Ron Kujawksi | Garden Journal: Little space for a rose garden? Go miniature

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When I think, I like to think small; some people are surprised that I think at all. Nevertheless, my thinking right now is focused on roses. For many years, I thought it'd be nice to have a separate rose garden. However, the work and expense of putting in a classic rose garden, not to mention the space requirement, does not excite me at the moment. So, I put on my tiny thinking cap and have come up with the idea of planting a mini-garden of miniature roses. Miniature roses have all the features of large roses in terms of color, fragrance, single or double blossoms and growth habit. It's just that the plants are tiny, most ranging in size from about 6- to 18-inches tall. Since bush type miniatures are typically spaced 12 to 14 inches apart, a full-blown miniature rose garden need be no more than about 6x4 feet. Now that is thinking small. There are climbing varieties of miniatures. I'd guess that they would need a mini-trellis on which to grow, perhaps built by leprechauns.

The site for such a mini-garden should be in full sun and have good drainage. Enriching the soil with compost or other organic soil amendment will help get the plants off to a good start. It is generally recommended that the width of the planting hole be about two to three times the diameter of the root ball. Planting depth for each rose should be a little deeper than its depth in the nursery pot.

Because they have shallow roots, miniatures will have to be watered more often than large roses. A layer of mulch, e.g. dried grass clippings, will help maintain soil moisture during the summer months. As with large roses, the miniatures are heavy feeders. A spring application of a general purpose garden fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, is essential. Additional applications should be made about every three to four weeks until the end of July. Pruning of miniatures is typically more drastic than for regular roses. In early spring, each rose stem is cut back about half its length and 1/4-inch above an outward pointing bud. That leaves the plants at a height of about 5 or 6 inches.

Miniature roses grow on their own roots, that is, they are not grafted. Because they grow on their own roots, they are hardier than grafted roses. I think that is an important consideration for Berkshire gardeners.

AND THE TASKS CONTINUE ...

While my thinking cap is still on, I think this is a good time to attend to these tasks:

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- Sow seeds of spinach, kale, lettuce and other cold-loving greens, as well as radishes, carrots, turnips and beets, if the soggy weather interfered with earlier attempts to plant them. It's not too late. Even if earlier sowings were successful, a succession of plantings at two-week intervals will guarantee a steady supply of these crops through the season.

- Make the first sowing of green beans and sweet corn, if weather permits. Sow seeds of summer savory near the bean plantings. This will help remind you to use savory as a seasoning with cooked green beans.

- Examine mugo pines for signs of the larvae of European pine sawfly. The larvae look like caterpillars and are clustered around the shoot tips of pines, where they devour last year's needles. Though it prefers mugo pine, the sawfly can be found on Scots, red, jack and Japanese red pines. According to Tawny Simisky, entomologist for the UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery, & Urban Forestry Program, "It is also found on white, Austrian, ponderosa, shortleaf and pitch pine when near the aforementioned species." Control of the sawfly larvae can be accomplished by spraying the caterpillars with insecticidal soap or with spinosad, an organic fermentation product. Alternatively, the larvae may be knocked to the ground and dispatched via the "sawfly stomp."

- Prune spring flowering shrubs, such as forsythia, once they have finished their floral display. It's only my opinion, but forsythia looks better if not given a haircut, a tactic that destroys the graceful arching of its stems. When pruning forsythia, simply cut individual stems back to ground level. These would be the oldest stems that usually become less productive over time. New shoots will sprout from the pruned-down stems. Never cut back more than one-third of the stems in any given year.

- Stop the flop! The flop in this case is the flopping over of the stems of tall plants, e.g. delphinium, heliopsis and hollyhock, or heavy-headed bloomers, including peonies and dahlias. There are many ways to stop the flop, such as employing pricey hoopskirts or other metal supports, but for frugal gardeners, bamboo stakes and twine can do the job at less cost. To obscure the stakes and twine, paint the stakes green and use green knitting twine (Shhh! My wife has yet to figure out where her green knitting yarn has disappeared to). Stake plants now before they come into bloom.

- Prepare the soil when laying sod for a lawn the same as you would if seeding a lawn. Also, if the weather should take a turn toward dry conditions, keep the sod watered well until the roots are firmly established.

Ooops. I wasn't thinking clearly a few weeks ago when I gave incorrect hours for the gardening hotline staffed by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. The hotline is staffed on Monday mornings from 9 to noon, and can be reached at 413-298-5355.


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