Reap the Rewards of Mulching Your Roses

By Kitty Belendez
Master Rosarian

Of all the important things we do for our roses (mulch, water, fertilize, prune, and spray) mulching can sometimes be the first thing to be neglected. I suppose that's because we assume that our roses can get along just fine in the native soil in which we have chosen to plant them. Sometimes they can get along just fine. However, if we want to give our roses an extra measure of the best care possible, then mulching becomes a top priority. So, the big question is: What are the benefits of mulching? 

Soil Amendment
To begin with, the soil in which you have planted your roses may not be ideal, or perhaps it has become depleted of nutrients after a time. If you have clay soil, a mulch will help to lighten it up and therefore assist with drainage. If, however, your soil is too sandy, mulch will actually help to conserve water. Mulch helps to aerate the soil, and also prevent compaction. Earthworms are attracted to rose beds that are rich with mulch containing organic matter. Only one drawback comes to mind: slugs are also attracted to mulch, however, the benefits far outweigh this potential problem.

Weed Control
There's nothing like a nice thick layer of mulch to combat weeds in the rose garden. A mulched rose bed will need very little weeding. One reason is that any existing weed seeds will be buried too deep to germinate. The few weeds that do grow can be easily pulled, since mulched soil never gets hard and compacted.

Water Preservation
Mulch can help to conserve up to 50% of the water in your rose beds, and also can reduce the temperature of the soil from 10 to 20 degrees. This becomes very beneficial, if not crucial, during the hot summer months.

Disease and Insect Control
Mulch may control some insects and fungal diseases in your rose beds. For example, mulch can reduce the splashing of fungal spores off hard ground up onto the rose plant, and may even reduce the harmful effects of soil fungi and nematodes.

Types of Mulch
There are various types of mulch which can be used for roses. You can buy bags of mulch at garden supply centers and nurseries. I particularly like the Kellogg's Gromulch brand. This type of mulch will reduce soil compaction, plus provides extra nitrogen.

Bulk Mulch: If you have more than 50 rose bushes, you might want to consider buying your mulch in bulk from a local soil company. Gromulch can be purchased in bulk container boxes from Home Depot.

Shredded newspaper is probably the least expensive type of mulch, although it is not particularly attractive. You can also lay down entire sheets of news-paper, if you anchor the edges with moist soil.

Sawdust can be used, but only after it has been aged for at least a year. Fresh sawdust can deplete nitrogen in your soil, which you don't want to do because it will cause your roses to become chlorotic and turn the rose foliage yellow.

Grass Clippings: Some people like to use a thin layer of dried grass clippings as a mulch. Here again, make sure the grass is aged, and that there is no herbicide residue which would harm your roses. Also be careful that the layer of dried grass clippings does not become so thick that water is unable to penetrate.

Compost is one of the most beneficial types of mulch. You might consider starting a small compost pile in your backyard, where you could collect various materials such as leaves, grass clippings, newspaper, coffee grinds, and let them age before using them as a mulch. Do not use any type of grease or meat waste in your compost pile. While fruit and vegetable wastes could make good compost additives, be careful to remove all seeds as some could later germinate in your rose beds which may be undesirable.

Chopped leaves can be used as a mulch, but only after they have been well-aged, because some types of leaves are said to contain phenols that can inhibit plant growth.

Horse, mule, and chicken manures can sometimes be obtained free from ranches. These make excellent mulches for roses, but should be applied in late winter or early spring to avoid burning the roots. I have had very good success with horse manure, and have been able to get a good aged, supply from a ranch that has stabled horses. However, sometimes animal manures can contain undesirable weed seeds.

Alfalfa hay is used by some people as a mulch for their roses. Personally, I do not like the look of it in my rose garden, but it is said to keep the roses cool in the summer. It is very slow to break down, but when it does there is a side benefit of the growth stimulant triacontanol.

When and How Much to Mulch the Garden
You can apply mulch to your roses any time of year, but I prefer early spring, and then again in late summer. A 2-inch layer would be considered the minimum application, but a thicker application will need to be applied less often. Some people apply a 5-inch layer of mulch once a year.

In Conclusion
A good mulch will retain moisture, discourage weeds, encourage essential soil aeration, control soil temperature, and protect the roots of the rose plant. In the process, a mulch can even provide a few extra nutrients for your roses. Mulch will slowly decompose and create a continual nutrient supplement for your roses. The more mulch you use each year, the bigger your worm population will become, and therefore the more often you will have to add mulch. But in the end, this process will benefit your garden and you will reap the rewards of beautiful roses.

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© Copyright 2012 Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

For questions about Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, contact:
Kitty Belendez
Updated December 11, 2012
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