August 2010 Issue
Coming Up Roses
Rose expert Peter Schneider's new book helps timid growers tend beautiful rose gardens.
To Peter Schneider, growing roses is easy.
Try telling that to the many Ohioans who struggle daily with their roses, pruning and prodding and nitpicking every detail of the delicate, unfolding, softly scented and layered petals. “It’s true – roses have a reputation for being hard to grow,” Schneider says. “The people who grow them successfully must be cranks or obsessive or maybe just very lucky.”
But roses really aren’t that challenging, Schneider insists. “If you can grow a marigold, you can grow a rose,” he says. Schneider, 50, doesn’t pamper the more than 1,200 varieties of roses he and his wife, Susan, grow on their eight-acre property in Freedom Township in Portage County. Except for a handful of special plants, he does absolutely nothing to protect them from the harshness of winter.
“What happens, happens,” he believes. And so his star roses are situated right next to the poor performers, which he’s not embarrassed to show to hundreds of visitors during his annual Open Garden Days in June. “It proves the importance of choosing one’s rose varieties with care,” says Schneider, who recently released his third book, Right Rose, Right Place
(Storey Publishing). “Every week I meet someone who tells me, ‘I can’t grow roses.’ From listening to their stories, I have learned that almost everyone really can grow roses. The problem is they have chosen to try and grow the wrong roses for their gardens. And no amount of tender loving care can transform a rose that isn’t right for you.”
Schneider’s rose success started unexpectedly in 1978. He was tending to some old rose bushes in the yard of his former home in Lakewood. He didn’t realize how worn-out they were until he bought a raspberry-and-cream hybrid tea rose called Double Delight. This newcomer offered more fragrance and grew more vigorously than the others.
Encouraged by this success, he planted more roses. Before he knew it, he had 500 roses and not much lawn growing in his 40-by-150-foot lot.
To Schneider, tending roses was simple. At the time, he could walk around his garden in five minutes, the garden hose reaching wherever he wanted it to go. “And in a garden sheltered by houses, garages and the neighbor’s gigantic oak tree, I never had to worry too much about winter,” he says.
Eager to learn more, Schneider soon joined the Forest City Rose Society where, at just 21 years old, he was a novelty. “The members were all three times as old as I was,” he says. “But it would have taken me a lot longer to learn what I learned if I hadn’t joined — anything that was happening to my roses had once happened to theirs.”
At the rose shows that were popular among society members, everyone showed off their hybrid tea varieties. “There would be 110 roses competing for one trophy,” Schneider says. But in the old garden rose categories, only “one little old lady would enter.”
So Schneider concocted a strategy: “I went for the category no one was interested in — heirloom roses,” he says. Soon he started winning prizes. “It got me to plant them … and love them.”
Today, hardy shrub and heritage roses make up the majority of Schneider’s garden because they are best suited for his yard’s conditions. “I enjoy hybrid teas and floribundas, too, but [I] plant them carefully so that I can enjoy them as more than annuals,” he says.
Ohio gardeners interested in successfully growing roses first must decide what they want in a rose, including color, plant height and size, bloom shape, suitability as a cut flower, speed of repeat blooms, fragrance, winter hardiness and disease resistance, Schneider says. “Next, accept the fact that, unfortunately, you can’t have it all,” he adds.
For instance, the popular Knock Out rose varieties are great for those who want blooms all summer long. “But when you see a rose, you want to smell it, and Knock Outs have no fragrance,” Schneider points out. They also aren’t good as cut flowers for bouquets — hybrid teas would be better for those who want cut flowers and fragrance.
The differences between northern and southern Ohio weather conditions are also a factor. A hybrid tea is a zone 6 plant, so it can’t grow as successfully in the north without winter protection, Schneider explains. Limited sunlight will also slim a gardener’s rose selection. “Half a day of sun or more gives you plenty of possibilities,” he says. “But once you get down to four hours of sun, your selection narrows a lot.”
After listing their priorities based on spots available in their yards, rose gardeners should shop beyond the local garden centers. Schneider suggests they patronize mail order nurseries and locally owned garden centers with proprietors who can provide advice based on Ohio conditions. Among the 15,000 different roses available today, any garden center will have only a tiny percentage. “And the popularity of Knock Outs has pushed a lot of other roses out of garden centers,” he says.
“Beware of roses sold at big box or discount stores,” Schneider warns. “The varieties there may simply reflect what a supplier grew far too many of this year or printed up far too many posters for last year.”
Proper planting can give roses a good start. November is actually the best time to plant a rose “if you get bare root plants from mail-order nurseries,” Schneider says. Although August is not the ideal time to plant — “if you have a potted rose, though, planting it now is better than waiting until September,” Schneider advises — it is the perfect time to visit rose gardens and conduct research for next spring. “If you see a rose doing really well in August in Ohio, you know it will be a good rose,” he says.
For those who wait until spring to plant, Schneider suggests they sh
op early for the best selection. Another fail-safe rose purchasing tip: look for those sold in a bigger pot at local garden centers, indicating healthy roots.
Ultimately, rose growing is not a scientific experiment or a “theoretical exercise,” Schneider says. “It is soil and fertilizer and sunlight and rain, and living plants.”
After more than 30 years of digging in the dirt, Schneider has found his gardens to be a labor of love — in every sense. He met his wife, Susan, while exhibiting roses. She was his competition. And, though they each have lost a contest or two to the other, having similar interests has kept them together nearly 20 years; that and a clever strategy for resolving rose-related disagreements. “We have separate beds — she grows roses she wants in hers and I grow mine in mine. In the others, we work together.”
If he had to name a favorite rose out of the 2,000 different cultivars he has grown, Schneider says that answer is the reason growing roses has been his passion for more than 30 years: “The one I haven’t seen yet.”
Peter Schneider’s book,
Right Rose, Right Place, is available online at Storey Publishing's website, storey.com, as well as at amazon.com. For more information about Schneider’s roses, visit combinedroselist.com. Next year’s Open Garden Days will be Sundays, June 12 and 19. Additional dates will be announced on the website.
A Cut Above
Expert advice from a rose-growing veteran.
All roses — from single-petaled beauties to traditional 30- to 40-petal varieties — can be enjoyed as cut flowers. For those who want to experience their roses inside as well as out, Peter Schneider's book, Right Rose, Right Place
, provides a few tips.
The fewer petals a rose has, the sooner it should be cut. Cut single-petaled roses as their sepals are coming down, hybrid teas when they are one-third open and many-petaled roses when they are more fully open on the bush.
Cut roses either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, when sugar and water content is highest. This will make them last longer.
Never rob any rose of more than one-third of its foliage at once — it could be fatal to the plant.
Use sharp pruners and take stems aslong as you want. Then recut the stem underwater to prevent air bubbles from traveling up the stem and causing the flower to wilt.
Pair your rose bouquets with baby’s breath or lavender.
Most roses last a week indoors, but simply changing the water each day and recutting the stem under water every other day does a lot to extend the life of cut roses. Floral preservatives really work, but a mixture of sugar and bleach works almost as well — use a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of bleach per quart of water.
If you don’t want to cut the stem, roses also can be enjoyed indoors floating in a bowl.