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Don Trotter

Hello Fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the fourth installment in our five part series on rose care. In this discussion we will be focusing on the soil our roses are growing in and some of the ways that we can improve the overall health of our rose gardens by improving the quality of our soil. So let's take a stroll out to the roses and get a look at that dirt.

Roses are by far some of the most sensitive plants we can grow in our gardens. Since they grow so fast, they have a tendency to show you when they are experiencing difficulties very quickly and quite visibly. These difficulties are often associated with mineral and nutrient deficiencies in the soil the roses are growing in. By concentrating on gradual improvement in the quality of the soil, we can minimize the occurrences of these difficulties and we will be witnesses to much stronger and trouble-free roses.

The addition of organic matter to the soil in our rose gardens can solve many of the problems that occur in a wide variety of soil types. Application of composted manures, backyard composts, and topdressing our soils with organic mulches are the answer to a number of soil quality oriented problems associated with rose cultivation. By adding copious amounts of organic matter to our soils we will eventually eliminate the problems associated with mineral and nutrient deficiency by promoting a rich and healthy biological system in the soil. This miniature ecosystem can solve problems of mineral and nutrient deficiency while it also helps you to increase water penetration and the water holding capacity of your soil. This biological diversity will also assist you in fighting disease organisms from taking hold in your soil and affecting the health of your roses.

Beneficial microorganisms feed on the organic matter and also feed other larger organisms that eventually convert simple composts and mulches into plant food. These organisms live and proliferate in soils that are rich in organic matter. When populations of beneficial organisms are allowed to grow and colonize your garden soil they will crowd out or consume disease-causing organisms by a process called "competitive exclusion". The good guys just crowd out the bad guys or they simply eat them. This process of elimination of disease causing fungi and bacteria actually occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year without any effort on your part other than supplying fuel for the colony of beneficial organisms in your soil. Adding organic matter to the soil does this, and that's all!

Adding organic matter to your rose garden in the form of composts, composted manures, and mulches also increases the water holding capacity in your soil by acting as a sponge for water and supplying that water to the soil as the soil dries out. There is no need to till this organic matter into the soil. Just layering it on top of the soil will suffice. The microorganisms will immediately begin to integrate the nutrient wealth of the organic matter into your soil. And soon every gardener's friend, the earthworm, will find this organic matter as well and begin helping your soil in the way that prompted the Greek philosopher Aristotle to refer them as "The Plows of the Earth". Once the earthworms show up, and they will, it is evidence that your soil has begun the process of transformation. Soon enough you will notice a change in the health of your roses.

You will also notice that it takes less water and fertilizer to maintain your roses in a happy and healthy manner. You will also notice that it takes far less work to keep your roses impressing you and your neighbors. The roses you will get will be stronger, bigger, and easier to grow because you will be feeding the soil and letting the soil feed your roses. Just the nature intended.

There are several types of organic compost that are commercially available in bags at your local garden center and hoe improvement warehouse. Many communities collect yard waste and make it available to citizens of that community. This "greenwaste" material is a wonderful source of cheap organic matter for the rose garden. Following a simple feeding program using natural/ organic rose foods, avoiding the use of toxic chemicals, and continued application of organic matter will soon have your roses behaving like champions. Next time, in our final pre-spring discussion on roses we will be covering a calendar of typical rose maintenance issues at the time of year roses seem to respond best. See you in the Garden!

Look for Don's book Natural Gardening A-Z from Hay House at bookstores everywhere and at all online booksellers and check out Don's columns in Hearst's Healthy Living Magazine coming soon.

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