By: Ted Mills, rosedoc[at]aol[dot]com
Having endured the cold winter of World War II’s Battle Of The Bulge, I thought I had experienced it all in adverse weather conditions. Seeing soldiers frozen stiff in fox holes and men’s feet turned black with frost bite, left an indelible impression on me that I will carry to my grave. Since that experience, I have noticed that the weather just isn’t as it was in those days. During my childhood, September was a month that called for winter clothing and gardening practically stopped before the month ended. Today is very different. Certainly, what we have experienced this April is not as it was in the days of World War II. The spring following the Bulge days brought warm days in April, with no threat of freezing. Just what has made the difference? Let’s review what likely has taken place.
I am prepared for the disagreement that may be encountered from those who do not believe in global warming. However, there is too much evidence that supports this theory. Man has exported tons of harmful gaseous commodities into the atmosphere. A damaging hole in the protective ozone has resulted. Weather has been the victim. Why? We have disturbed the work of our Creator and we must suffer the consequences, or better still, mankind must do something to reverse this awful trend.
One may ask what does all this have to do with the April freeze that rosarians have just experienced, even in the South? When have we previously experienced such abnormal damage to our precious roses? In determining the answer, it would be well to investigate the conditions just prior to the blizzard that came so late this Spring.
Admittedly, March was a month that resembled Florida weather. Temperate-zone rosarians were delighted to see new growth on their recently-pruned roses. It appeared that most would have the earliest crop of roses yet experienced. We were smug in our belief that cold weather was over for the season. We even scheduled 14 of our rose gardens to be publicly viewed. Many growers had removed winter protection against the advice of Consulting Rosarians. Forgive the pun, but we “let the horse out of the barn” too early.
Just what happened in March to result in the April crisis? The warmth of the month provided the prolonged sunshine that produced speedy growth. The conditions for growing were ideal. Except one thing was missing. An adequate underground water table did not prevail during the month. Weather forecasters kept advising us of the great disparity in water depth — way below normal. Even the trees seemed to speak to us about the lack of below-surface water. Along came the prolonged freeze that lasted three to four days. The root systems, suffering for lack of hydration, maximized the damage. When these are dry and brittle, that weakness adversely affects the upper growth. The tender leaf growth just could not endure the wrath of prolonged cold conditions. The leaves actually burned, reminiscent of hot ice burning tender surfaces when touched.
Now that we know what has happened, which action should be taken to promote growth of the interrupted rose cycle. Be not discouraged, there will be future cycles. To ensure this happening, attend to the damaged bushes in the following manner: prune away the limp, cold-damaged foliage, but do not perform this task until all danger of freeze is past. To the damaged foliage, prune as you would deadhead the first bloom cycle. Even if you have to cut to the bud union, the bush will recover. Remember — roses are tough and very vigorous. If you try to nurse along the damaged growth, it will not produce a good bloom cycle, if at all. Cut into the limp growth and determine whether it is mushy, brown, decayed, or dead. If these conditions are present, prune the damage away. In your recovery work, do not fertilize heavily, especially by using products with a high nitrogen content. Give the bush a chance to recover on its own. Remember that the bushes are in stress. That is not the time to overdo the fertilizing. Be patient in your attention to the plants and let Mother Nature perform her healing process first.
Keep an optimistic attitude. Just as the swallows came back to Capistrano in World War II, the roses will come again to your prized gardens, after a short delay caused by the freeze.
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