The Story of ’87 State Fair Winning Roses

…or just my knock outs that came with the house. But either way, they’re back in full swing and I couldn’t be more proud. Of them of course, but also of me.

It took a lot of will power not to nurture the heck out of those sad, sad rose bushes. But I held my ground and they proved resilient—as most plants do. They want to live, you know? But from everything I’ve learned, and now witnessed first hand, they struggle longer and eventually die, when we get in the way with our nurturing hands.
My first mistake, admittedly, was trying to transplant these roses mid March. They’d already been pruned from winter and made ready for spring growth, their spring growth had already come in nice and full with 2 buds ready to bloom. But it was do or die. Move them then before they got too cozy or wait until fall—Octoberish for our prime plant transplanting temperature, daylight, etc…And I really wanted them to start blooming this summer surrounding the vegetable garden.
So I’ll walk you through the process of how these two rose bushes responded and explain what was really going on the whole time. See if any of this sounds familiar in your yard.
During the moving process, we did manage to keep a fairly large root ball. We did not hack away or just dig straight down. We dug a nice large new area for each bush, combined some fresh compost at the root level, and replanted. The root ball is important here because when dealing with roses in particular—the root ball and the visual part of the plant you see work together when growing in a proportional manner.
Even though we worked to keep as much of the root ball as possible, we obviously did have to cut through some. You may think some doesn’t matter, but any of it matters. That’s the same thought process as saying, if you only lost your pinky finger instead of your arm, you’ll be fine! I mean you will, but there’s still a huge difference to everyday life and having to re-adjust. Which is exactly what plants do.
So now we have a somewhat trimmed root ball on newly transplanted rose bushes. Within days, the leaves start to dry and die off from the outside in. And continue to dry and fall off more and more inwardly.
This is where mistake number one happens. The nurturer in us comes out and we water, water, water because it’s obviously thirsty, right? And then watering doesn’t bring it back we give Miracle-Grow our money in exchange for its promise of specially formulated rose food. And the leaves continue to fall and the branches turn brown.
Your rose bush is not dead. It is simply trying to regain its proportional preferred balance between the root ball and it’s external growth—leaves and flowers. So it’s getting rid of what it knows it can regenerate and providing soil nutrients to it’s essential core. It’s essential core is basically however much the root ball can maintain at its current size.
What you can step in and do if it makes you feel better as a provider and caretaker for your little rose bush, is after monitoring this process for a week or two, then go in and trim off everything that the rose bush already said it didnt’ need. So everything that browned and appeared to die, go ahead and trim back to where the stems are still green and happy. That is the new core for the plant and the extension to where its receiving its nutrients from the soil/roots.
Now just give it time. There’s still no need to even water at this point. The more you water when trying to grow a plant in the ground, the more and more you reinforce to its roots to stay short and curled up right under the plant—because that’s where the water’s coming from. So much for being a nurturer, huh? Step back and let the roots find their water. Remember, the plant wants to live and it will find a way to do so if you don’t hinder it’s progress.
Whether you visibly see water on the ground from rain—or nothing from lack of rain—there is moisture down under your soil. Let the roots look for it. They’ll continue to grow back and reach the distance they were before cutting to transplant and then some. And they will be stronger and healthier and able to provide more for the plant.
At the same time, leaves will begin to re-appear and if we all remember 3rd grade science, those leaves enable photosynthesis which feeds the rose bush. So really, there’s no OTC rose food needed. Plants do feed themselves just fine.
And wouldn’t you know, within two months, this entire process has come full circle and my rose bushes look like they’ve been in this location all their lives. They’re covered in bursting buds and flowering roses and happy as can be!
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