Master Gardener's guide to
gardening in a hot dry climate
Growing roses in a hot,
The fragrant David Austin
rose, 'Lilian Austin', will bloom again and again
throughout the summer.
We love roses. We grow them. We cut them for bouquets in
our home. We spray aphids off their leaves in the mornings.
We fertilize them (irregularly) and cut the shrubs back in
winter. We are, however, not rose experts by any measure.
But recently we attended a lecture by Luke
Stimson of David Austin Roses
and learned -- much to our surprise -- that all David Austin
Roses sold in the United States are grown in Arizona where
the temperature reaches 90F on a daily basis. This makes
these highly fragrant roses ideal for hot weather gardens.
If you are not familiar with David Austin Roses, a little
background: David Austin, now in his 80s, began developing
highly fragrant roses, many with the flower shape of a
peony, decades ago in England near the wet and rainy Welsh
border. Some people call them "English roses". In recent
years he has expanded his research into creating
disease-resistant roses and roses for warmer, dryer
The highly fragrant 'Sir Edward Elgar' rose lives side
by side with a big-leafed, 5 foot tall Cardoon (Cynara
Cardunculus) as part of a flower border.
Stimson advocated our favorite practice: plant roses as
part of a traditional border -- not a single, isolated
specimen plants, neatly separated and labeled, as we often
see in public rose gardens. One benefit of planting roses in
a perennial border is that the rose roots are more likely to
be shaded most of the day and the rose leaves offer shade to
other companion plants beside them in the border. Plants
with cool roots grow better in the desert. (Except palms.)
Roses should be planted where they will receive at least 6
hours of sun per day.
Smelly food. He also revealed what
fertilizer Austin roses receive in Arizona: AGED horse
manure -- 18 inches of it! He emphasized the "aged' factor
-- fresh manure will burn the plants in a flash. If you have
a source for manure, be sure to let it sit at least 5 to 6
months before you use it. Alternatively, you can ask your
local garden center or nursery for organic mulch which
combines aged manure with other components. This should not
be as smelly as pure aged manure. You may also prefer an
entirely different and less odiferous solution: organic rose
food you can pour from a bag. Commercial rose food, however,
will not do much to balance the pH of the soil, so if you
use it be sure to add a lot of organic compost to your
About watering. Alas, roses
like water and they should not be planted as part of
a xeriscape border that is irrigated only once a
week. And they need soil that drains well. Both
these factors can create difficulties for hot
Many areas in the Southwest have
hard-as-rock clay soil so we recommend that you dig a hole
at least twice as wide than the root ball to give the roots
space to grow. You may also want to dig the hole much deeper
than the root ball and backfill it to the correct level. (If
the hole is small, you are effectively planting your rose in
an in-ground terra cotta pot with no drainage holes) Morning
watering will help prevent diseases such as black spot. If
you can only water in the evening, water at the roots; avoid
splashing water on the leaves if at all possible. Standing
water on the leaves is a major source of rose diseases.
Pruning roses. Stimson also suggested a
simple, practical annual pruning technique that conforms to
what we have always done in our garden. In November or
December, he said, cut your roses back to knee height -- if
you want a taller shrub, cut the roses back to waist height.
For a shorter shrub, shape the plant during summer as you
clip of the dead rose blooms. Be sure to cut out any stems
that cross so when the roses regrow in Spring the new growth
and leaves will not prevent air circulation in the center of
the plant -- although air circulation in a hot dry climate
is not usually an issue! At this point rose experts will
probably be claiming that each stem should be cut back by 5
buds. Personally, we like the simple knee height measurement
better. Space allowing, the Austin catalog advocates not
pruning annually at all!
Austin roses add color to the facade of a
bed and breakfast hotel in the hot, dry climate
of Paxos, Greece.
Photo by Nick Pottinger.
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