Monday, February 25, 2013

Hazardous Roses 3: Spray Nothing Toxic?

Obviously, the best way to protect yourself from chemical fungicides and insecticides is not to use them.  But is that possible?  Well, yes and no and, if you subscribe to the idea of integrated pest management (IPM), you might say that "yes and no" is the only answer.  Or to put it another way,  it depends on which roses you plant, where you plant them and what your expectations are.

There are a number of very nice, exhibition-quality roses that are quite resistant to the dozen or so different races of black spot, as well as other funguses, such as anthracnose leaf spot.  In my experience, many of the Buck roses are very fungus resistant.  Good examples are Earth Song (grandiflora), Prairie Harvest (a shrub that looks like a hybrid tea) and Carefree Beauty (shrub).  Bailey's beautiful line of "Easy Elegance" shrub roses are bred for disease resistance, as are the very popular "Knock Out" shrubs.  Keep an eye on the "Earth-Kind" trials, that are regularly publicized in the American Rose magazine, for more ideas on  fungus-resistant roses.  Here is the Earth-Kind website:

If you take fungus-resistant roses and plant them among other perennial and annual flowers and shrubs, there is a pretty good chance that you will not often encounter rose funguses other than perhaps powdery mildew, which is easily treated with non-toxic baking soda (3 tbp per gallon of water).  While these types of flower beds are truly beautiful and largely carefree, most rose gardeners like to have lots of roses and, therefore, want to plant rose beds with multiple cultivars.  Unfortunately, the more cultivars you group together, the higher the probability of attracting one of the dozen or so races of black spot, or anthracnose leaf spot, even if all the roses you plant are fungus resistant.  One way of mitigating this problem is to have multiple small beds and plant only one kind of fungus-resistant rose in each bed.  For example, one of the most beautiful beds I have is a grouping of 15 highly disease resistant Buck Earth Songs and this bed is virtually fungus free, except for one brief encounter with anthracnose leaf spot last summer. Here's how that bed looks in summer:

Insects are another story altogether.  Spider mites, aphids, thrips and, worst of all, Japanese Beetles, are our biggest problems in the upper Midwest.  Once again, if you don't have a lot of roses and especially if you have them mixed in with other perennials and annuals, you may be able to get away without spraying insecticides, especially if you are willing to live with some damage.  Spider mites and aphids can be effectively controlled by washing your roses with sharp sprays of water every two or three days.  The frequency of washing is very important with spider mites because their eggs hatch every three or four days (depending on the temperature) so you have to wash consistently to control the generations.  The frequent washing takes care of  the aphids too, of course.  As you can see, however, washing a couple of hundred roses for spider mites every three or four days is a major undertaking that cries out for another solution, which, unfortunately usually becomes the use of miticides.  Of course, I should mention that washing your roses is tantamount to top watering, which is a no-no in controlling rose funguses (i.e. you can't win).  Just be sure that you wash your roses in the sunshine when they will dry quickly, i.e. never wash them when they will stay wet overnight.

Even in a large rose garden, thrips can often be controlled by early and consistent use of detergent soap sprays (one tablespoon per gallon of water).  The trick is to get started early before you actually see the telltale brown signs of thrips on your flower buds, which is when these virtually invisible little monsters have penetrated deeply inside of every bud.  At that point, you almost have to use an insecticide, like Conserve SC, (Spinosad) which is derived  from naturally occuring organisms found in soil. In a small garden, however, one could cut away all buds that are beginning to blossom and start spraying with soap before more buds form. So there is more than one way to skin this cat if you have only a few roses (perhaps fewer than 25).  If they're mixed in with other perennials and annuals, you may never encounter thrips.

Here is a good, completely non-toxic formula that you can use for everything we've talked about thus far.

In one gallon of water, mix:
One tablespoon liquid dish soap
1 cup cider vinegar (5%)
1  325 mg aspirin tablet (crushed)

I really like this mixture because you can spray it without worrying about getting it on you. The trick with this  is to get started early and use if often; perhaps every five days. (As I write this in late February I'm reminding myself to take my own advice this spring).

Japanese Beetles

And now, let's talk about the monsters of the garden: Japanese Beetles.  On the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words, here's what the JBs looked like on one of my Robusta shrubs last summer.

Actually, JBs are quite easy to control without chemicals until they reach infestation levels.  I strongly advocate knocking JBs off your plants into a can of soapy water. They don't sting and they have a natural dropping instinct, so even in large quantities you can knock them off into the water fairly easily.  This is especially true in the early morning and at dusk, when they are very slow moving.  I would take my nitrile-gloved hand, cup it over the blooms above and sharply push downward into the can, hitting the edge with the blooms, knocking the insects into the water.  The problem is, when there are so many, you won't get all of them and the next swarm will arrive as soon as you walk away.  If you have only a few roses, controlling JBs like this is fairly easy but, when infestation occurs in multiple beds with several hundred roses, it can become a nearly full-time job just knocking off the beetles.

Spraying is a last resort on JBs but, if it becomes necessary in a large garden, it is important not to spray something, like Sevin (carbaryl) or Merit (imidacloprid), that impacts the beneficials in the garden, especially the bees.  In short, I have found, through  experimentation last summer, that the pyrethroid, Demand CS, meets that requirement and actually has a deterrent effect on JBs for about a week, allowing you to go back to knocking a much reduced number of insects into soapy water.  I believe that this is how IPM should be practiced.

Please read the following articles that I have published on controlling JBs in the rose garden:

So, in conclusion, if you have a relatively small number of roses (25 or so), especially if they are planted in beds among other perennial flowers and shrubs, you can probably control fungal diseases and insects by natural, non-toxic means.  If you have a lot of roses in dedicated rose beds, like I do, you should practice integrated pest management as much as possible and never spray chemicals until you absolutely have to.  That means that no one should ever engage in  preventative spraying of fungicides and insecticides.  It is bad for the garden environment and bad for the gardener.

In my next installment of this series, I will deal with the best fungicides and insecticides to use, if you must, in an IPM program.

Jack Falker  E-mail:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hazardous Roses 2: Protect Yourself!

This is the second of several articles I will be posting about the hazards of growing roses, both to the rose gardener and the environment. I am the first to admit that I have been guilty of creating these hazards, both to the environment and to myself, through the extensive use of fungicides and insecticides in my gardens. By the same token, I have also learned a great deal over the years about minimizing the use of chemicals through integrated pest management (IPM), which I would like to pass along to my readers.

To repeat myself from my last post on this subject:

...I believe it is necessary to use at least some insecticides and fungicides in growing roses. All roses are susceptible to attacks by spider mites, aphids, Japanese beetles (JBs) etc., and it is virtually impossible to completely control these insects in a large garden by sharp sprays of water or, in the case of JBs, by hand picking. By the same token, it is virtually impossible to grow exhibition quality roses without controlling the multiple spores of black spot and anthracnose funguses through the use of fungicides.  

I would add to this that there are some wonderful roses that are quite resistant to black spot. Several of the Buck roses, such as Carefree Beauty, Earth Song and Prairie Harvest are good examples.  I have two beds that contain these roses, exclusively, and I seldom have to spray fungicide.  However, even they will show signs of anthracnose and some spores of black spot, once they are present elsewhere in the garden,  The bottom line is that selectively using the "right" fungicide, once or twice in an IPM discipline, will control these problems but, in my experience, the fact still remains that I always end up using some fungicide each year. (I will be writing more about what is the "right" fungicide and how often to use it, in a subsequent post.)

So, starting from that premise, I'd like to focus first on something that doesn't get enough attention among rosarians; that is, protecting yourself from the dangers of spraying insecticides and fungicides, whatever they may be. So, let's start where most articles seem  to give only lip service, and talk about how not to breathe in rose chemicals or get them on your clothing or skin.

With the exception of spraying diluted dish-washing soap on certain insects, or baking soda on funguses like powdery mildew, there is no such thing as a safe insectide or fungicide, and the most important thing is not to get this stuff in your eyes, breathe it into your lungs or get it on your skin.

Let's start with what to wear over your clothes.  Tyvek coverall suits, which are made from coated paper, are by far the best thing available for overall bodily protection.  They are inexpensive, comfortable,  and can be washed off with a hose after using them.  I find that one Tyvek suit lasts me at least one whole summer and sometimes more, if I don't have to spray too often (I still have last year's suit hanging in my garage, so that should tell you something).  They come in a variety of sizes and some have hoods, which are very desirable.  Tyvek suits are available from Rosemania: .

What to wear on your hands?  I use disposable nitrile gloves.  They are very protective and can be either washed off or thrown away after each use.  They are also very useful around the garden, especially working in the soil and weeding.  Mills Fleet Farm sells them in their catalog as milking gloves.  I wear the "Milkhouse" brand and here is their catalog page:

What to wear on your face?  Let's start with what not to wear:  Do not wear the ubiquitous, cheap paper masks.  They filter dust and not much more and provide very little protection from fluid sprays.  If you can smell what you're spraying, you're breathing in the chemical, and you definitely smell it when you wear a paper mask.  You need a really good respirator and one for which you can easily get replacement canisters.  The world leader in respirators is the 3M company, here in Minnesota, and I highly recommend their products, not only because they are designed to fit perfectly, but also because you will have no problem finding replacement canisters at the same place you buy your respirator.  The less expensive 3M respirators cover just your nose and mouth, leaving your eyes and the rest of your face uncovered.  You can use safety glasses, but they are open around the edges, allowing any back-spray from wind etc. to find its way inside.  I highly recommend spending a little more and buying one of 3M's "Ultimate" full face-mask respirators.  I have been using one for several years and can tell you that when you put it on you are completely isolated from the spray environment.  The neighbors might look askance and my cat is afraid of me, but who cares, I'm safe inside this mask.  The mask shown below is the 3M Ultimate FX Full Facepiece Respirator and the cartridge is their "Organic Vapor/Acid Gas Cartridge/Filter 60923", which is their best cartridge that filters out virtually everything.  These are the "pink" cartridges on their website. I have done some research with 3M about how often to replace these canisters and they have informed me that if I can smell acetate (nail polish remover) when sniffing the bottle it's time to replace the cannister (that hasn't happened yet).  Note that you can buy these products directly on-line from 3M or from one of their distributors, which are shown by clicking the "Where to Buy" tab on the upper-right corner of the page. The address of the respirator website page is below.  You can cut and paste this URL into your browser address bar:

3M(TM) Ultimate FX Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator FF-401CHIMD 60923 P100/OV/AG Cartridge

Without going into great detail, I know from personal experience how important a good full facepiece respirator is. I had been using a half-facepiece respirator with a much lower quality canister than recommended above and I incurred a pretty serious health problem, probably from spraying the miticide Avid.   That's when I bought my full-face respirator and became much more conscious of how much spraying is really necessary, given both health and environmental concerns.

As a final consideration, it is very important to put your respirator and gloves on when you mix your chemicals, not just when you start spraying. Many compounds, especially the wettable powders, give off a little "puff" when they hit the water and you certainly do not want to inhale that concentrated little cloud.  It is very tempting to leave off your protective gear, especially the respirator, until you're ready to begin spraying, but that is a mistake, no matter how inconvenient it may seem.

Next time, I will deal with some ideas about not using chemical sprays on your roses at all, or at least significantly minimizing them.

Please let me know if you have any questions or opinions.  Send me an e-mail to or leave me a comment at the bottom of this page.

Jack Falker

Friday, February 8, 2013

"Bob's Mix" Organic Fertilizer Sale

This blog is especially directed to my readers in Minnesota

The Twin Cities Rose Club will be having their annual fertilizer and plant sale on April 13 and 20th. 

"Bob's Mix" is absolutely the best organic fertilizer available for roses.  It is also great througout the garden; I find it especially useful on tomatoes.  If you grow roses in Minnesota and haven't used Bob's Mix, you are really missing something.  It is blended especially for the TCRC and is sold only once each year at the TCRC annual plant sale.

Here's the ingredient breakdown of Bob's Mix: Alfalfa meal, blood meal, soybean meal, pork meal, bone meal, fish meal, Milorganite and magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts).

The prices are as follows: 50 pound bag, $30.00; 25 pound bag, $20.00.  The best deal is obviously the 50 pound bag. If you don't need that much this year, you can store it in your garage or shed; it doesn't go bad (if it doesn't get wet, of course).

The trick here is that you have to order in advance, before March 18th, so they know how many bags to make up.  Pickup is at the plant sale on April 13 and 20th at the garden of Scott Hoffman,  3834 Queen Ave N Minneapolis, MN 55412.

To order Bob's Mix, just call the number on the advertisement below or find the order form at this address: