Monday, June 6, 2011

Planting a rose in Florida sand

Dani asked a very good question on Sunday . What do you use to amend the soil?

She has a new ‘Florida Cracker Rose’ that needs to be planted . I don't grow that rose, but I grow 'Louis Philippe' also known as 'The Florida Rose' . In commerce it’s usually called ‘Louis Philippe’, but pass-along roses often go by local names . The reason I wonder is that I know 'Louis Philippe' is tolerant of sandy soil and root-knot nematodes, whereas other roses that I grow are less so . So I'll go out on a limb and assume that Dani's rose is ‘Louis Philippe’ and that she has sandy ground . This is what I do . 
  • I dig and turn the whole area around the rose’s new spot, say about 4' x 4' – not just a hole big enough for the plant - and down at least two lengths of the shovel head ( deeper would be better ) . I do this because the native soil is usually compacted plus the amendments need to go as deep down as possible and out from the plant as well . If I come across any good-sized tree roots, I leave them in place, kind of hanging across the hole, hopefully, low enough so the rose fits . Once I get it dug and turned over I amazingly seem to have more soil, but it’s really the same amount just fluffed up and not compacted anymore .
  • Then I remove enough of the sand so that the amendments will fit .
  • I should also say that I have started laying down a thick layer of newspaper in the bottom of the dug-out area ( which requires removing the soil out of the hole ) . The newspaper will slow down the downward water flow and eventually decompose, but in the meantime the roots won't be able to move through it and will get well established in the amended area before they venture out into the native ground where there isn't much nutrition and where danger may lurk . Eventually and slowly all this good amended stuff will migrate deeper so keep applying the compost as a topdressing in the spring .
  • For 'Louis Philippe' in this size area I would spread one bag each of compost ( homemade or bagged composted cow manure - not mushroom compost which I've read is bad for roses ), soil conditioner which is pine fines ( ground up pine bark - Fafard is one brand ), and store-bought topsoil over the dug area . For roses other than 'Louis Philippe' I’d remove more sand and add more than just one bag of each amendment, because they're probably more susceptible to nematodes and need all the organic matter they can get . Not all areas of Florida have root-knot nematodes, but you have to have a soil test to know if you don't . According to the UF / IFAS Extension, these nematodes don't like the acids that are released by decomposing organic matter . Organic matter improves water and nutrient retention and is the food for the microorganisms which digest / decompose it, changing it into a form that is usable by the plants . This decomposition process takes about three weeks . That's why they're slow-release . Plants like microbe poop . So add the organic matter, and the microbes will come .
  • Then I sprinkle several ( approximately 4 ) cups each of alfalfa pellets ( remember my post on alfalfa and all the minerals it contains? ) and Milorganite ( earthworms love it ), a cup of epsom salts, and about four cups of some organic fert such as Rose-Tone or Holly-Tone over the bed . This may seem like a lot of "fertilizer", but it's all slow release and is going to transform this sand which is devoid of nutrients and leaks like a sieve into a fertile sandy loam that will hold some water . Actually, you aren't feeding your plants with all of these amendments . You are creating a new environment where they can send out their roots easily and absorb the nutrients they need . 
  • Incorporate all of this together by turning it over and over until well mixed . A fork works good for this . The sand will not look decidedly different when you're done . In fact, it will look disappointingly the same except for the clumps of black "dirt" and bits of alfalfa scattered through it, but in six months it will all be uniformly black . In a few years it will be even better .
  • When the area is done, dig a hole for the plant, add three dollops ( about a tablespoon each ) of bone meal around the edge of the bottom and a cup or two of both alfalfa and Milorganite . 
  • If you have mycorrhizae ( Rooter's is a brand I buy on ), sprinkle the wet rootball with a teaspoon or so, making sure that the granules are touching roots . 
  • Then back fill and flood the whole bed with water a few times . None of the amendments will start doing their job until they are wet . Water the rose daily for about a month . Dry dirt is organically inactive dirt . So add mulch to conserve moisture . In my garden it doesn't require much daily water ( a 30-minute micro-misting ) to keep the dirt moist/damp . I think the daily misting keeps a steady flow of moisture migrating down through the soil so even if the top seems a little dry at the end of the day, it's OK, but with mulch it should stay damp . 

This just seems like a lot of work, because it is . Fortunately, sand is pretty easy to dig in . I have never just stuck a rose in the ground without amending the area, so I can't say what will happen if you don't do this, but maybe you can if you've ever planted a rose before and it slowly croaked . Sadly, amending just a little hole won't really accomplish much . ( I always think of those innocent roots going out into that cruel world of compacted sand, and I shudder. ) I never said growing roses in Florida was easy, but it is very doable . Besides the strenuous work there's only one downside to all this amending . It is that the beautiful new soil and the worms that will live in it will be an engraved invitation for armadillos - at least in my neighborhood...  But that's another post .


  1. Thank you so much Sherry! I knew you'd have the best answer.

    And it is a Louis Philippe. I think it's gonna love it's new digs in the front yard garden. :)

  2. Hey Sherry...The title of your post made me shiver. To think of plunking a beautiful rose bush into sandy soil...yikes! My mother always said "it's better to place a 50 cent plant into a $5 hole...than the other way around." How true that is...especially here in Florida.

    Good luck, Dani with your new Cracker rose.

  3. Thanks Susan. :) I'm kicking myself now for not ordering two.

  4. Wow - I knew sandy soil was hard to deal with, but I am amazed at all you go through. However, your roses are gorgeous, so all your hard work is worth it! Good luck, Dani.

  5. That does sound like a lot of work, but it obviously works looking at your roses. We have heavy clay soil here and I just planted a rose yesterday. I added some organic rose food, but probably should have done more after reading all you do to amend the sandy soil. Maybe I'll replant it later this week...

  6. You’re so welcome, Dani . I’ve been thinking for a long time that I should do this post, but I was afraid of scaring people away from roses ( nervous laugh ), but as Susan said, it’s basically a fact of life in Florida . The sand is good for holding the plants upright and not much else . I’m glad I guessed right about LP . I love him .

    LOL, Susan, I hadn’t thought of that viewpoint on the title . Yeah, I don’t think the rose would like his toesies in sand . Your mother’s adage made me feel much better . When I started reading it, I was afraid she was going to say save your money . In Florida we have a lot of expensive holes, don’t we?

  7. Well, HolleyGarden, azaleas will do fine in sand ( but do better with amendments ), but roses are definitely more needy in the water department. Thanks for the compliment!!

    Catherine, I wouldn’t begin to advise you about your clay soil . It’s a whole different animal . I’m sure the rose societies in your area have websites that offer planting advice on soil preparation . I’d feel better if you just ignored what I do, OK? LOL What rose did you plant?

  8. What a wealth of info! I've always used newspaper on top of the bed under the mulch, but never thought about putting it under the bed. Very interesting.

  9. Wow, your roses are really pampered! No wonder they look as great as they do. It was interesting to read how you do it because over here things are completely different...

  10. WG, I hope at least some it can be useful to you . The only time I used newspaper under the mulch I was afraid it would repel water or at least redirect it from flowing down through the bed, so I was really skimpy with it and also punched holes in it . Turns out it was entirely gone less than two months later . Hopefully, at the bottom of the hole it lasts longer .

    Masha, I would imagine they are very different . You are so right . I think gardening and soil must be a very local thing . Maybe I should preface all my writing with “YMMV”, i.e., your mileage may vary. Maybe I should have tried a rose in my native higher pH soil as a “control plant”, but I didn’t know what I had then and certainly didn’t know what I was doing . We all live and learn – hopefully .

    I will add that I never add lime because of my higher pH, but some Florida gardeners should add it because they’re pH is very low . That’s why having your soil tested is very useful and every gardener really should get it done .

  11. Newspaper under the plant, I love it! I'd think this would help water retention for new plants generally, I think I'll try it next time. Florida sand it lovely as you dig, but hard to keep watered.

    Looking forward to armadillo updates, they are tough!

  12. FaithieP, you’re right. I should to use it under all plants, shouldn’t I?
    Updates? How about armadillo obituaries? If only.