Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

June = Roses Galore (without pesticides)

I had some meetings in the big city last week – the big city of Toronto, which is about as big as they get in this country. I chose to drive home using a meandering route that took me through some of my favourite old neighbourhoods, with gardens that have been established for some time. And right past my favourite public park at St. Clements and Yonge Street. Well, it is my favourite this time of year for only one reason – the roses!!!
When Toronto roses begin to bloom I am sure of one thing – the west coast roses of British Columbia have been blooming for some time and the roses of Quebec, Ottawa, the Maritimes and our Prairies are blooming to beat the band... just as sure as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the afternoon.

I dropped by the Sheridan Nurseries location on Yonge Street for a dozen rose plants and talked with Amin, the manager. He told me that many people are holding off on the purchase of roses this year because of the pesticide ban in Ontario. Perhaps the same can be said for Quebec and P.E.I. where similar bans are underway. In B.C. the sale of pesticides has been severely restricted for years.

The fear is that roses without the chemicals to control the bugs and diseases that bug them aren’t much good. Or, are at the very least very risky.

I am here to report that there is an answer... I know: I have been growing roses in my garden for 20 years without the use of pesticides.
The secret?

How to grow roses without pesticides.

Three answers:

1. Buy roses that are naturally “disease and insect resistant”. These words, when written on the tag of a Canadian grown rose, are golden. A rose variety that carries on with it’s business of flowering and attracting butterflies and songbirds to your garden without surrendering to black spot, powdery mildew and aphids (to name a few of the potential enemies of the rose grower) is a winner in anyone’s books.

2. Change your habits. Sometimes the ‘problems’ with roses are the result of things that we do in an effort to grow them. Black spot and powdery mildew? Water only at the bottom of the plant, avoid wetting the foliage, water in the morning so that the sun burns off surface moisture and by all means allow the soil to get dry between waterings about 5 cm down. This is most important of all!

3. If you have a persistent problem with insects or disease on your roses use an all natural solution – diseases? Use garden sulphur or Bordo mixture for control.

Insect problems? You will be surprised at how many of them can be dealt with nicely using Green Earth Insecticidal Soap.

There is one other solution to insect and disease damaged roses... change your standards. In other words the perfect, blemish free rose may not be the only rose worthy of our attention. I have seen some very fine flowers born on thorny stems with some black spot on the leaves. Truth is: the black spot will not spread into your vegetable crisper or onto your cheese over night.

A few aphids on the new growth of your roses? Give them a stiff blast of water from the end of the hose – there now. You are the police in riot gear, moving the maddening crowds of aphids out of their wrongful place with a fire hose. Only it is just a garden hose and you are only wearing jeans and tee shirt. And I know that you are a nice person, because all gardeners are.

We have been hearing from the organic producers of apples, tomatoes and all manner of edibles that we need to look at the fresh food that we consume a bit differently: we need to accept that not everything fit to eat looks like a perfect picture. I am arguing that the same is true for your roses.

So when your roses bloom over the next few weeks, please cut a few and take them inside to display on the kitchen table... or wherever you can enjoy the colour and fragrance of one of the greatest gifts in God’s creation.
And if you don’t have roses growing in your garden right now, remember that there is no better time to plant them than right now. And who knows, maybe you will get a fabulous deal at your retailer!

Keep your knees dirty,