By Lynn Snetsinger, Master Rosarian

For several years now we have been warned that we are in a drought and water rationing is coming. I think this year, it may arrive. In some places it already has. Unfortunately, exhibition roses are not drought tolerant plants. In fact, they are water hogs. My water bills from summers gone by can prove it.

I admit it. I have not been water wise in the garden in the past. I have a rather antiquated system of Rainbirds and shrub heads that basically spray water everywhere  on the lawn, the roses, the sidewalk, the picnic table, even on the neighbor's yard. During those lazy days of summer, I didn't care. I didn't care if the rose blooms got wet or the foliage mangled. All I cared about was not having to stand outside in 105 degree weather with a stupid hose in my hand every day.

Consider an Automatic Watering System
Most exhibitors either have a wonderful, efficient, fully automated system for watering their roses, or they water by hand. Either one will deliver water exactly where it belongs  on the roots of the roses. But one is expensive (I got estimates ranging from $4,000  $20,000), and the other is tedious. I needed some compromise solution because I did see the handwriting on the wall.

Downsize the Quantity of Roses
Two years ago I downsized my rose garden. It was painful, but it had to be done. The work was getting to be too hard and the water bills too high. I selected only those rose varieties that really grow well for me, reduced the multiples of those varieties to 2 or 3 plants max, and got rid of all the rest.

Drip Watering Systems
Last year I got really serious about the watering decision and looked into drip systems. There are all kinds of them. Most consist of a series of tubes, in varying sizes, connected to drip heads which deliver water directly to each plant. As long as you or your spouse are relatively DIY (do it yourself) handy, and you keep an eye on the drip heads to be sure they're not plugged up, these are a good solution. In my house, no one is really DIY handy, so I needed a really simple system. 

Weeper Watering Hoses 
I finally decided that the "weeper" system was the best compromise. It is kind of like a leaky garden hose. I bought a "gang valve" for each faucet. This allowed me to run 4 hose lines from each faucet. To this I connected a "female end"  the one you screw onto the faucet. To this I connected a 1/2" solid black tube and a "male end"  the one you screw the hose onto. Some I ran under the lawn, some around the back edge of the flower bed, until it got to the point where there were plants that needed water. At this point I connected a 50 ft. x 1/2" weeper (also called soaker) hose. My neighbor had a 1/4" weeper system, but this didn't deliver enough water. I snaked the weeper hose past the roses and companion plants until I came to the end of the hose. Then I ran another solid black tube from the faucet to the next section that needed water and repeated the process. In areas that were too far away to run the solid tubing, I simply attached "quick connect" valves to the weeper hose. I run the hose to these and snap it on the end. I run each 50' section of hose about 20 min. It soaks the soil and roots enough.

The system, as I said, is a compromise. It is not as efficient as a really good professional system. It is also not as expensive. But it is definitely more conservative that the Rainbirds and less time and energy consuming than hand watering. It is something you might consider. 

Other Ways to Conserve Water
Now what other compromises can we make this summer? It depends on your level of tolerance and energy. I'm willing to sacrifice the quality of the lawn. It may get watered once a week with a sprinkler on the end of a hose, if it's lucky. If not, and it looks like hell  oh, well. I grow roses. Lawn just takes up the space where roses aren't planted.  I can also do the things the DWP recommends  shorter showers, water off while teeth are brushed, no sidewalk/driveway hosing, car to the car wash, etc. If you're really diligent you can use gray water (the run off from the washer or sinks) to water your plants. It won't kill them, especially if you are using "green" cleaning products.

Don't Waste Water by Overwatering
But just how much water do the roses need? This, too, depends on your level of tolerance. The roses like to be watered daily when it's hot, but they can survive being watered every other day, even every 2 or 3 days. The blooms will fry and the foliage may droop or even burn in some cases, but the plant will survive. I wouldn't push it beyond 3 days unless the temps are below 90. You might experiment with your watering. If they look ok after 2 days, push them to 3. Try cutting the amount of water you give them by 1/3 or 1/2. See how they do. Come fall, when you prepare for the rose show season, they will need regular water again, but during the summer, a rose exhibitor need not really care what the roses look like  it's too hot to go out and admire them anyway.

Keep Foliage on the Rose Bushes to Help Cool the Bush
There are 2 more really important things you can do to help your roses through the summer. One, keep as much foliage as possible on the rose bush. This is its air conditioning system. Don't cut the foliage off, even if it looks damaged, even if the plants tower over head. Don't take long stemmed beauties into the house  float the bloom heads in a bowl if you must. Two  mulch! This is more important than ever this year. It keeps the roots cool and conserves the water you do deliver to the plant. As a bonus, it feeds the soil and the soil organisims.  

Mulch Helps to Conserve Water
We are lucky to live in this area because we have a great mulch guy. His name is Tim. He believes that it is his mission in life to make mulch, so he doesn't charge for the actual product. He only charges a delivery fee. He delivers horse manure mulch that he gathers from show horse stables. It is virtually weed free, and the roses love it. I usually order a whole truck load. It costs about $50 (though the cost varies with distance). Half of the load is delivered to my friend Norm. The rest is dumped at my place. Aprille and I spread it in my flower beds. Aprille then takes about 7 trash cans full of what is left to mulch her roses. And Suzanne bags up what is left after that (about 80 trash bags, I think) and hauls it home to her pots. We all love it. Don and Janet use Tim's mulch, too. His phone number is (626) 794-1351. Any type of mulch will do the job, but why pay higher prices if you don't have to?

Whether you decide to downsize your rose garden, upgrade the watering system, or quit bathing altogether, we each have to do our part to save water. It is one of the few things that none of us can survive without. Your efforts will count!

© Copyright Lynn Snetsinger. All rights reserved. 

Our Mailing Address
Pacific Rose Society
Post Office Box 1504
Sierra Madre, CA 91025

For questions about Pacific Rose Society, contact: 
Chris Greenwood


All Photos © Copyright Kitty Belendez

Updated January 9, 2016

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