Wild West and Unruly Roses

While living in Texas, a friend granted me permission to nurse his plethora of neglected roses overcome by the Houston area’s heat and humidity in Zone 9. His commercial event-venue site, intentionally designed to look like a scene from the wild west with it’s saloon, antique store front, equipped with a functioning old-wooden windmill and railroad track, is a small business with big property and numerous garden beds that needed nurturing attention. Historically operated and maintained by family members, seasons had changed and grown children moved on creating a void in the property’s landscaping maintenance. Thankfully, our friend happens to know a rose-fanatic such as yours truly to lasso up such wild, overgrown, prickly canes and force them to reach their potential of proficient blooms once more.

Over three Sundays this past February, my husband and I tackled the encroaching and overcrowded rose canes. While clearing away debris around one of the roses base, I felt like an archaeologist upon discovering a buried and partially worn off label confirming these roses are ‘Double Knock Outs’ from Chamblee’s Roses in Tyler, Texas, a famous and large rose nursery several hours away. Knock Out roses are a popular, typically disease resistant shrub sold at nearly every box home improvement store and nursery throughout America. Consequently, hot pink and ruby red blooms flourish in the beds of shopping centers, medical office parks, and numerous homes throughout the Country. While ‘disease-resistant’ is a wonderful trait to market and buy into, it should not be confused for ‘disease-proof’ meaning many roses succumb to some form of disease if they are not nurtured at least on occasion as the appropriate season requires.

Planted like row homes in a crowded city, these shrubs were planted far too close to one another, a common error of the previous owner. Additionally, the beds have not been weeded and the shrubs had not been pruned in years possibly ever by the looks of them. Albeit, Knock Out shrubs are usually far more forgiving, but this is hot and humid Texas just southeast of Houston, so both the master gardner and the roses must be prepared for regular attention and robust abuse of the elements. Upon careful inspection of the various shrubs’ canes, I noticed a white-green film smothering it as well as hints of furry spikes. How bizarre and challenging! I had never seen such growth on rose canes before, but I could tell this was not the usual suspects such as powdery mildew, boytritus, or scale, as some examples of more common rose diseases. Additionally, I noticed many of the canes were hanging on fighting for their lives while others had succumb to canker and ultimate rotting death. Moreover, I was intrigued by this peculiar unknown-to-me growth and the quest to overcome it!

Thankfully, we live in an age where anything one could ever want to know can be found on the internet. After typing in a few words attempting to describe the white-gray growth on the canes of these roses as well as the bark of a nearby tree, I was able to diagnose my botanical dilemma. Lichens, pronounced likens (LIKE-ENS), are a combination of both fungi and algae stimulating and propelling one another in their growth, similar to marriage. The other soft spikes of gray launching from the canes and branches are known as ‘Ball Moss’. Neither lichens or ball moss is particularly harmful, but rather a symptom of possibly a lack of air circulation, poor soil nutrition, as well as too much moisture such as high humidity combined with sprinkler usage. Consequently, I significantly pruned all the rose shrubs throughout the sprawling property and had my husband dig up the dead bushes or the one’s clearly on their death garden-bed. In the meantime, a paid worker weeded the beds. I experimented by spraying the canes with neem oil on the mild Texas days of February to ward of the spider mites (another symptom of neglected and diseased roses) and hopefully rebuff the lichens. I hand picked much of the ball moss off the canes as that particular moss easily comes off, but the gray-white-greenish layer of lichens refused to be evicted.

Within weeks of pruning, the roses blossomed once more in hues of hot pink. Evidence of lichens still lingered somewhat, but better soil nutrition as well as much better air circulation after pruning should thwart future growth. Regardless, these roses appear to be ‘ever-blooming’.

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