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Keep it simple - plant self-cleaning roses

  • Nanette Londeree
  • There are self-cleaning ovens, toilets and glass, cat boxes and recently even self-cleaning fabric. The innovative world of science and technology keeps on creating new things to make our lives easier. But self-cleaning roses? I'm all for finding ways to simplify life, but self-cleaning roses sounds more like science fiction than gardening. What's up with that?

    Take a few imaginary trips through your garden. The first is in late May at the peak of bloom with everything well groomed filling your garden with beauty. Then you go on vacation for a couple of weeks with no one tending your precious blossoms. The next walk through is probably not quite so lovely; rather than voluptuous roses adorning your plants, you've got mounds of crispy brown, or mushy gray petals sitting atop a strong stem, shouting — "Look at me — what a mess! I need deadheading NOW!" So you sigh, and put off the task to another day.

    Now imagine a different scene; your garden is brimming with self-cleaning roses and you have that same lush display in May. But after coming back from your trip, you find things looking a little less flowerful and lots of petals forming a skirt at the base of the plants, but overall it looks just great ... and you didn't do a thing! That's the idea behind self-cleaning roses — plants that look good with much less effort.

    So what are these roses exactly? The term self-cleaning refers to varieties that require little to no deadheading. In the natural order of things, once a rose has bloomed and the flower has been fertilized, the plant puts its energy into developing the resulting fruit — rose hips. This tells the plant that its job is done for the season. We gardeners try to fool Mother Nature by removing the spent flower so the plant never gets the message to stop blooming. Self-cleaning rose varieties are generally sterile, so they don't develop hips. Without that signal to turn off flower production, the plant keeps on producing more flowers — often another cycle of blossoms just as soon as the previous blooms start to fade.

    How do you know if a rose is self-cleaning? You're not likely to find that description on many plant labels though some companies are taking advantage of the increasing interest in these types of plants. "Hardiness and disease resistance are still the most important factors ... But, varieties that also are self-cleaning can almost take over the market," said Ward Upham, Kansas State horticulturist. Marketing for the Knock-Out series of roses includes the self-cleaning attribute, while others like Flower Carpet and Easy-to-Love Roses emphasize their low maintenance.

    As a general guide, self-cleaning roses have few petals, so as the flower matures, the petals detach neatly from their base, leaving only the reproductive parts of the plants. Rose varieties with very high petal count are more likely to hold on to the petals. Floribundas and shrub roses (including English roses, landscape and groundcover roses, etc.) offer more varieties of self-cleaning roses than hybrid teas. Many species roses drop their petals cleanly and then develop hips. They could be included in the low maintenance category, but as the majority only bloom once a year, they're not often associated with the self-cleaning varieties.

    There are many roses that fit the bill as self-cleaning. Some that do the job in my garden:

    • Climbers — "Clair Matin" and "Mermaid"

    • Shrubs and English roses — "Belle's Story," "Graham Thomas," "Flutterbye" and "Sparrishoop"

    • Floribundas — "Betty Boop," "Livin' Easy" and "Easy Goin"

    • Hybrid teas — "Mrs. Oakley Fisher"

    • Miniatures — "Gizmo" and "Playgold"

    In addition to being self-cleaning, these roses exemplify easy care; all are grown in my garden without the use of chemical fertilizer or pesticides.

    So, simplify your life and add some self-cleaning roses to your garden!