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mutabilis rose

‘Mutabilis’ is a large heirloom rose that blooms non-stop with no care at all.

In this weekly feature gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.

Question:

Two years ago I planted a Knock Out rose, and love it. But I want some other kinds and wonder if you can recommend some that are just as pretty and easy to grow.

Answer:

I am so glad you have discovered that not all roses are difficult to grow and enjoy! For a long time it seemed like people had all but given up on America’s national floral emblem because many kinds were fussy or disease-prone.

As a longtime grower of hardy shrub roses — I have over forty different varieties in my gardens — I eagerly welcomed Knock Out into my low-maintenance cottage garden. I enjoy roses that bloom a lot without my having to do much of anything other than fertilize lightly every spring and prune occasionally for size control.

the fairy rose

‘The Fairy’ is a popular, ever-blooming heirloom rose.

Heirloom and Other No-Fuss Roses

Some of my favorites are antiques that have been handed down through the generations and are now being rediscovered by modern gardeners; I also enjoy new ones like Knock Out, which I consider to be “heirlooms in the making.”

While a lot of antique roses flower only once, there are dozens that bloom constantly, or at least after their big show in the spring they will spritz along with a few flowers before having another flush in the late summer. Many have excellent disease resistance, and the most beloved have spicy fragrance to boot.

Some of my favorites, which grow in just about any part of the country, include ‘The Fairy,’ ‘Mutabilis’ (the “Butterfly Rose”), ‘Red Cascade,’ ‘Europeana,’ ‘La Marne,’ ‘Simplicity,’ ‘Carefree Beauty,’ ‘Bonica,’ ‘Iceberg,’ ‘Nearly Wild,’ and ‘Home Run.’ Some get pretty large, so be sure to put the ones you choose where they won’t be in the way if you don’t get around to pruning them. Also be aware that some very tough roses can still suffer temporary leaf diseases in unusually humid climates, but often survive and still bloom wonderfully; and even cold hardy roses can be severely damaged in northern states without mulch, snow cover or other protection.

Late winter and spring are great times to plant new roses, but loosen potting soil and roots so the plants can get used to your native soil as quickly as possible.

If some of these are not available in your local garden centers, try online through specialty nurseries such as the Antique Rose Emporium or David Austin; there are others, of course, but this should be enough to get your juices flowing!

QUESTION:

I have heard that bird seeds that drop to the ground under my feeder can cause problems for my plants. Does this mean I shouldn’t put them in the compost?

ANSWER:

Bird feeders concentrate birds and their sloppy eating habits into an unnaturally small area, and the inevitable spillage and waste can create a real mess.

Feeders themselves get dirty with packed-down hulls and bird droppings, which can cause health problems to the birds themselves, and the growing pile underneath feeders can mold and rot, or sometimes sprout into weedy growth. The uneaten seeds may also attract unwanted critters — the less said about this, the better.

On top of that, the hulls of sunflower seed contain a substance (look up “sunflower seed allelopathy”) that can inhibit the growth of some plants, especially when concentrated. This is normally not a big problem unless you let the pile of hulls build up around desirable plants.

Deal With it Regularly

You can cut down on the problems by cleaning underneath the feeder regularly — this is easier if your feeder is over a hard surface, not just out in the lawn or flower bed. It is perfectly okay to spread the stuff over flower beds or under shrubs as long as you don’t pile it in the same spot time after time.

Better yet, put it in the compost where not only will the bird droppings add valuable nitrogen to the compost, but also the wasted food and hulls will break down pretty quickly. Even the toxins in sunflower seeds are safely neutralized when put through the compost.

Reduce the problem in the first place by using “no waste” bird food. Though only hulled sunflower seed, peanuts and hulled millet are truly free of waste, there are many commercial brands with reduced waste. They are more expensive up front, but you actually get more food value and fewer hulls, making it a better buy.

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