Driving through our cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood on Long Island you would be hard pressed to spot a single rose bush, let alone a rose garden. Instead you will see many over-manicured lawns and landscaped beds with the usual offenders of annuals neatly arranged in a sea of flagrantly died mulch like Whac-A-Moles, ready to be pulled out, discarded, and replaced every year. In the yards you’ll still see the old trees of great character towering stately over the streets, although they are diminishing in number every year. Most newly planted trees you’ll see are arborvitae.
Our region is known for its humid summers — with high temps and muggy days giving way to dewey, cooler nights — which are conducive to black spot. Black spot, a fungal pathogen, is the bane of many roses on Long Island.
The lowest temperatures in winter are usually between 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow cover has become inconsistent as a result of climate change, and marginally hardy roses, such as the Teas and Chinas, usually die or die back to the ground here in winter.
Part of my decision not to use pesticides is based on the same reason that we don’t grow plants outside their normal range of hardiness. It’s important to grow plants that are suited to your local climate. Even among experienced rosarians, the concept that not all roses should perform equally well in every part of the country is still not widely accepted, primarily because of the persistence of outmoded views that roses are high maintenance plants that require expert coddling and chemical support. I believe that anybody can grow roses.
Many antique roses (also known as heritage or old garden roses) are naturally disease-resistant. The Albas and Gallicas do particularly well here, and can bloom for up to a month, rivaling even the most floriferous of perennials. And with modern hybridizers like Kordes focused on breeding new roses that are resistant to disease, an expanding variety of disease-resistant roses is becoming available every year, so there’s little need to use pesticides in the garden.
I am a firm believer that industrial pesticides have no place in residential gardens and that the cumulative toxicity and damage to the environment and our health cannot be justified for ornamental use.