Archive for the ‘Winter Protection’ Category


Swollen Rose Buds

What’s with the heat wave in February? Temperatures went well over 60F for four days last week and actually hit 70F for a few hours the other day and it’s still winter. This is not Miami Beach. We are in New England and it’s supposed to be cold!

3-stone-men-2-27-17I strolled through our rose gardens yesterday, as the snow has melted, and found swollen buds on all bushes, some ready to pop — five weeks too soon.  Even the Stone Men object and want their snow back. This very early retreat from dormancy, reminiscent of last winter, does not bode well for the upcoming growing season. Last year’s week of warm winter weather, followed by a period of plummeting nighttime temperatures, created wide-spread winter kill, requiring severe spring pruning and a whole season for some varieties to recover. The garden roses were not used to such uncertainty and were flummoxed and confused. With a repeat of last year, I fear we may have to bring in a rose therapist to provide counseling.


Hilled Up Roses for Winter

While we have long since replaced tender roses with winter hardy varieties, with a few exceptions, we winterized them all last fall anyway as added protection. But some years that’s not enough. With temperatures scheduled to return to seasonal normalcy, even drop below 20F this week, I see a repeat of last year’s carnage.

Nature has become increasingly fickle and there’s nothing we can do about it.


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Pomham Light & ducks

Pomham Light & ducks

Mike and I like to walk along the East Bay Bike Path. Our favorite section takes us past the Pomham Lighthouse in the Providence River where it meets Narragansett Bay. We often stop to observe big oil tankers and barges being unloaded at the Mobil terminal and especially enjoy watching the tugboats as they chug out into the bay to meet the ships. It’s amazing to watch two little tugs nudge a giant ocean-going vessel loaded with oil ever-so-gently into the dock.

Snowy Path

Snowy Path

At this time of year we mostly have the Bike Path to ourselves. This was the case a few days ago, the day before this year’s first snowstorm. Ours were only the second set of footprints in the fallen snow. The air was cold, the sky was gray and there was a mist that obscured the shoreline across the river. We saw a great flock of ducks bobbing all together in the water in the lee of a small island away from the direction of the wind. They seemed to know that bad weather was coming and had hunkered down. The lighthouse made a picturesque backdrop to the scene.

We were covered with snow by the time we returned to the car and my hands, despite fleece gloves were cold, but this walk, I knew, had to last us a while, since the forecast predicted 8-12 inches of snow and the path would soon be impassable.

Flash forward to the day after the storm, – 9 degrees. Mike’s outside clearing the snow, the birds have finally discovered our bird feeders, our roses have a natural protective layer of snow that will help keep them dormant when the temperature rises in a few days and I’m inside keeping warm, wondering how long we’ll have to wait until we can walk the bike path again.

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Good as Gold

Good as Gold

Today is the winter solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight in the year. Starting tomorrow, the amount of daily sunshine will start to increase, imperceptibly at first, unnoticeable until late in January during the coldest part of the year.

Hilled up Rose

Hilled up Rose

The winter solstice is the official end of my gardening season. The gardens have been winterized – each rose lightly pruned and hilled up with a foot or so of horse manure. The potted roses have been gathered together into a large, open-topped wooden crib covered with leaves that allow rain and snow-melt to percolate through. (The winter protection in the garden as well as the cribs serves to keep roses dormant until late March avoiding premature loss of dormancy during mid-winter freeze/thaw cycles.)  The long canes of large shrub roses and climbers have been trimmed or pegged and transplanting is complete.

Crib with Potted Roses

Crib with Potted Roses

It’s done! Whew.

Each year I tell myself that I will start this process sooner and be done sooner but I never am and it’s always after Thanksgiving before it’s complete.

Looking back at this past season, I’m reminded again that all gardens are dynamic entities, always changing in some way all the time. I like to have a hand in this natural morphing and, for the first time in several years, I replaced a large number of varieties in the back garden last May. Since one rose has to go before another rose can be planted, I put in 16 new varieties and said good bye to a few old favorites that were past their prime as well as some others that had worn out their welcome. Of them all, the big surprise was a new hybrid tea named Good as Gold that I planted with some reluctance since I am phasing hybrid teas out of the gardens altogether. But this variety was new and I was very curious about its color. And what color it was – a true gold with peachy undertones.

Tree Coming Down

Tree Coming Down

The biggest change, though, came from the loss of a very large maple tree that provided shade for both our home and gardens. It was damaged in Super Storm Sandy and had to be removed in November last year. This summer, as expected, the rose garden was infused with morning sunshine that it never had before and responded with robust growth and bloomed almost a week earlier than it has in the past. Plus the insidious invasion of nutrient-robbing tree roots into the rose garden finally ceased. That was the good news. The bad news was the totally unexpected intense mid-afternoon heat that blasted our once-cool shady patio. When temps hit 113F in mid July, it was time for an awning which was installed a month later. I sweat just thinking about it.

New Awning

New Awning

Bud Grafting Workshop

Bud Grafting Workshop

Each season brings its own special pleasures. I love opening the gardens in the chilly, very bright sunshine of early spring, then watching them grow like crazy in May and explode into bloom in June. I look forward to the annual bud grafting workshop in August after the second flush. Then autumn roses with their extra bright colors blossom in September, this third bloom cycle is the swan song for the year.

Now it’s over for 2013 and Angelina and I are looking forward, as we always do, to four months off to get ready for next season. We have plenty to do in the meantime with a busy calendar of lectures scheduled for 2014 plus a trip to Ireland in May.

So, on this “shortest” day of the year, as one season quietly slips away, I look towards the next and all its inherent change, expected and otherwise, with the same grand anticipation as I do every year. It never gets old.

Happy Holidays.

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A few days ago Angie and I quietly slipped away to one of our favorite seaweed stashes that we have discovered along the Rhode Island coastline. We wondered if Hurricane Sandy which had howled ashore last week had left a load of seaweed above the high water mark as is usually the case after extreme weather. I packed the truck with plastic muck buckets and a rake and drove to a stretch of beach along the Atlantic coast in the southern part of the state. There we found plenty of seaweed but, surprisingly, not as much as I had expected. I started filling the muck buckets, shaking out as much fine sand as I could, while Angie walked along the beach with her camera. I also tossed in some clam and quahog shells which come in handy for hardscape as well as a source of calcium for garden soil. The weather was ideal and my only companions were a few beachcombers walking by and a couple of testy seagulls fighting over little necks that they had grubbed out of the beach sand at low tide. It took me less than 30 minutes to fill the buckets and as Angie strolled back we headed off to lunch. It was a good day.

Like people, roses love seafood and seaweed is the seafood of choice for roses. Because Rhode Island’s major geographic feature is the magnificent Narragansett Bay, the smallest state in the union lays claim to over 400 miles of coastline. This explains why Rhode Island is called The Ocean State and with this much coastline, there is no shortage of seaweed which can be used as mulch, soil conditioner, and a winter cover for roses. Fresh seaweed does have its drawbacks though. Out of the water it smells like low tide and it will stink out the car if you leave it inside too long. But no worry, this strong seaside scent quickly dissipates outside.

So, why go to all this bother? Because, while seaweed is a low-analysis fertilizer, more or less equivalent to that of farm manure, it contains all the major and minor nutrients, as well as most of the trace elements, including manganese, iron, boron, zinc, copper, and a chelating agent known as mannitol, a simple sugar that makes nutrients already in the soil available to plants.  And not only that, it is a teeming stew of micronutrients, hormones, vitamins, trace minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and growth stimulants which are directly available to plants.

When seaweed is added to garden soil, it conserves moisture and controls weeds but brings no weed seeds or plant diseases with it to the garden. University of Rhode Island researchers report that seaweed usage may result in increased plant resistance to mites and aphids and some diseases and maybe even to cold temperatures.

I first use fresh seaweed as a nutrient-rich winter cover and mulch, then turn it into the soil the following spring. It decomposes quickly, feeding soil microorganisms that, in turn, breakdown nutrients into forms that plants can absorb. As an organic amendment, it enhances the soil’s ability to hold moisture, helps prevent wide swings in pH, and improves the tilth of the soil. I also plan on adding some to this year’s compost pile increasing the nutrient value to the black gold without concern for weed seeds. While many gardeners are concerned with seaweed’s salt content, anecdotal evidence indicates no ill effects to the soil from salinity with moderate seaweed use.

Harvesting seaweed is easy. Just head to the beach with a rake and basket like we do and help yourself. In Rhode Island, it is not possible to be more than a 45-minute drive to the seashore from any point in the state. In fact, the Rhode Island constitution guarantees its citizens the right to gather seaweed from any public source. This harkens back to a century ago when seaweed was prized as an important agricultural product widely used on farms as well as home gardens.

In short, seaweed is an almost perfect organic soil amendment with the biggest drawback being availability. It does take a special effort for us to go to the shore occasionally to gather seaweed but visits to the ocean are always a treat and we usually make a day out of it. Regardless, when we’re done both the seagulls and I got the frutti di mare that we were looking for. Besides, as a New England gardener, what could be more fitting than using products from the ocean to make plants grow?

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Christmas is next week and the winter solstice is a few days away. The days are short and temperatures are sharply colder. Our gardens have been winterized and the roses are sound asleep with visions of blue ribbons dancing in their bud unions. The season is over.

The older I get the faster seasons go by – 2011 came and went in a blink. And as much as I enjoy rose gardening, by this time each year I’m ready for a few months off.

Rose Crib

I started closing our gardens in mid-November by packing the potted roses closely together in cribs where they spend the winter. By Thanksgiving, our garden roses were completely dormant even though they didn’t look it. I lightly prune them, leaving heavy pruning until spring. I broadcast an application of lime on each bed – rain and snow will wash it in.

Then I waited…and waited…and waited for consistently cold weather before I hilled up each rose with 12 inches or so of horse manure, finally getting my chance last week. This winter cover will ensure that all roses remain dormant during freeze/thaw cycles that occur in January and February as well as providing an important organic amendment to garden soil next spring.

Raking leaves is another story – an end-of-season ritual that I do not enjoy. In years past, it took me two long weekends of raking and bending and bagging all the leaves on the property, leaving me tired and weary.  This year, instead of discarding all the oak and maple leaves, I shredded them and made compost. I was amazed at how much easier it was to process leaves as compost rather than as a waste product. More on this experiment later this winter.

Each season is different from all past seasons. Plants never behave the way they’re supposed to. New roses get planted and old ones get the boot. Maybe a dramatic weather event like a springtime hailstorm or late winter blizzard or a week of drenching rain or a month of hot dry weather happened, affecting the gardens – and us – for the rest of the season. This year it was a heavy fallen branch from a late night wind storm that damaged the garden last June as well as Hurricane Irene in August whose winds literally blew the second bloom cycle away.

But all that is past and now we look towards 2012. We’re excited about a new season of lectures including a return to the Boston Flower Show and an invitation to speak in Manhattan.  Then it’s off to Paris later in the spring.

Angie and I went out this morning and placed a few Christmas decorations in the back rose garden. It was the perfect thing to do.

Merry Christmas.

 Our 2012 lecture schedule is now posted at http://www.rosesolutions.net

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Dortmund in Bloom at Clayton Garden

Mike and I have been cleaning up our rose gardens in preparation for winter. We’ve replaced a few older roses, removed some day lilies, divided and transplanted others, and planted bulbs – daffodils and blue globe onions (allium caeruleum). Our horse manure has been delivered and stored in the back of the garden. Now we’re just waiting until the weather turns consistently colder so we can hill-up the base of each rose bush with the manure as winter cover.

Clayton Sustainable Rose Garden

Meanwhile we’ve attended two Garden Closings — the Chet Clayton Sustainable Rose Garden at the University of RI and the Roger Williams Park’s Victorian Rose Garden in Providence. The schedule for closing these public rose gardens are determined months in advance and it’s very difficult to change dates at the last minute if the weather does not cooperate. In this case, despite the warm weather, the gardens got closed when they did because that’s when the volunteers were available.

Deanne, one of the Project Leaders and Mike

The Chet Clayton Sustainable Rose Garden at the University of RI is maintained by University of Rhode Island Master Gardener volunteers who do a great job taking care of this garden. The Clayton Garden is ending its seventh season and continues to thrive as an excellent example of sustainable rose gardening.

Volunteers Adding Manure

The day of the closing was October 29, the Saturday of the big storm that brought serious early season snow to northern RI and surrounding MA and CT. Still, Master Gardener volunteers came out despite the forecast and, with Mother Nature patiently waiting until we were done, we managed to winterize the garden before the maelstrom roared in that afternoon. As you can see from the photos, the climbers, as well as many of the other roses, were still blooming, flummoxed by the warm temperatures.

Hilled Up rose

On Saturday, November 12 we had a beautiful, sunny day to close the Roger Williams Park’s Victorian Rose Garden in Providence. RI Rose Society members, along with the public (who are always welcome to attend meetings to learn how to care for roses), lightly pruned roses that needed it, filled wheel barrows with horse manure from the Providence Mounted Command horse stables, and hilled up the 500+ roses in the garden.

Mike with Manny "Big Boy" Mendes

At lunchtime, there was plenty of socializing during the “Chili Cook-Off” that’s become an annual event of the Rose Society.

President of RI Rose Society, Dacia Nickerson with Vice President Frank Karikas

The meeting ended with the rose raffle — donated potted roses and other plants (Mike and I brought the daylilies from our garden) plus garden items. Mike won and chose a small climber called Morning Magic.  If you live close enough to Providence, try to join us at Roger Williams Park when we open the garden in April. It’s a lot of fun, the members are friendly, and you’ll learn a lot, not only about rose horticulture, but also how various varieties perform in a public garden that receives no pesticide intervention.

Donated Plants

We plan to winterize our gardens on Thanksgiving weekend – we’re hoping for cold and clear weather.

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