June is often thought of as the ‘month of the rose’ but before the blooms of June, the hard work of spring in the rose garden must begin!
While the thorny issue of pruning should be done and dusted by late March, roses will have built up quite a hunger over the cold spell, and, like an animal unfurling from winter hibernation, they’ll be on the hunt for food.
You can tackle rose feeding in two ways: first with a foliage-feed onto new growth every three or four weeks, and then with a handful of fish and bone around the roots. The foliage feed will keep pests at bay, and the slow-release fertiliser will remain in the soil longer, making it easier for the plant to ‘digest’.
Repeat-flowering English roses and newly planted roses will particularly benefit from a feed now, but don’t be tempted to give an extra spoonful for luck – it’s better to underfeed than overfeed. Remember too that roses, like all other plants, will only take up the feed when conditions are right. If the soil remains below 10-12ºC and there’s a frost in the air, they’ll show sluggish growth. Be patient: that thaw will come!
Once the warmer weather arrives, the pests will too, and if you spot blackfly or greenfly now’s the time to spray. Spraying is best done early and often, but only when the problems are visible. Try a systemic action rose insecticide or, preferably, an organic garlic formula.
Take some care of climbing roses too. Loosen ties that are beginning to cut into the fattening stems and replace any worn over winter. Tie in new growth, as close to the horizontal as possible with the tips pointing downwards, to promote flowering.
April marks the very beginning of the rose season – but in a good year, and against a sun-drenched wall, some of the earliest flowering roses are up with the lark. English shrub rose ‘The Mayflower’ can be a stunning early bloomer with deep pink ‘Old Rose’ style flowers; thornless Rosa Banksiae ‘Lutea’ also produces graceful sprays of yellow scented blooms in a sheltered site; and highly fragrant climber ‘Desprez à Fleur Jaune’ bears orange-buff flower clusters that are redolent of a spring sunrise.