How to Spray Roses
to Prevent Insects and Diseases
In another article I addressed the selection of a sprayer for the rose garden. Here I explain how you use it. I have also added a Chemical Guide which I suggest you place in a convenient place for reference. The Guide is not intended to be a substitute for reading the label, but to serve only as a reference in selecting materials and a reminder of the rate of application. There is in fact no substitute for reading the label of a pesticide and following the directions carefully. Pesticides, although of varying toxicities, are all toxic and caution must be exercised in their use.
First Consider Your Immediate Environment
The "environment" referred to here is the condition here today in your rose garden. Do not plan to spray if it is very windy as you cannot control coverage and will wind up spraying everything in sight, including yourself. Do not plan to spray your roses when it is too hot, but do plan to allow enough daylight after spraying to permit drying. Water your roses first to deter spray burn. Do not spray the roses when other wildlife are active, such as bees, butterflies, birds, cats, dogs and children. The best time to spray is early morning when it is still and the rest of the world is still sleeping or at coffee.
Dress for Success
The toxicity of garden chemicals is generally minimal, however it should be remembered that sprays are intended to be toxic to rose pests and disease and that even minimally toxic sprays can be harmful to the rosarian. Tank tops, shorts and sandals are poor fashion for spraying. Wear a long sleeve shirt and long denim pants. Wear boots or other protective footwear. And always wear eye protection. Consider wearing a pesticide respirator if you're going to do a lot of spraying; but don't let the fact that you're wearing it permit you to become sloppy. Finally wear good chemical-resistant gloves.
For eye protection while spraying roses, you should consider a product like the Chemical Splash Goggles available at the Rosemania.com website for about $16. These goggles have a wrap-around anti-fog lens and indirect side vents which protect the eyes in the event of a splash. Rosemania also carries N-DEX Nitril Disposable Gloves which I have found very useful for spraying since they provide excellent protection and good hand-control for mixing and handling the spray wand. Best of all, they can be thrown away after use. A box of 100 runs for about $20.
Select the chemicals you plan to spray on your roses. Then learn the exact application required and use it. Unfortunately it is difficult to find that proper application for roses amid the governmental warnings and other fine print on the label or accompanying pamphlet which you will have lost. Use the Chemical Guide in this issue. It is a good idea to post a copy in your garage or garden shed for convenient reference. And once you've determined the recommended application amount for your roses, use it. More is not better nor is less necessarily safer and more environmentally correct. Lots of research has gone into the manufacturer's recommendation. Also don't guess at the right amount; invest in a set of measuring spoons and cups and use them exclusively to measure chemicals precisely in the rose garden.
Stick It to the Foliage
A spreader-sticker is a soap-like product that breaks the water tension and permits spreading and adhesion of the spray material on and to the rose foliage. Commercial products are available in your local nursery but the best in my opinion is the spray adjuvant Indicate 5 which I have been using since the beginning of the 1994 season.
Although Ivory dishwashing liquid or a similar cheap dishwashing liquid are sometimes suggested as an alternative, these products are designed for washing dishes and not spraying roses. Spray adjuvants are real cheap and there is really no reason not to use a product designed for the purpose.
Mix With Caution
Keep in mind that the mixing process is the most dangerous part of spraying. This is because you are working with the concentrated material and are in danger from splashing. So be sure to put on your protective gear before mixing and exercise caution in handling the pesticide while mixing.
You can reduce the risk of clogging your sprayer by mixing ingredients carefully in clean water. Powders and emulsifiable concentrates ("EC") are best pre-mixed in a jar of warm water.
Most chemicals are more effective in acidic water. Some good spreader stickers have properties which buffer the water to the proper pH. Indicate 5, for example, has a red indicator dye that turns the water pink at pH 5.0 which is the ideal acidity for most pesticides.
Keep Your Nozzle Clean
The best nozzle for rose sprayers is made of brass but any nozzle will become clogged from time to time no matter how careful you may be. When your sprayer is not in use keep the top loosely on so that foreign material will not fall into the tank. Be prepared for clogs by not over-tightening the nozzle thus permitting you to screw it off by hand. Use a clean metal object to poke the obstruction out of the nozzle, not back into the tank where it will inevitably surface again. Consider wrapping a paper clip around the strap for this purpose so you don't have to wander all over the yard and garage looking for a pin. Finally do not point the wand at your face when you are cleaning the nozzle. Poke the obstruction out of the nozzle and if you want to be sure the wand is clear spray some material on the ground around a rose to flush the system before reattaching the nozzle.
Even though you have selected a windless time to spray the wind will begin to blow as soon as you've filled up the tank. Take note of its direction. Spray your roses downwind away from your body so that the overspray cloud floats away from you.
Get Good Coverage on Your Roses
Take your time in spraying the roses to do it right and you won't have to do it as often. Spray your roses in two passes. On the first pass turn your nozzle up and carefully spray the underside of the foliage. This is where most of the pests and disease reside. Finish with a quicker pass over the top. Spray in all cases to the point of water run-off. The trick is to cover the whole plant without getting any on yourself.
Empty the Tank
Estimate the amount of spray material you need and load only this amount. I spray my climbers last since it is difficult to get good coverage of large bushes and this is a good place to empty the rest of the tank. If you have spray material left over, plan to use it on other landscape shrubs such as azaleas and camellias. This alone is a good reason to grow "companion plants" for roses as they provide a good dumping ground for excess spray material. The ideal is to have none left over as you will want to avoid dumping it into the sewer or otherwise risk contaminating the water supply.
Clean Up Carefully
As a final matter it is important to clean up after yourself. Rinse your measuring cups and spoons. Tighten the bottle caps and rinse off the bottle tops if necessary. Put them away in a high, safe, and secure dark place. Lock them up to keep them out of the hands of children. Rinse out your sprayer and put it away as well. Throw your clothes in the washer and take a shower. Wait till the spray material dries before going among your roses to admire your work.
© Copyright Robert B. Martin, Jr. All rights reserved.
Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez
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