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What's wrong with this rose bush? A lesson in irrigation

Check drip system is working when plant shows sign of dehydration

This poor Oklahoma hybrid tea rose bush needs some water, and stat!

This poor Oklahoma hybrid tea rose bush needs some water, and stat! Photo courtesy reader Brent T.

Brent T. of Folsom had a not-so-rosy dilemma. In late summer, a once-healthy Oklahoma hybrid tea rose bush had turned brown and crispy. Another Oklahoma rose planted across his backyard was doing perfectly fine.

Brent sent a photo for diagnosis. His rose issues stemmed from what could not be seen – and serves as a reminder: Don’t assume a plant is getting enough water just because it’s on drip irrigation. Emitters can become clogged or fail. Roots can interrupt drip lines. (So can critters!)

When a rose or other plant shows signs of dehydration and distress, check the soil. If it’s dry and cracked on top, it definitely has irrigation issues. If you can’t plunge a 6-inch screwdriver into the dirt, it’s time to deep water.

“Give this poor bush some water quick!” I advised Brent after seeing the bush’s photo. “It's sunburned and badly dehydrated. It may also be suffering from foliage burn (which is different from sunburn).

“It also looks like it's infested with spider mites, another sign of dry and dusty conditions.”

Brent confirmed that the bush was on drip irrigation and that likely was the root of the problem.

But how do you return the plant to health?

Start by washing the bush off with a hose; spray it all over to clean off the dust and knock off the little webs of the spider mites.

Then, give the bush a deep and thorough soaking. Saturate its bed, then let the water soak into the ground.

Next, cover the ground with wood chips, bark, dried leaves or other organic mulch (not rocks). That will help keep the soil and roots cooler while retaining moisture.

Sunburn usually happens when bushes are exposed to too much blasting heat – that’s common in Sacramento and especially affects plants growing near concrete driveway, walls or sidewalks. That hardscape reflects more heat. A sunburned bush will shed damaged leaves and recover, as long as it has enough water.

Foliage burn happens when time-release or other fertilizer is introduced to the soil and there's not enough water for the roots to process it. The plant pulls moisture out of its foliage and sends it to the roots so it can pick up those nutrients. But in the process, the foliage looks burned – it's crispy and brown. If you use time-release fertilizer, soil needs to stay evenly moist. (Mulch helps with that, too.) Always deep water BEFORE adding fertilizer and feeding plants.

With a little TLC, water and mulch, Brent’s Oklahoma should be good as new.


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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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