Don't Let Dog Days of Summer
Dog Your Rose Garden
By Don Trotter


Hello fellow members of the Order of the Perpetual Dirty Fingernail - it's great to be talking to all of you on this wonderfully warm summer day. We'll be getting warmer, however as the season progresses. Those Dog Days of Summer are quickly coming upon us. It's a time of year when beautiful spring gardens can look a bit stale and the heat just seems to knock our perennial and more temperate plants into a heat- induced funk. Of course, while bougainvillea, gingers, plumerias and other tropical plants are all breaking growth records, roses and many of the other inhabitants of the garden are just burning out in the heat. This week's column is a discussion on taking better advantage of our wonderful warm weather in the garden and turning what is quite commonly a down time in the garden into more show time. So let's get to it!

Roses in most coastal gardens have finished their spring and early summer flushes of growth and blossom. They are now either in the throws of anther flush (if conditions are right) or they're looking a little tired and stagnant. This time in summer is also population explosion time for many garden pests and diseases. We will discuss all of the most common maladies and some specific problems that are relatively new. But first, some science...

Last time we discussed the importance of soil quality. Few plants feed as heavily as the rose, thus fertile soil is a necessary thing if one intends to produce prolific roses. Organic rose gardeners do not have the benefit of nuclear plant foods like Miracle-Gro or Peter's Professional. These fertilizers are the reason that so many Mid-Westerners have huge roses. But they started with a rich organic soil provided by nature. These water soluble "Super Foods˛ have an obviously positive affect on plant life (hence their popularity) as they destroy soil structure, and kill beneficial soil organisms necessary in the process of converting decomposing organic materials to usable plant foods.

I live close to the ocean and have seen what toxic effects undiluted waste salts from commercially produced fertilizers have done to the bluffs and how these products alter the tidal ecosystem by over nitrification causing algae blooms that choke out the natural marine plant species. Remember fellow nature lovers that only 15 to 20 percent of a chemical fertilizers volume is actually used by the garden to which it was applied. The rest of the chemicals are lost into the storm drains or into the atmosphere by volitization. To get a better grasp of this statistic, the next time you are at a home improvement center or nursery, take a look at all of the chemical fertilizers on the shelves and estimate the total weight of the stock on hand. A minimum of 70 percent of the weight of all those materials is chemical waste from primarily a residential source. OUCH!! I'm not smart enough to know how long the environment can handle that kind of punishment, and that is why I am grateful for you natural gardeners. Now let's get back to roses.

The Natural gardener does not have 20-20-20 fertilizers at his/her disposal. Therefore you must depend on intelligence and creativity to achieve a level of available nutrition in the soil to keep your roses going. A good rule of thumb is to try and maintain balanced levels of food in the root zone of the plant by using long lasting sources of those critical nutrients. The following list of raw materials and commercially-produced organic fertilizers is provided here so that you may once again know that the folks over at the Beach News care about your garden as well as your environment:

This mix is my own concoction. It is being used on large scale as well as small rose gardens all over Southern California and it works! 1 part hoof and horn meal, 1 part seabird guano, 1 part kelp enzyme (Kelzyme) or kelp meal, 2 parts bone meal, 1 part cottonseed meal.

Mix all ingredients together and use at a rate of one to two cups of mix per rose. Apply in by broadcasting around the base of the plant and out from the stem to a maximum distance of 24 inches. Avoid fertilizer contact with the rose's stem. The plant does not feed from there. Water thoroughly and apply a 2-3 inch layer of an organic mulch to retain moisture in the soil and give your earthworms something to dine on. Repeat application every 60 days during the season beginning in late February and continuing until August. Call me toll free for any specific issues regarding your roses.

My favorite commercially-produced product is manufactured by a company in Oregon. The name this gang of awesome individuals calls themselves is Whitney Farms. They have a rose food that is as good as any I've encountered that is commercially produced. The reason, they actually research the product on plants instead of deciding in a laboratory that the product meets the nutritional needs of a rose bush. The folks at Whitney Farms get my highest rating of five cow chips for environmental friendliness and product effectiveness.

Apply this product exactly the same as my rose food and water after application. Once again a good layer of mulch will really assist in helping this fertilizer do all of the good things for your soil that it made to do. I like to use this rose food about every 30-45 days from March until September.

Those of you who know me know about my love affair with mulching. I can't think of many gardening practices that are more beneficial to our soils than a good layer of mulch applied at the time of fertilization and replenished regularly at the time of feeding. Mulching benefits the gardener in so many ways it's difficult to name them all in this forum.

The way mulching benefits the garden that all of us can understand is in water savings. A good layer of mulch in the garden can greatly reduce water evaporation from the soil surface because the soil is not exposed to the elements when mulched. Mulching also reduces surface tension and eliminates crusting of exposed soils. Summer is the ideal time to consider using mulch as it gets hotter and watering becomes more frequent.

Some of the best composts/mulches available today are manufactured here in California and some pretty good stuff is actually available for free on certain days of the month. You just drive up in a truck and they load you up free of charge. Here's a quick list of some mulches that you can find at most any garden center:

Cocoa Mulch - Yup, the stuff is actually cocoa bean hulls and it is a great mulch that smells just like the breakfast cereal Cocoa Puffs. If you're on a chocolate fast this product may cause you to break it.

Loamex - This product is produced in San Diego County by the folks over at Butler's Mill and is a really great material for planting as well as mulching.

Uncle Malcolm's - The folks over at Whitney Farms produce a "Superb Blend" compost that is very good at moisture retention and contains all kinds of stuff.

Kellogg's Xerimulch - This stuff is really awesome and inexpensive. It is produced by one of the most respected companies in the organics biz, and it's a California company.

In closing it should be remembered that your roses can look great all warm season long with just a minimum of care and attention. The summer does not have to dog your rose garden. Next time we'll be discussing summer care of citrus, avocados and the rest of your precious fruit trees. See you in the Garden!

Don Trotter operates The Organic Gardener's Resource Centre in Encinitas, CA. He is a consulting horticulturist and an award-winning garden designer. If you have any questions regarding natural pest controls or organic plant and garden care please   e-mail Curly at   

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