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Rust-Colored Lessons

August 7, 2012

It’s amazing what you can learn in a garden.

As I’ve shared in recent posts, I have had an overwhelming abundance of roses this year. I have been surprised by the harvest week after week.

But in the last couple of weeks, my roses have slowly been overtaken by an insidious case of rust. Rust is a fungal disease that is more prevalent in the Western region of the United States. You know … where it’s wet. The disease thrives in cool, wet conditions. Essentially, when the leaves are allowed to remain wet for more than about four hours, they develop the disease.

Signs of rust

The first signs of the disease appeared on my Sedona rose. It slowly started to spread through the surrounding roses, including my Colorific, my Gold Rush and my Catalina. I visited the local nursery and picked up a fungal spray, but when it reached my Easy Does It several plants away, I knew that I needed to do something a little more drastic.

As I contemplated what might have caused the issue, I realized I hadn’t faced it the year before, even though the summer was far wetter and colder than this has been. There was really only one difference between this year and last: The roses had grown so fast and the wind had been so intense during June 2012 that I had to stake up the canes to keep them from falling over.

At the time that I did it, I remember thinking that I had to be careful. Roses need to breathe. They need air circulating through their leaves to protect them from disease and pests. Even as I wrapped the canes close and tight to each stake, I knew I needed to return and unbundle the plants when they grew strong enough to hold their own weight.

But I never really returned.

My work schedule during the summer has been frantic. I have been traveling and just trying to keep my head above water. My weekends have been spent trying to catch up with the house and with friends. Often, I only had enough time to drench the plants a couple of times a week and deadhead once a week.

To save the rosebushes and prevent further spread of the disease, I knew that I needed to cut the ties that bound the plants and free them of their burdens. So, Saturday — when the state was under its first 100-plus-degree day — I spent two hours in my garden, untangling the canes, trimming out diseased leaves and cleaning up leaf litter around the base of each plant. When I cut the strings on each plant, I was pleased to see that they had, indeed, grown strong enough to support their own weight, but the rust-covered leaves hid yet another issue that had grown in the confined space — spider mites.

Now, each plant has been properly thinned. Diseased leaves have been removed and destroyed. And while the bushes are far less robust than they once were, they definitely look healthier.

So what did I learn from this?

  1. Everything needs to breathe. Keeping life too closed, too tight, too rigid leads it to die and crumble.
  2. While it may seem kind to support something that is not strong enough to stand on its own, sometimes the kindest thing you can do is let it go — cut it off. By sustaining weakness, you invite a greater threat that — in the end — will take advantage of that weakness.

From → Random Beauty

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