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by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian

Competition – doesn’t that have something to do with sports? How in the world would that relate to growing roses? One definition of competition is “the act of competing, as for profit or a prize”, another “a test of skill or ability; a contest.” This type of competition ends up with a winner and one or more losers. Another definition from an ecological perspective is “the simultaneous demand by two or more organisms for limited environmental resources, such as nutrients, living space, or light.” This is exactly where competition impacts your roses – you don’t want them to be the loser!

Roses aren’t always good at competition – it really depends on what they’re competing against, and what their vying for. The key things that roses need are water, nutrients, light and air. If they have to work too hard at competing for any one of these, they may not produce as you’d hoped. While they may be good companion plants in the right situation, roses generally don’t like competition. Competitors come in many guises – certainly the most obvious are trees and shrubs, but you may also have other roses, companion plants, weeds, pests and diseases, or even be you!

This time of year we’re all thinking of keeping our roses well watered; even though the calendar says we’re nearing the end of summer, we still have the potential for lots of warm, dry weather in the next two months. Thirsty trees planted too close to your roses will eagerly drink up as much as you can provide; and even it they’re not too close, they’ll put out plenty of roots that will travel significant distances seeking out the precious stuff. Always consider that a trees’ root system is about the same size below the ground as what you see above the ground. Remember, if roses have to compete with trees, the trees always win.

If you’ve planted nice annuals around the base of the rose, as they’re generally shallow rooted, they can soak up surface water quickly before it’s had time to soak in and get to your rose. Needless to say, weeds are generally water hogs and will drink up as much as you give them, once again depriving your roses. The same is true for fertilizers – all of the competitors will greedily consume the nutrients and significantly limit what’s available to the rose. Roses are considered heavy feeders – and will respond well when provided with extra nutrients. But they’ll sulk or produce rather stingy blooms if their robbed of that extra food. And it’s expensive to feed your trees and weeds with fertilizer if they gobble it up before it gets to the rose.

You know the rule of thumb about providing your plants with at least six hours of sunlight every day. There are some roses that will tolerate shade, but none really thrive in it. Without adequate light, you’ll get lanky growth with long stems between the sets of leaves, and small flowers. When planted around deciduous trees, the plants may do fine for their first round of bloom until the trees leaf out and block their source of light.

If you plant roses of different heights, consider placing them such that they don’t produce shade for each other – plant the tall one in the back with shorter ones in front so they both get plenty of light.

Roses need plenty of space to grow – both for their roots and their canes and leaves. The more crowded they are, the more competition. If your roses are on the loosing end of the competition for any of the things they need to grow and flourish, they become much more susceptible to attack by pests and disease.

And you as a competitor? Well, more likely they may compete for your limited time – your ability to keep them watered, fed, deadheaded, weeded, etc. Be realistic about how much time you have to take care of your roses and don’t plant more than you can handle.

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Last Modified: 08/06/2013