I currently grow over 120 roses and for the most part, attempt to do so organically, that is, without serious use of chemicals.  This is possible for me because I've selected roses which do well in the humid Southeast.  I typically don't grow Hybrid Teas, which are extremely difficult to grow in this area without the use of chemicals.

Growing organically doesn't mean no work.  It also doesn't mean no spraying.  The way I decide what to spray is as follows:

  • The product can be used on food crops, right up to the day of picking
  • Is commonly listed in the gardening industry as "organic", e.g. baking soda

I don't use pesticides, at all, except where I have to kill fire ants.  They are a huge problem for us in this area.

So, how do you grow roses organically?  For one thing, take a look through the pages on roses, because you're going to want to stay away from the standard Hybrid Teas.  If you don't want to spray or do any maintenance at all, look for the Hybrid Rugosa roses.  They bloom all summer and absolutely do not require any maintenance at all (in my experience).  There are other roses, including Gallicas and a few English, that don't require any maintenance, but with the exception of the Hybrid Rugosa, maintenance-free roses only bloom once a year because you are talking about old garden varieties.  David Austin has been generally successful creating lovely reblooming roses which require significantly less care, but they are not entirely maintenance-free as are the H. Rugosas.

Here is a simple maintenance regime that may help you if you wish to cut down on the use of chemicals and still have roses.  I have used these methods successfully with many roses including a number of reblooming varieties.  The dates listed are those applicable to my area in coastal North Carolina.  They may be later or earlier depending upon your climate.

Feb (early) Before new growth starts, spray with dormant oil (combination of sulfur and horticultural oil) including the ground surrounding the rose.
Feb 15 Cut back reblooming varieties.  Remove old leaves from reblooming varieties.  Remove deadwood from all roses.  CLEAN UP THE AREA of any dead leaves, old mulch and cuttings.  You must remove these sources of Black Spot and Powdery Mildew.  Apply fresh mulch.
Starting in March/Active Growth period Feeding and spraying.  Spray every week with 1Tbsp Baking Soda per gallon of water.  Before it gets hot, you can add 1Tbsp of vegetable oil to help it stick.  Reapply after heavy rains.  Feed with organics and make sure you apply fresh mulch.  WATER!  Watering is the single most important thing you can do to keep your roses healthy and free of disease.
Dying leave If your roses get black spot, you can pick the leaves affected and dispose of them (not in  the compost).  There is no cure.  You can only really halt the progress of the disease through the rotational use of fungicides (something I personally do not like to do).  You can't just use one fungicide, you must use at least two and rotate them on a weekly basis.
NEW PRODUCTS Here are some other products you may be interested in if you garden organically.
Messenger It helps the roses build up their immune system.  It won't cure diseases the roses already have, but it will help it fight the disease.  I have used this and have mixed feelings about the product.  See my Messenger page for details.

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Books by Amy Corwin
The Dead Man's View