (for quite a lot) as a token of love.

The thing is, you probably can't smell them.

Over the years, form has triumphed over function as the rose industry — a $29 million business according to the U.S. Census Bureau — has hybridized roses for looks and longevity, in the process engineering the heady scent right out of those delicate buds. And, unfortunately, the beauty of any cut flower is brief.

Instead, consider the investment potential of roses. Not for your stock portfolio but as a lovely personal enrichment.

A homegrown rose, wonderfully fragrant, can provide great, long-term returns. In our climate, grown in full sun, roses will bloom almost year-round in a palette of colors from delicate pink to robust red, with bushes stretching to 6 feet or more. Plant a rose bush for (or better yet with) your valentine, share the care of it and you'll reap not only tangible beauty but also a sense of companionable success.

Roses are challenging but not as difficult to grow as you might think. The most important elements are the plant itself, the right nutrients and a maintenance schedule. Begin small, with one bush, maybe starting it in a large pot.

Your garden center should have many choices, but read the label before you buy one. Some roses won't survive Florida's heat and nematode-infested soils.

Insist on a rose grafted from fortuniana rootstock only. This super-charged, hardy rootstock can withstand heat, poor soil and destructive nematodes that would destroy an "own root" rose in a season or two. Considered the most superior, fortuniana develops a long, fine root system to support vigorous plant growth and produce large flowers year after year.

"I haven't bought flowers in years," says Gretchen Ward Warren, a consulting rosarian and member of the Tampa Rose Society. "I can always go out and pick a bouquet. If I need them for a birthday, dinner party or in the house, I always have them."

Warren has been growing roses for 20 years and now has more than 200. She admits it's not a plant you stick in the ground and forget about. Roses are big feeders; they like constantly moist soil, frequent fertilizing and mulching. They require regular spraying with a fungicide to prevent black spot fungus. They can require treatment for pests, especially in the hot, humid summers.

Understand they are not native plants and need help. "They aren't what you would call eco-friendly at all," she admits. "Anyone who is a conservationist would stick their noses up at them."

Oh, but the exquisite flowers and the intoxicating, sweet aromas, in full flush just about every month or so.

Growing roses has an unexpected bonus, too, says Warren. "It's a great way to get to know your neighbors. Everyone stops to smell the roses."

Yvonne Swanson can be reached at

Best bets

Here's the group's list of the easiest-to-grow roses in the Tampa Bay area. For the full list, visit Many nurseries can order them for you if you call ahead and ask.

Hybrid tea

Most popular, vase-shaped flowers, long stems.

Examples: Moonstone (above), St. Patrick, Tiffany, Veteran's Honor


Large, bushy shrub produces flower clusters.

Example: Melody Parfumee


Low-growing, bushy shrub produces flower clusters.

Examples: Angel Face (above),

Fabulous, First Kiss,

Our Lady of Guadalupe


Examples: Altissimo,

Casino, Don Juan (above), Fourth of July


Examples: Autumn

Splendor (above), Bees Knees, My Sunshine

Old Garden

Examples: Celine Forestier, Rose de Rescht, Souvenir de la Malmaison (above)

Planting tips

Roses, more than many flowering plants in Florida, need a significant upfront investment in soil enhancement. Once planted, one or even a few bushes won't take more than 15 minutes of your time each week to maintain — and that includes cutting the blooms for your pleasure. For detailed information about rose care, go to

Full sun is best. Provide plenty of room for growth and air circulation.

To plant, dig a hole 18 inches wide and 20 inches deep for a bareroot rose, or three times as wide for a container plant. Keep several shovelfuls of soil and discard the rest. Mix 3 or 4 bags of compost and top soil with 1 cubic foot of peat moss (about a 5-gallon bucket), 1 cup superphosphate, 2 coffee cans of alfalfa or cottonseed meal, 1 cup dolomitic limestone and 2 coffee cans of Milorganite fertilizer. Plant the bush at the same depth as in its container using the soil mixture and top with up to 4 inches of mulch. When new growth appears, fertilize with a 12-6-8 rose fertilizer. One week later, add several cups of dehydrated cow manure and water.

If using a pot, it should be at least twice as large as the container. Use half of materials above, mix together, fill and plant. You'll have leftovers that can be stored.

Provide a good weekly soaking, technically 3 inches per week, but don't worry about specifics. Soil should never dry out, especially in pots.

Fertilize monthly with rose fertilizer.

• TO Prevent black spot fungus, apply fungicide regularly. Available products include Rose Pride, which is applied every seven days, or Banner Maxx every two weeks.

You're pruning each time you cut flowers. Next year, cut plant back to stems only (about one-half to two-thirds of plant) at the end of January or first two weeks of February.

Hot, humid summers can take a toll due to disease and pest problems, so don't get discouraged in August. A strong rose bush will survive and thrive again come cooler weather.

Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent

fast facts

If you need help

With 250 members, the Tampa Rose Society is the largest in the state and hosts the largest rose show and sale each year (this year's event is May 2 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa). Their 20 consulting rosarians are available free of charge to offer advice, including a visit to your garden to diagnose problems.

To have beautiful cut flowers all the time, plant a rose garden 02/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2009 12:48pm]
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