Friday, October 21, 2011

Companion Plants for Roses (October Bloomday)

Roses are such a romantic addition to a garden; they remind me of a more genteel and gracious time. But the question becomes, what the heck can I plant along side them? Most tradition rose gardens are strictly roses, with no other ground covers, companion plants or other color around them. While allowing the roses to take center stage, this can create a stark effect in private gardens, especially during roses' dormant winter period.

I have discovered that the best plants to intersperse among the roses are hardy perennials and annuals that can take full sun to partly filtered shade. My favorite rose companions are the following:
  1. Catmint - Not to be mistaken for catnip - they are in in the same mint family, but are entirely different species; catmint is a perennial ornamental while catnip is edible for humans and their feline companions. Catmint has mint-like leaves and has lovely purple flowers that attract beneficial bugs.
  2. Nasturtiums - These annuals do well in the shadier parts of a rose bed. Seeds germinate without much attention other than watering and will continue to germinate year after year if you let them go to seed. They will need to be trimmed to keep them off the rose bushes. At the end of last spring, my nasturtiums were eaten by aphids, but I count my blessings the bugs did not attack the roses.
  3. Pansies  - I love to mix warm and cool colors in my garden, and blue and purple pansies help provide the cool colors I love, especially in the cooler months. The do well in filtered sunlight as well. Keep in mind, they will last up to 2 seasons at the most.
  4. Alyssum - Once established, this hardy annual does well in both cool and warm weather. These small, white (other colors available) flowers act as a ground cover and is another enticement to beneficial bugs. It does not create too thick of a ground cover, making it easy to remove rose debris such as petals and leaves from the rose bed.
A word of warning about placing edibles near roses - roses have a tendency to develop blights such as mildew and gold rust infestations and consequently, they will need to be sprayed to ensure their health. Chemical pesticide sprays and edible plants do not mix and for safety's sake, I recommend separating roses and edibles. I did plant lettuce in my rose bed last winter, but I was not able to eat the lettuce due to spraying my roses for orange rust. Orange rust spreads on the wind, so in the event of an infestation, keep the rose bed clear of rose debris, mainly infested leaves. I have trimmed back my companion plants to make this process easier. Companion plants should never grow so think around the rose bush that the rose bush is stifled. Airflow through the rose bush is necessary for good health. Be wary of over large and invasive root structures, since those can stifle the rose bush as well (all of the above plants have not invasive root systems).
Roses at the Inez Grant Parker Rose Garden in Balboa Park. Notice there are no companion plants.
My double delight roses back in April with nasturtium and alyssum.
Rose bed in September before clean up. Catmint is in the bottom right corner.
Rose beds in September after clean-up of dead leaves and fallen petals. New nasturtium growth and experiment in  planting annual dianthus & impatiens. Note the thinner ground cover; this makes it easier to remove rose debris.

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