/ Modified apr 21, 2014 4:31 p.m.

Roses Can Thrive in Desert Climate With Proper Care, Conditions

The flowers have a reputation for being delicate, demanding but they are not only able to survive but also flourish in the Southwest.

When Pam Henderson was growing up in Iowa and New Mexico, she seemed to always have roses around her thanks to her father’s affinity for these flowers.

But it wasn't until he moved to Tucson that she built her own rose garden.

Henderson said growing these flowers is addictive, and once people get a few of them – they seem to want more.

Now, she has around 100 roses of almost all kinds blooming all year.

But in this climate, roses do need care and attention, she said.

“Most of the roses you’re going see in this garden are roses that grow well in Arizona, all you have to do is…water them and give them a little food, they are big eaters," she said. "I use alfalfa tea, I make alfalfa, fish emulsion, absence salt, you put all kinds of stuff in, and feed them, I do it about every other week, and then they get going, and then I use something like Miracle Grow."

Summers in Arizona can be brutal. In the hottest months of the year temperatures can rise to triple-digit numbers, rain evaporates quickly, and wind does not seem to bring relief.

Gary Carruthers is familiar with all of these conditions.

He joined the Rose Society of Tucson in 1968, and is presently the longest-running member of the group.

Along the way, he and his roses have faced many challenging summers.

“The best fertilizer is water. In this climate, you know you need to water in the summer time...In the winter, every three to five days. So I like the winter time,” Carruthers said.

Even though roses are not native to the Sonoran Desert, they can thrive if they receive the appropriate care and conditions, Henderson said.

One of the key elements is to plant them in good soil, she said.

Henderson grows her roses in pots, because she doesn’t have that much space in her garden.

Roses are most fragrant and colorful when the temperatures drop a little, she said. And they don’t all smell the same, and some varieties are more aromatic than others, she added.

In her garden, the winner in this category is called the Fragrant Cloud.

“These are very, very exceptionally fragrant roses..." she said.

For Carrurthers, it’s the smell and appearance that attracted him to roses in the first place.

“Roses smell good, they are pretty, (and) there is every color under the rainbow except for blue. Some are almost blue if you look…in my garden,” he said. “And that’s...America’s favorite flower by the way, it’s the national flower..."

While roses usually do well in milder temperatures, they can also be successful in the Southwest, such as those referred to as Leading Lady, Bees' Knees and the Marilyn Monroes, Henderson explained.

But beginner rose growers have another option.

“For the average person, let’s say…that wants to start, there are new varieties that are called…the Knock-Out roses,” Henderson said. “You don’t have to spray, they take very little maintenance, and they bloom all the time, and they are easy to grow.”

Some members of the Rose Society of Tucson say roses benefit from pruning to encourage new healthy growth.

For instance, Henderson clips her rose plants twice a year, sometime between January and February, and again in September. To protect roses from diseases and deter insects, she suggested spraying them. But, she said, it depends on what else grows in the garden.

For Carruthers and Henderson growing roses isn’t just a hobby, it is a passion...a life.

They said growing these flowers gives them a lot of satisfaction, and brings color to their gardens.

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