Roses require a little work, but if you go for hardy, disease-resistant varieties, you'll find growing them easier and greener.
I hate to admit it, but I get sick of roses. It's not that they're not pretty. They are. It's just that it can be a battle to keep them healthy.
Roses generally are tough plants, but the double whammy of Minnesota winters combined with diseases (black spot and powdery mildew) can make them look a lot less attractive in our yards than they do in the garden catalogs.
Of course, the best way to get roses to survive our winters is to choose varieties that can tolerate cold weather. And the best way to control powdery mildew and black spot is to select roses resistant to these monsters.
But even hardy, disease-resistant roses take a bit of effort. Here are some tips to help you grow beautiful, greener roses.
Homemade cures that work
There are plenty of commercial pesticides to treat powdery mildew and black spot, most of which work just fine. But what if you don't want to spray chemicals? A few homemade cures work well and may be safer than most commercial pesticides. Here are two recipes:
Milk spray: Mix one part milk to two parts water in a plastic spray bottle. Sprayed weekly, it did an excellent job of controlling black spot and a fairly good job on powdery mildew. (We used whole milk, but any milk should work, except perhaps chocolate.)
Mouthwash spray: Mix one part mouthwash that contains alcohol (we used a generic peppermint-flavored product) to three parts water. Spray weekly. It did a fair job of controlling both diseases, but caused some burning on the leaves.
Other cabinet cures that I've tried -- including aspirin, baking soda and vinegar -- were disappointing.
Recommended hardy roses
Despite what you may think, plenty of roses are cold-hardy, resistant to diseases and still very attractive. I asked three rose experts at the University of Minnesota -- Stan Hokanson, Vance Whittaker and David Zlesak -- to name their favorites. Here's what they came up with:
• Lena, Sven and Ole, three new compact, ever-blooming roses that were developed by the university's breeding program. These disease-resistant roses die back during the winter, but their roots survive to produce attractive roses year after year.
(Hokanson wanted to name these roses "the lawnmower series," because they're so tough you can practically run them over with a lawnmower.)
• Other roses that the trio selected as superior for their cold tolerance and disease resistance include Brite Eyes, John Davis, William Baffin and Baby Love.
They also liked several roses from the Knock Out series, including Knock Out, Double Knock Out and Pink Knock Out. While they're not fussy, these roses need a little mulching to make it through the winter.
Alternatives to roses
If you want to avoid roses and their problems, but want a flashy-looking bush, the experts offered these suggestions:
• Japanese spirea (Spiraea joponica 'Shirobana'), an underappreciated spirea with rose, pink and white flowers.
• Japanese rose (Kerria japonica), a spreading shrub with yellow flowers.
• Dwarf bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), a small shrub with yellow flowers.
Perennials that might give you a rose fix include phlox, Asiatic lilies, hardy mums and hardy geraniums such as Jolly Bee.
If you'll accept no substitutes, go ahead and plant a few new roses this year. If you choose wisely, you can win the war of the roses without much of a battle.
Jeff Gillman is an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota and author of "The Truth About Garden Remedies" and "The Truth About Organic Gardening" (Timber Press, $12.95).