by Bill George
This particular article has been my most difficult self imposed assignment to write of all the articles I've written to date. I've been thinking about it since March but have developed a terrible case of writers block. You know, thats where you know what you want to say but find it impossible to verbalize especially when you know you've done wrong.
Where to begin? Maybe I should start back in August of `95 when Sue and I moved to South Lyon from Redford. I brought about thirty roses with me and I was able to cut in a new garden in the front yard without much preparation. Just took out the sod, dug in a bale of alfalfa and hoped for the best. The following early spring I laid out a round garden in the backyard large enough to accommodate seventy roses with a grass path right up the middle. This garden got a lot more preparation than the first with rototilling and the best soil additives South Lyon's animal population had to offer mainly pig and sheep manure. A funny thing happened that summer after planting was completed. The front garden did considerably better than the rear. Plants looked healthier and I got a larger bloom production in the front. That year I thought maybe I had overdone it with the manure. Maybe it had not been given enough time to cool down before application.
The following year, lets see, that would have been the summer of `96, the same thing happened again. Much healthier plants in the front garden. That year, I think my reasoning was, that I gave more attention to the front roses with water and feeding because it sort of showcased the yard when someone first arrived and it was visible from the street. Still in another season I theorized that even though the rear garden gets full sun most of the day, it was a cooler microclimate because of being located at the bottom of a slope. I'm tellin' ya, its amazing that one person can come up with such harebrained ideas when the truth was staring me right in the face. Finally, I did something this year I had been meaning to get to, since I had moved into the house, but always had a reason to put it off. In March, I had my soil analyzed. All it required of me was to dig up a sample of soil from the garden about ten inches below the surface, let it dry in the garage for a few days, take it to the county extention agency ( in this case Washtenaw}, plop down seven bucks, go home and wait for the results to come in the mail. Needless to say I was a little flabbergasted when the report came back stating my soil pH was an alkaline 7.9. With 7.0 being neutral, roses prefer a soil a little more acidic at 6.5 to 6.9 I had been starving my plants even though I thought I was giving them the best food available. You see the pH factor has to be correct in order to make the nutrients available to the plant's root system. If you could have seen this garden in early spring, the plants almost looked pitiful. Considering the mild winter we had just been through, they should have been in great shape.
The report went on to say that I'm growing in a soil that is mostly silica (sand) with very little nutritional value. Best advice the county extention agent could give me was to add aluminum sulfate for the short term and bury a lot of spaghnum peat in the garden for the long term fix.
So there it is! I should have known better. I can't tell you how many articles I've read conveying the importance of having a garden's soil analyzed. I guess it just demonstrates that some of us gardeners have a tendency to procrastinate when we really know better. I think I've learned my lesson. Eventually, I plan to have all three of my gardens tested just as a precaution to see how the soil reads in each of them.
From one rosarian who procrastinated just a little too long, if you haven't had your garden soil analyzed, let me encourage you to put it at the top of your priority list today. Who was it that said, "Do as I say, not as I do."? Whoever it was, was probably another fellow procrastinator. Here's hoping that things will start shaping up in the rear garden this year. I'll keep you posted as to the progress or better yet, come and see for yourself this summer when Sue and I host a garden tour and pot luck picnic lunch for the Detroit Rose Society. You're all invited! Until then, may all your blooms make you smile a dozen times over.Return to My Home Page