Coming up roses

It’s Valentine’s Day, so there will be a lot of roses being bought, sold and given this weekend – the rose is still a firm favourite with lovebirds and romantic types.

Show a little bit of love to these English garden favourites
Show a little bit of love to these English garden favourites

And who am I to argue (although I think the tulip is a more appropriate flower to give today) and given the opportunity, the right care and the roots, many roses will produce blooms for months outdoors – whatever the weather.

Treat them with consideration, keep them tidy and you’ll encourage new, clean foliage; continue to dead-head all the spent or damaged blooms by either snapping off the head about 2cm (1in) below the flower head or snipping off the complete flower truss, using secateurs, and you’ll encourage even more and later blooms.

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It’s the sort of win-win situation which made roses such favourites many years ago and which is now helping them regain some of that popularity.

But despite all the best efforts with watering and feeding, with pruning and pampering, there are still many dangers awaiting the unwary rose grower.

Diseases such as blackspot, and perhaps rose rust, will show their spotty symptoms on mature leaves, leaving affected foliage yellow and weak.

To minimise the infection, pick off any affected foliage and dispose of the leaves somewhere away from your compost heap because it may not generate sufficient heat to kill off the diseases. Best bag the leaves and take them to the local tip.

And to take the battle to the enemy, spray affected roses with a proprietary fungicide as soon as new foliage starts to grow. It aims to kill off any existing infection and protect new growth from these two rose diseases – and it also fights powdery mildew and any sap-sucking aphids which can seriously weaken roses.

Good pruning also has a big effect on the quality and health of roses, but different roses need different treatment; make sure you do the right thing at the right time.

Early spring is a good time to tidy up all roses – removing dead and damaged stems, tying in new, whippy growth on ramblers, and making sure that all varieties are encouraged to grow and flower well.

As a general rule, cut to an outward-facing bud to encourage an open-centred shape.

With roses that spread, prune some stems to inward-facing buds to encourage more upright growth. And use sharp secateurs.

SNOW, ICE, WINDS and wild weather make it difficult to come to terms with the fact that February is the time for raspberries – pruning the autumn-fruiting canes down to the ground and planting bare-rooted plants of the summer-fruiting varieties.

The latter grow prolifically during the summer months; the former ripen during the late summer and can continue to crop until the first frost.

And although they are both raspberries, they have very different growth cycles. Summer-fruiters grow on canes produced the previous summer; the autumn raspberries grow on shoots produced during the current summer. So that’s why, after fruiting, you need to cut those canes down to ground level.

Right now (or perhaps leave it till the end of the month) the hardest work is in preparing to plant bare-rooted raspberry canes. If the weather allows, get the site ready by digging out weeds and digging in plenty of well-rotted manure because raspberries are voracious feeders.

Raspberries are best grown in rows against supports. In a large garden, hammer in a tree stakes at the ends of each row. With the summer varieties, drill holes into the posts and stretch three rows of galvanised wires between them. Autumn varieties tend to grow shorter and stronger so they only need two wires.

In a small garden, grow shorter rows or simply hammer a stake (about 8-9ft) into the ground and plant a couple of raspberry canes at the base. Allow nine or 10 canes to grow up and tie them in.

The planting depth is important – the old soil mark on the stem should be at the same level as the ground after planting. Then spread out the roots and firm them in. Plant canes 18in apart.

Now get out the secateurs and cut the newly-planted canes to 9in above the soil. This is to encourage strong new growth for future years. And it will also pay dividends to leave this year’s crop untouched; in fact, remove the flowers as they appear – the plants will grow stronger and start cropping a year later.