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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

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