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Growing roses in Gainesville Florida

Belinda’s Dream rose.
Belinda’s Dream rose.
Brian Harfe

The hot and damp climate of North Central Florida can be a challenge for rose-lovers, as our long warm season and daily summer rains can be stressful on the plants and create a perfect environment for pests. The primary plague is black spot, a fungus that is more aesthetically offensive than truly harmful, causing the roses’ leaves to turn black and fall off. The oppressive heat will cause blooms to mature more quickly so they are smaller in the hot months, the relentless sun will bleach their color and the never ending heat can damage root systems. For those who are unwilling to spray their plants with chemicals on a regular basis (organic remedies have varying degrees of effectiveness), it may seem that growing roses here is a hopeless endeavor. The key to success is in choosing the right varieties to grow. Here’s a hint: for the most part, they’re NOT the ones you find at the big-box home improvement stores.

In the mid-1990s the Earth-Kind Rose program of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service of Texas A&M University was begun. This program tests roses for their ability to survive without spraying. These roses have outstanding disease resistance but are not completely immune to pest problems. Importantly, for the Gainesville area these roses have good resistance to the fungus that causes black spot, although with some of the Earth-Kind roses moderate leaf-drop will still occur.

Currently, there are 21 roses that have been designated Earth-Kind.These roses come in many different colors and shapes. Some are climbing roses while others form compact shrubs. A personal favorite is Belinda’s Dream, which was the first rose to be designated Earth-Kind. Belinda’s Dream produces large, clear pink, fragrant, tea-rose-like blooms throughout the spring, summer and fall (see picture). The plant can reach 5 feet, but can be trimmed to maintain a more compact plant. Other common Earth-Kind varieties include Spice and Knock Out.

Belinda’s Dream as well as many other Earth-Kind roses can be purchased locally at Rose Petal Nursery  for $9 a plant.

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