arggh - i hate being stupid!!
After 8 years and 750 surviving roses, you'd think I'd know better - I could accept these things as a newbie, but less so now. I'm a casual fertilizer of roses at the best of times, but I do at least put down some (mostly) organic fertilizer in the spring to give them a boost. In particular, I love feeding the established roses alfalfa- I throw it underfoot into rose beds like candy at a Mardi Gras parade. Any rose with more than a pencil diameter cane that's at least a year old gets its own large handful at the base. I can get away with this because of our dry Nebraska climate, where the alfalfa sits happily under our (dry) oak leaves and gradually crumbles into dust and lovely nutrients over the course of the summer.
Well, not this summer. Here in late May/June we've gotten deluged with rain. Three inches last weekend with tornados and tennis ball sized hail just north of us, two inches this week, and another 3.5 inches just last night. This followed our usual dry patch heading into summer, so I was out earlier last weekend fertilizing the roses in my zone 6 pocket hot sun bed, which usually is the "rose hospital" for fussy roses that don't really like our zone (like all of my teas). Most of the roses that had agreed to survive the winter were up to 2-3 feet and starting to bloom after being cut to the ground, and even the weakest specimens from last year that had survived had a good 3-4 inches of lovely green growth on them. I was so proud of them (sigh).
I really did know better. In past years, I'd lost weak or spindly canes part way into the summer because the leaves had collected too close around the canes and the moisture had rotted out the canes. So this year, I was SOOOOO careful to pull away the leaves from the base of each and every rose and they had grown so very nicely in response. But, go figure - here I come with the alfalfa expecting this to be a usual summer. In one day after putting it down last Saturday, the alfalfa pellets had swelled up to amazing proportions around each and every rose and created a soupy, gloopy, toxic mess at the base. The weaker roses immediately shriveled and died overnight and I really don't expect them back. Some of the pencil-thin canes have badly burned leaves like the photo below, but might come back and forgive me in time. The trouble is, this chemical soup probably burned the roots as well as the leaves, since it's clearly being taken up and affecting leaves beyond the gloop line, so even these own root plants are iffy at best.
Sigh. I'm usually pretty philosophical about roses and their damage when it's just one of those things. Being a zone pusher and rose crowding addict, I routinely sigh but accept around 100 winterkill deaths and 2-3 rose stepping-on disasters every year. It's different when it's rose murder. Well, not exactly premeditated (what was I thinking?), but at least involuntary roseslaughter. Most of the roses are replaceable, but at least a few were Vintage plants not available elsewhere, like poor Florizel that actually survived this brutal winter and WAS looking rather nice.
I know I'll get over it, and it's a life lesson learned, but I really HATE BEING STUPID. Maybe that'll help me remember next time, though. Needless to say, I'm done fertilizing for the year, since I'm not risking that in the rest of the beds, and the roses need to breathe more than they need fertilizer.
Beyond middle age, but still learning hard lessons