Do roses need companion plants? Absolutely. More and more gardeners are utilizing companion plants with roses. It is proven that monoculture of roses invites more harmful insects into a rose garden. The results is spraying more and more chemicals to drive the harmful insects away. On the other hand, we are killing the beneficial insects in the process.

Only die-hard exhibitors are having a garden exclusively planted with roses. Spraying insecticides seems the norm for them to have that perfect bloom. With the devastating effect on our environment and possibly our health, isn’t it about time we find an alternative to combat the harmful insects. Companion plantings have proven to be the answer.

One of the reasons why some gardeners are not inclined to growing roses is the perception that to grow roses, you have to spray. We have created that perception that roses need a lot of care by our constant use of pesticides. These same gardeners like other plants because it gives them diversity in the garden. But why are they not planting roses?

I like companion plants. I grow them with my roses. If you look at the picture of my previous garden, even the formal beds had companion plants. Spring bulbs heralded the start of the season.

NY Garden

Planting spring bulbs in the rose garden? Certainly. Other plants? Why not? If you have not done it, you should at least try. I love all kinds of plants and I want to have them all. Some of them I use as a compliment to my roses when I do arrangements.

My garden starts its blooming cycle in early spring when spring bulbs herald the arrival of spring. Daffodils and tulips of all kinds fight for attention. There are spaces between your roses that can accommodate these spring beauties without competing with your roses. By the time the roses come into bloom the spring flowers will be gone.

As you can see from the picture above which was my garden in New York, the center beds are formal parterres with only roses but in spring, you would see red and yellow tulips in between the roses. The side beds are informal English gardens planted with roses, perennials, shrubs and more spring bulbs. In early spring, the gardens were ablaze with spring flowers. They cannot hurt your rose garden. It will only enhance its beauty. Spring bulbs make your rose garden come alive even before the roses start leafing out.

NY Perennial Bed

To make a colorful display in spring, you have to plant in the fall. Catalogs are the best sources because they offer more selections than local nurseries. When you browse through the garden catalogs, look for fabulous colors of spring bulbs to add to your rose garden. To orchestrate the spring bulbs to bloom continuously before the roses take over, stagger the planting of the bulbs.

In NY, I must have thousands of spring bulbs planted over the years. Here in Charleston where I live in a townhouse, I started adding tulips a couple of years ago. A big box of spring bulbs arrived a few days ago and will be planted soon. Since winter  has been very cold lately, more tulips come up in spring. Pictured below is my front yard in Johns Island.

SC Garden

I like Red Impression tulips and Tahiti daffodils which have huge flowers, good for garden display and for cuttings. Squirrels love tulips but not daffodils and stash them away in the fall. To prevent squirrels from digging up your tulips, spread cayenne pepper over the tulip bulbs before you cover them with soil. Squirrels hate cayenne pepper and run for their lives when they smell it.

Tulip leaves wither faster than daffodils. The leaves start to turn yellow as the roses are leafing out so then I cut them all off. The daffodils stay in the perennial border where I have some shrub roses, Old Garden Roses and perennials and that way, they don’t look so bedraggled while they are drying out.

So be bold and experiment. Plant spring bulbs around your roses and you’ll double your gardening pleasure. Plant companion plants to reduce the use of pesticides and save the Earth.

Your rose garden will look magnificent even before the roses reign supreme.

YES, YOU CAN grow beautiful roses!

So you want to grow beautiful roses but can you do it? The resounding answer is

YES, YOU CAN grow beautiful roses!  

If you follow the following Basic Rose Culture, you’ll be on your way to have beautiful roses in your garden:

  • Buy only strong healthy plants. Buy your roses from reliable sources.
  • Rose needs a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight, lots of drainage and away from tree roots.
  • Before you start planting, do a soil test. The ideal pH for roses is 6.0 – 6.5.
  • Dig a hole at least 18” deep and 18” in diameter. Mix soil 1/3 organic matter (peat moss) with 2/3 soil from the hole. Put a handful of Epsom salt, a banana peel and a handful of superphospate in the hole.
  • Space rose bushes at least 3 ft apart for good air circulation for hybrid teas and floribundas. English roses and other shrub roses should be spaced at least 4 ft apart.
  • Roses need about 1 to 1 ½” of water a week so water more often during the hot spell in the summer. If rain is lacking, water twice a week. Reduce watering in the fall but do not let your rose bushes enter winter under stressful condition.
  • Mulch is important since it keeps out weeds, conserves moisture and protects the roots from fluctuations in temperature.
  • Rose is a heavy feeder. Use plenty of organic fertilizer. Supplement with chemical fertilizer. Apply Bayer 3 in 1 fertilizer in early spring. Six weeks before the first fall frost, stop the fertilization program.
  • Deadhead as soon as the bloom is finished. Pruning controls the size and shape and keeps the roses blooming all season long.
  • Spray horticultural oil in late winter thru to late spring to keep blackspot in check.
  • Keep the rose beds clean to discourage diseases and insects.

The Dog Days of Summer

Summer is officially here and with the crazy weather we are experiencing lately, it could mean very hot, hazy and humid conditions with a sputtering of thunderstorms. Summer also means outdoors, parties, vacation and what happens to your poor roses. The Rose Show is over and do you think you can relax a little bit. Just a little! Your roses still need a lot of attention and more so now because they are too stressed out. They want to be cool like you. If you neglect to take care of your roses, then your roses will suffer from heat just as you do. Roses don’t look good in the summer because we don’t take care of them like we do in the spring. With the temperatures hovering into the 90s, there is a strong need for water in the garden. One inch of water is not good enough when the temperature is in the 90’s. Unless, it rains, water at least three times a week with a good soaking. The rain is best because it is super-oxygenated which nourish the roots of the plants and that’s why after a rain, the plants look lush and green. You will notice that your roses perk up right away after being watered. One way to check if your roses need water is to stick a rod in the soil and see how much resistance you get. Compare that with the soil that has been soaked and you’ll see the difference. Just remember light watering will do more harm than good so plan on having that sprinkler on for at least 1 hours. In really, hot, hot weather, give the rose bed an overhead shower to cool them off.

There are few things to remember both for the sake of the Rose and the rosarian who takes care of them. With the searing heat, you have to learn to slow down. Drink a lot of water after a big workout (weeding, deadheading, fertilizing, spraying, etc.) in the garden. Wear protective gear like hat, long sleeves and sunscreen. Try to work early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it is cooler. Be ultra careful when spraying to keep the spray out of your skin, eyes and lungs. Do not spray when the temperature is above 90 degrees. Wear protective mask if at all possible without scaring your neighbor. Regarding fertilization, do not overdo it in the summer. More roses suffer from overfertilization in the summer than from too little. When you water your garden, the water releases the nutrients that are already in your rosebeds. Rosebeds with two or three inches of mulch do not need as much water as the beds without mulch. Mulch is another essential thing we should do for the garden. I find out that shredded cedar mulch is much better mulch than pine bark and it looks better too. Weeding is an essential aspect of gardening. At the height of the summer heat, the weeds are growing at a rapid pace. You must control it, otherwise they take over. I don’t use herbicide so I’m constantly weeding. Some of my flower beds have mulch and some do not.

If you are going on vacation, make sure you include visiting a garden in your plan. Check the list of gardens at Get hold of some books on roses. There are plenty of them around – at your library, at Barnes & Noble or As an author, I recommend my books. They are historical novels based on real-life events. BAHALA NA (Come What May) is based on my dad’s life story and The Iron Butterfly is based on my maternal grandmother’s life. They are both available at They are great reads!