Rose lovers are blue

Judith Curtis-Mardon says a subzero cold spell damaged the roses at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens in Grand Junction. Most of last year’s growth is dead, which will require pruning to ground level.

It’s going to take some rose-colored glasses for Grand Valley gardeners to find some good news as they inspect their rose bushes this spring.

A surprising and regrettable thing happened this winter as relentless cold weather locked the Grand Valley under its freezing blanket.

As temperatures started to thaw, rose lovers returned outside to find many of their bushes had irreparable damage, the first time many gardeners have seen this scale of damage to their precious potential blooms.

“It was a horrible winter,” said Judith Curtis-Mardon, president of the Grand Valley Rose Society. “I thought the roses would be happy with consistently cold weather. It was a disaster.”

Curtis-Mardon said the cold snap occurred so early last winter that rose bushes didn’t even drop their leaves. Gardeners had not had a chance to mulch around bushes, though it’s unclear if that would have mattered, she said. Rose bushes may have been able to handle the long winter, considering the season’s moisture. But the frozen ground kept out water, shedding it off instead of absorbing it.

“The slowly drying snow sucked even more moisture out of the soil,” Curtis-Mardon wrote in the society’s latest newsletter. “It was a perfect storm of conditions for killing grafted roses.”

Hybrid roses are those showy blooms that rose lovers fret and fuss over. Hybrids are created from root stock, but the ends of the bushes are grafted to create the large fragrant and often unique blooms that Curtis-Mardon calls “supermodels.”

Many rose bushes around the Grand Valley appear to have been damaged so severely that the grafted portions of the roses may have been killed. When the grafted portion of the rose bush dies, the root stalk takes over.

In the Grand Valley, most of the root stalk is a variety called Dr. Huey.

“You’ll recognize Dr. Huey because the new canes will be disproportionately long,” Curtis-Mardon continued in the newsletter. “Dr. Huey is a long climbing rose which is gorgeous when it blooms in the spring, but is also huge. And, it only blooms once. After that showy bloom, it becomes a big thorny shrub for the rest of the year.”

Because of the rose kill, Curtis-Mardon said the Mount Garfield Greenhouse & Nursery, 3162 F Road, where she works, has nearly sold out of the grafted roses she ordered for the nursery last year. Rose bushes are ordered in July.

Some people will decide to stick with their Dr. Huey root stalk, but others are digging up the plants and starting over.

“I’m just sorry I didn’t order 1,000 more roses,” she lamented.

Much of the winter’s rose-bush kill is evident at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, 655 Struthers Ave.

Members of the Grand Valley Rose Society mercilessly pruned back about 60 10-year-old bushes planted there.

Perhaps the winter kill will make it a good timing to replant the garden area, which was already overcrowded, Curtis-Mardon said.

Or, it might be a good opportunity to introduce new showy blooms and hardier rose varieties to the gardens.

Even after the pruning a couple weeks ago, it appears some of the roses were further damaged as freezing nighttime temperatures continued to appear well into the spring, irking local gardeners by showing up like an unwanted guest.

“That’s been the litany of every gardener in the Grand Valley right now,” Curtis-Mardon said. “Could we just get some warm weather right now?”


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