amending soil under rose

fairylady_gardener(5)August 31, 2011

I just bought a house and now have a few climbing roses on a trellis that are doing very poorly... soil under is about 1/2 pea gravel and 1/2 red thin soil. I don't want to dig the roses up since they have started growing up the trellis, but want to amend the soil. Would it be best to carefully rake out soil around the roots as deep as I can and add good soil around it? Or would lifting the root ball up and sort of propping it to the side while I dig out all the gravel and add good soil be wiser since even if I damage the roots some at least it might save the plant in long run.

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strawchicago 5a IL(zone 5a)

In cold climate it's best to stop fertilizing 6 weeks before the first frost.

I saw the public rose park nearby topdressed their garden with cow manure in the SPRING. That year gave the best display of very fragrant roses. Later years they used chemical fertilizers, minus the cow manure - and there's a decline in vigor/health.

Spring time is usually the time for soil amendment. I would not disturb the roots now since it needs strength for survival in the winter.

Early April is recommended for plant moving. If you have hard clay soil like us, disturbing the root is very traumatic for the rose. I moved tough Knock-out roses in the summer 4 times, and each time it takes the rose a long time to recuperate from root injury.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 9:15AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

It's possible that the main problem is climbing rose varieties that are not adapted to the zone 4-5a climate. Few climbers are. Most will have the canes killed or weakened each winter. Then you are relying on each new season's growth, which will not produce the effect of a proper climbing rose. You may find metal tags near the base that will identify the varieties so you can ask for discussion here. You might want to replace with varieties that are hardy, such as from the Canadian Explorer group.

However, if you want to try replacing the soil, I would wait for dormancy shortly before the soil freezes. Dig the roses and protect the roots from temperatures below 25 F. Or you could do this in spring as soon as the soil thaws.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 10:08AM
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seil zone 6b MI

I would just top dress it for now. You can use organics, like cow manure, any time. I wouldn't use a fertilizer now but wait until spring. Then use a good balanced slow release one along with some epsom salts scratched in around the drip line of the rose. And then top dress again. It's too late in the season to dig it up at all. You don't want to disturb the roots just before it goes dormant.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 10:43AM
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All of the suggestions are probably good for your area. One thing I would add is any extreme root disturbance such as raking the soil from the roots, is very likely to stimulate the root stock into suckering, resulting in a forest of their sprouts from all the broken roots.

Top dressing it would provide much of the benefits you seek with no root disturbance. Should you wish to replant them, the advice for when and how to do it in your zone are worth following. If you do dig them out, do yourself a favor and try to remove all the remaining roots you can to prevent them from growing back. You'll be surprised how vigorous the rootstocks can be! Good luck and congratulations on the new house! Kim

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 5:34PM
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karl_bapst_rosenut(5a, NW Indiana)

If these are long neglected and doing poorly as you describe, chances are the climbing roses you have are the once a year blooming Dr, Huey root stock of other varieties which have long since died.
Are there any blooms on them or just long vigorous canes?
It's not necessary to dig out from under the bushes. Feeder roots are in the top six inches of soil. The large roots that go deeper are anchor roots.
Next spring, top dress with horse manure or other organic fertilizer. You could also put 4-6 inches of good top soil around the bushes. You don't have to disturb the roots.
New feeder roots will develope and grow into what ever you apply. any manure, mulch, or organic fertilizer will break down and enrich the top few inches.
Were it me, next spring, I'd remove and replace them with hardy varieties I know and want. There are several hardy repeat blooming climbers that will survive in your area with little or no winter protection. Reds include Quadra and Ramblin Red. A very light pink is New Dawn.
I grow 30 hardy climbing varieties in my NW Indiana zone 5a garden. None get any winter protection and, although some die back severely, after spring pruning, all come back strong and are blooming by late May/early June.
I would suggest the pea gravel soil mix currently there provides excellent drainage. You may not want to change this. If planting new climbers next spring you can add soil amendments to the holes when you plant, but I'd not change what you have if it isn't really necessary. My sterile yellow sand is rich organic filled black soil after several years of adding organics every year. I've removed much of the river rock surrounding my home but there's still a lot left. As long as soil is the major portion of the beds, I leave what river rock I find when digging holes.
Try to replace with own root varieties to avoid root stock suckers. That way, if the top portion dies in winter, anything coming up in spring will be the same variety you planted.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 5:46PM
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jim1961 Zone 6a Central Pa.

Ammended soil breaks down over time and all you have left is your native soil anyways...
Top dress the soil and let the earthworms do the work...

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 10:12AM
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That's been my observation, Jim. Not only that, but as the amendments break down in the holes, the roses sink lower than the surrounding areas. Top dressing permits them to remain at the same level while the soil continues to improve every year. And, it is SO much less labor intensive! You don't damage any roots, releasing root stock suckers and providing potential gall entry points. Thank goodness Nature does it best and she is also LAZY! LOL! Kim

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:21PM
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Thank you to everyone for your advice. My old home was shady/woodland and moss gardening so all of a sudden having roses and sun are new to me. I definitely will wait for spring to do anything and perhaps will just replace the roses with stronger climbing varieties. (Down the road someone has beautiful thick arbor covered with roses so I may try to find out what variety they grow here!)

I appreciate the advice from people who know roses.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 1:28PM
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seil zone 6b MI

Fairylady, getting advice from local rose growers is the best idea! They will know which ones grow and winter best and are healthiest for your area. If your neighbor can't help you than try to find a local rose society and they will be more than happy to lend a hand. You can locate a local rose society on the American Rose Society's web site.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 2:15PM
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elks(US5 Can6)

A soil test would help you know what to fertilize with next year. I am with those who suggest you top dress and not disturb the roots in any way. If you have leaves this fall, mulch them and use them. Otherwise, manure sure works. As Karl writes, you could dig them up and plant ones you know and want. Good luck,

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 5:22AM
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