By Ita West.
I read once that there are “Angels of Nature” and I think that they try to play small tricks on me when the mood takes them. There we were, just coping with growing vegetables and fruit without animal manure and letting the flowerbeds survive the best they could, when a friend dropped me in seven floribunda roses, which she’d had to move for an extension to her house. Roses to me are synonymous with horse manure. When I was growing up in the Dublin suburbs neighbours would almost come to fisticuffs as to who would be able to collect the horse manure on the road. When a rider went by, they all rushed out with their shovels/spades, whatever was handy. In those days a fair amount of the “travelling community” used horse drawn vehicles so if you looked you could usually find some… but we’d committed ourselves to not using animal manure so what were we going to grow these roses in?
It’s simple logic that when a horse eats hay it must take some goodness out of the hay to supply it’s body with nutrients by extension horse manure had to be lacking something that hay by itself would still have.
Mint and hay is the way!
We buried the roses in our very heavy clay soil, which we knew would be a benefit to them anyway and surrounded them with thick layers of hay. In the first year the roses were quite spindly and we spent the year pruning them as we deadheaded. The spindly growth in that year could be attributed to them not having been pruned back hard enough and then being transplanted at the end of the spring when they’d already started growing, or it could have been down to nutritional deficiencies from having no horse manure with well rotted hay in it as opposed to our thick layers of not rotted hay.
At the end of that first growing season we moved some roots of mint into the bed with the roses. The thinking there was that mint brings a substantial amount of minerals and other nutrients from the sub soil to the top soil because of the it’s deep roots. During the year as the mint grew to around a ft tall we’d cut it back and mulch around the roses with the cut mint. We’re still doing that now, so the roses get fed and we’ve got lots of mint for tea. The routine now is that during the year when the roses are in flower they’re constantly mulched and fed with cut mint, in the winter they’re pruned hard back and mulched with layers of hay.
Watch for the weeds
Anyone that’s ever mulched with hay will know that it’s got it’s own problems in so much that it has a tendency to set seed and grow grass. This can be a nuisance and does involve keeping up with the weeding but it’s not deep-rooted grass and pulls out easily enough. I don’t think that the rose bed would win any awards but the flowers certainly would. The photos are the living proof that you don’t need animal manure to grow roses and the other benefit is that the risk of “tetanus” is reduced if not completely eliminated. Now we have ramblers, climbers and shrub roses all grown by the same method.