Don't Nuke Your Garden (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Black Spot)

Sustainable. Organic. Integrated Pest Management. Concepts that have become an important part of the gardening lexicon. You can also add ideas like local, native, and biodiversity. Sometimes these terms can mean different things to different people, so let's forgo definitions and consider their practical applications. My gardening practices were centered around the goal of keeping my cats healthy and safe. When my cats lived outdoors, I always worried about them, especially after a string of cat poisonings in the neighborhood. I didn’t want to put anything in the environment that could make them sick.

It became my goal to grow beautiful roses without the use of pesticides. It goes without saying that a rose without leaves in the summer is ugly no matter how beautiful its blooms. But I also learned to be tolerant of imperfection, which then paved the way for me to learn heuristically which roses were resistant to disease. If a plant could keep most of its foliage throughout the growing season, I usually left it alone. On the other hand, plants that went through rapid cycles of disease and defoliation wouldn't thrive, so I usually removed them.

When I trialed new roses, the relatively few successes compared to the greater number of disappointments never deterred my passion for roses. However, roses are a considerable investment and I can understand how disappointing it can be for gardeners when a rose fails to thrive beyond its first year, and how that can easily earn roses a reputation as difficult plants.

I hope that these pages will encourage Long Island gardeners to become better informed. Growing roses can be easy if you find the right varieties. Ultimately, I hope that more gardeners will put away their trigger sprayers and help stop the vicious cycle of unhealthy roses being introduced into commerce. A garden should be a sanctuary, not a war zone.IMG8656

There are many websites that offer information about organic gardening, and I won't go into great detail about it here. If you are curious, however, here is a basic list of my gardening toolkit.

What I use occasionally:

  • Organic fertilizers
  • Horticultural oil
  • Anti-transpirant
  • Soapy water (2-3 drops of dishwashing liquid per quart of water) to control Japanese beetles
  • Water spray to control aphids
  • Beneficial nematodes
  • Weed mats, pine needles, and straw for weed suppression

These are the types of chemicals that I stopped using:

  • Insecticides, including organic
  • Fungicides, including organic
  • Weedkillers such as Roundup (everybody knows by now that Monsanto is evil)

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A Long Island Rose Garden