I first got into rose gardening when my mother brought me a small, unlabeled polyantha rose in a pot as a gift when I bought my first house (and had my first garden). I later found out this trusty rose was The Fairy. It grew easily, flowered often and was no fuss. No wonder I fell in love with roses. I thought I would have the same success with all roses. Little did I know the battle I was headed for.
That one little rose bush brought the first ladybugs into my new, emerging garden. I knew very little about gardening back then, and even less about roses, but the gardening bug had bitten me and I was soon buying all sorts of potted plants and was obsessed with anything that bloomed. Soon, I not only had beautiful blooms; I had many of the pests that came along for the ride. The first insects I remember fighting with were aphids. These little green men where attacking the buds on my hibiscus blooms. I remember asking a fella at the Home Depot why my flowers were deformed and he recommended I use a Bayer All In One granule product to get rid of the aphids that were causing the issue. Of course looking back I have to laugh! That’s like using an atomic bomb to try to get rid of a mouse living in the wall. But unfortunately, that’s what I did, and before I knew it. I had more pests and more problems. I added more pesticide, and the cycle kept repeating itself. I had fewer bees, fewer butterflies and no birds visiting my garden. Yet the pests seemed out of control.
I wasn’t until years later, that I realized what I was doing. By using these pesticides, not only was I getting rid of the aphids, I was getting rid of their natural predators in the garden. This was also getting rid of the birds that ate these predators and any other insects. I was ruining the entire ecosystem! I remember going to a new home improvement store that opened up in my neighborhood and being really excited about checking out their new garden section, only to find the entire “gardening” section consisted mostly of pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers. “When did gardening become about killing insects?” I thought to myself. I was horribly disappointed that this is what most people focused on when growing ornamentals. It was what I had done too, and it was sad. I decided to try something new.
The English have always insisted that we as Americans grew roses in an odd way. Recently on the April 2nd issue of the Rose Chat Podcast and interview with British rosarian Michael Marriott brought up the issue of how we in America tend to grow roses by themselves in beds spread far apart (for good air circulation, I’m sure) and usually with no other companion plants. This creates a monoculture of just one species of plant, which is problematic. Disease and pests spread quickly through a monoculture in this manner and its only asking for trouble. You need diversity in the beds to bring a variety of beneficial insects into your garden. I could not agree more with Mr. Marriott. When he mentioned the term, monoculture, my brain screamed, “YES”, this is exactly what we DON’T want to do.
Ever since I started combining my roses with other annual and perennial plants, I have noticed a much healthier, well-rounded and more diverse garden. At first I thought it was just my imagination because the ‘legginess’ of the rose bushes were naturally covered up and it just gave the garden more appeal. But it’s more than just aesthetics. The diversity brings variety to the garden. It brings a variety of insects, pollinators and predators as well as helping fend off disease. Stronger plants defend themselves from disease better and the over all affect is a healthier garden.
If you leave them, they will come…
I would not have believed it myself had I not seen it with my own two eyes. I always thought, “well that might very well work up north, but here in Florida we have too many insetcts, too much disease pressure, etc”. Yet when I finally stopped the madness of the pesticides, and brought in some variety into the garden beds, it happened.
First I had an infestation of aphids. Oh no! But guess what? The aphids were strictly on the Black Eye Susans and NOT on my roses. Not one aphid was on a single rose bush. I had hundreds of aphids on the tough and sturdy Black Eyed Susans, but none on my roses. I let them be. I didn’t even bother to spray them with the hose. Let them suck on the Susans I thought. At least it keeps them away from my roses. Even then, they were only on the stems and not on the flowers.
Within a couple of weeks I saw an amazing site! Those same aphid-covered Susans were now covered in ladybugs. LADYBUGS! I had not seen a ladybug in my garden in years and now I had 2, 3, no 4, 5, 6 ladybugs of all shapes and sizes crawling all over the Black Eyed Susans. They were on the roses too! And I saw other predatory insects! Dragonflies were everywhere. I even saw a couple of predatory stinkbugs.
I’ve seen more butterflies, bees and beneficial insects in my garden than I have ever seen in all my years of gardening. I also have birds. I have never had birds before, yet now I have birds all over my garden.
I am done with the pesticides and hope that when the chili thrip season comes, I have armed my garden with enough friendly insects to keep them to a minimum. Gardening is not about perfection, nor is it about spraying every insect that comes near your flowerbeds. It is about beauty and diversity, and keeping a good ecosystem going in your garden is key to a healthy, beautiful and wondrous place full of life. And in the end, isn’t that what we want to surround ourselves with when we garden?
See what nature brings to your garden!