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’.

Ever-Blooming On A Boat

With fair winds and sunny skies, my roses are ever-blooming creating quite the “BOATanical” experience. As liveaboards choosing to live full-time on our sailboat, we wanted to live “tiny” on the water. However, anyone who has followed my blog, knows I adore roses so naturally, I had to acquire a few since relocating to Texas – boat or no boat. ‘Full Sail’, a Hybrid Tea, consistently produces large and incredibly fragrant white blooms and she barely has any prickles (thorns) and is snugly positioned at the bow of our sailboat thanks to some creative uses of bungee chords. After owning numerous roses over the years, I must say, ‘Full Sail’ has gotten my full attention as she blows me away with her healthy, abundant, and delightfully fragrant blooms that fill our salon with scents of honeysuckle or citrus.


‘Full Sail’ blooms at the bow of our sailboat.

Another charming rose I’ve recently acquired is ‘Arizona’, a Grandiflora. She was a “body bag” rose I purchased on the cheap from Walmart. Although ‘Arizona’ has recently started producing a lovely show of orange blooms with edges of pink, her leaves have succumbed to powdery mildew. I suspect because she was originally positioned in a container under my bimini (awning shading the cockpit of the boat), perhaps she didn’t get enough sunlight and air circulation, which seems surprising consider how much wind reaches even in that somewhat sheltered area. Most likely, since it is shaded from some of the sun, ‘Arizona’ probably could not shake the mildew built up for the rays of the sun normally dry any moisture gathering on the leaves. One thing I’ve learned is gardening on a boat presents it’s various challenges, but it is possible and I welcome the challenge. Of course, I may be singing a different tune once faced with the Houston area’s extreme heat and humidity with little wind come the summer months (or so I’m told). This bright colored Grandiflora now is perched in a container on the deck of the boat embracing much sunshine and breezy days. Overall, I’m confident ‘Arizona’, a very prickly. but evidently a delicate rose, will bounce back after some organic treatment of baking soda and water. To learn how to treat powdery mildew, check out a previous post here. While I usually also like to use neem oil, I could not find it in the stores here till most recently so I tried rosemary essential oil instead, which was something I had on hand. The rosemary oil did effectively kill the rapidly growing fungus, as my online research foretold, but seemed to also burn the leaves even more than neem oil can. I probably failed to dilute the essential oil enough with water in addition to experiencing a plethora of sunshine after applying the treatment. Organic treatment using neem oil and evidently rosemary oil can burn the leaves on particularly sunny days – it’s best to treat the leaves on cloudy, low heat days, or so I was reminded in this BOATanical lesson.Β  Thankfully, roses usually are most forgiving and she seems to be producing more dark green foliage once again. Moreover, I love the way ‘Arizona’ glows against the blue boom (the device attached to the mast that contains the main sail when not in use).

Overall, I am not surprisingly thoroughly enjoying this ever-blooming “BOATanical” garden and look forward to many more blooms and challenges. As I scribe this post, my husband and I have relocated the roses to shelter them on the floor of our cockpit since the winds are gusting at around 35 mph tonight. It’s always interesting dwelling on a boat – especially with roses! πŸ˜‰ Follow along our Ever-Blooming Roses blog and Facebook page to learn more about our developing boatanical garden.


‘Arizona’, a Grandiflora rose.


‘Arizona’, a Grandiflora rose.


‘Arizona’, a Grandiflora rose.

Roses Showing Signs of Illness

Rose_Fig04While I’m still recovering from the flu, which now has turned into bronchitis, I reflect on how our beloved roses sometimes show signs of illness as well. With spring just around the corner, perhaps these resourceful links can help you diagnose signs of sickness in your roses early on. My original book, Ever-Blooming: Despite Life’s PricklesΒ provides tips to combat diseases like powdery mildew, black spot, and more. Also, if your roses suffer from pest issues this gardening season, be sure to get a copy of my second book, Ever-Blooming Roses: During the Good, the Bad, and the Bugly.

In the meantime, here are a few articles written by other sources to help solve some diseased rose riddles.

Rose Health Problems

Organic Treatment For Sick Roses

May we experience a bountiful and beautiful ever-blooming gardening season!