Drought is a nasty word for a rose gardener. While water is found everywhere, even on Mars, it’s currently in short supply throughout much of the Northeastern United States, including our moderate Zone 6 Rhode Island. We usually receive about 50 inches of rainfall each year. Usually. But we are in our second year of a 25% rain deficit, well below normal, and find ourselves in an official drought and water restraints are suggested. Roses grow best when they receive steady, abundant watering and this long-term lack of rain for the last two years presents a challenge.
Droughts start with a dry winter which is exactly what we had last year. But prior to that, lower than normal precipitation last fall accompanied the long, warm, and very dry weather that lasted until Thanksgiving. The dryness continued throughout the following cold, snowless winter followed by still more dryness. As a result of this departing gift from El Nino, Rhode Island, the Ocean State, surrounded by Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is experiencing a moderate to severe drought and we are not used to this.
The fact that water has also become expensive, due to costly upgrades to local sewerage treatment facilities, adds to the problem. It can no longer be called the “poor man’s fertilizer.” Fully realizing that roses need water, I had to change the way I managed our rose gardens with limited water resources. This is what I did.
I cut my tap water usage in half. Then I looked first to the soil. Soil rich in organics, which mine was, has the ability to hold water and release it slowly to plants. I scratched in some extra compost anyway. Next, I added 2 inches of mulch to part of the garden and that soil remained significantly more moist than other beds. Not only did the mulch retard evaporation, it also served to control weeds. More mulch next season. Then I built a soil well around the base of each rose bush trapping water and preventing it from running away and refreshing weeds.
I’ve been putting off installing a rain barrel, but I plan to get one next year. Rain is a warm, soft, renewable water source and it’s free. I think any large container will do — just stick it under a downspout. Also, when rain is forecast, I have been putting out muck buckets, pails and any sizable container that will hold water around the garden. I then ladle out the collected water as needed.
Historically, late July is the hottest time of the year and this year was no exception. In a very hot year, roses will go into a forced semi-dormancy until the heat subsides. Those roses that manage to bloom will be undersized and heat-sensitive varieties like most mauve (purple) roses will shatter and petals fall almost as they open.
However, there were some varieties that tolerated the heat better than others. They included Party Hardy, Lady Elsie May, and oddly, Passionate Kisses plus a few others.
All it usually takes is a few drenching late summer rains to jump-start the garden for a robust fall bloom. Usually. We did receive some precipitation from the what was left of Tropical Storm Hermine a few days ago but most of the rain fell someplace else.
So as I sit here along coastal Rhode Island bounded by water on three sides feeling somewhat like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, I patiently await those late summer rains.