December Rose Gardens by Jack Falker, The Minnesota Rose Gardener

Jack Falker of Minnesota
Lion in Snow
Lion in Snow

December is an exciting month. Have you ever noticed one minute it’s August and the next its Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and like a speeding train the holidays are upon us. The holidays offer so much to do you probably haven’t given much thought to extra winter protection for your roses. Tonight I did slip on my leopard rubber boots, no jacket and planned on taking the coffee grounds all the way out to the vegetable garden by the red barn. Remember the vegetable garden? It was meant to be the 3rd stage rose garden. Then I watched Doomsday Preppers and thought to myself “I’m the only one in this entire village of 1100 with a rose garden! You can’t really fill up on roses, even rose jam and toast isn’t that filling!” So “Oui” planted a veggie garden and plowed up some more yard for the next rose garden.


Rose Garden in The Winter
Rose Garden in The Winter

My husband was so pleased as you can imagine. Back to the coffee grounds, I opened the garage door and saw Gene Boerner, F and thought, “this rose bush is right here, why not pour the coffee grounds on top of the leaves and mulch, and I really love Gene Boerner.”  By the way, roses I love often times get extra doses of fertilizer, and if you ask any gardener that is honest they’ll confess of doing that very same thing.

Garden in the Summertime
Garden in the Summertime

If you have ever heard of killin’ ‘em with kindness, it could happen. With all this said my point is it’s not too late before the winter doldrums set-in and the really hard freezing weather of the long hard cold winter to consider if you have enough winter protection on your roses.


The following is a guest post that is by Jack Falker of Minnesota of the Twin Cities Rose Club. I accidentally said he was from the hinterlands and he corrected me. All right Minneapolis is a very sophisticated city and not the hinterlands; he’s from the frozen tundra of Minnesota. He has some wonderful tips on winter protection and he sent the following article specifically for me to reprint in the American Rose Society Illinois Indiana Newsletter the IlliAna Newsletter of which I am the editor.


Jack Falker, the Minnesota Rose Gardener, says:


“Unlike those of us who live in USDA zones 4 and 5, where the ground freezes solid in the winter, most of the folks in Illiana, who are in either zones 6 or 7 these days, can probably just rely on the mounding process for your roses and wait to see if you get snow cover to insulate your beds.  However, I would put some added insulation on the plants not later than the latter part of December, as a precaution against repeated freezing and thawing.  There really is no downside to putting on your insulation earlier, just as long as you put something around your plants to deter the inevitable onslaught of voles.”

Jack Falker of Minnesota
Jack Falker of Minnesota in the Snow

Winter in Illiana

By Jack Falker

 (The Minnesota Rose Gardener)


What you do for winter in your rose garden depends a lot on where you live, of course, but one basic principle applies if you live in a cold zone, i.e. USDA Zones 3, 4, 5 and most of 6.  Your objective is to keep your roses frozen; not to keep them from freezing!  There seems to be a lot of confusion about that and thus we have nurseries selling styrofoam rose cones, which serve as little ovens in the winter when the sun shines on them, causing plants to freeze and thaw repeatedly, thereby killing them.

But first, do you think you really know your coldness zone?  Of course, you can check out the latest USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (published in January 2012) and it’ll show you that you live in either zone 5 or zone 6, unless you are in the most southern tip of Illinois, which is in zone 7.  Most people take that as gospel, but did you know that this is the first time in 20 years that the USDA has updated this information?  It covers the 30 year period from 1976 to 2005, so it’s already eight years out of date and, importantly, those eight winters were among the warmest in the last 50 years.  That, in my mind, makes this information pretty unreliable.  The National Arbor Day Foundation published their own zone map back in 2006, which shows virtually all of Illinois, Indiana, the lower peninsula of Michigan and Ohio in zone 6.  It also shows most of southern Minnesota and almost all of Iowa in zone 5, which is a big change, even without taking into account the much warmer winters since it was published. Here’s that map compared with the latest USDA map, which seems pretty inaccurate based on actual experience.





So, given that winters have changed in recent years, ask yourself what winter is really like now where you live.  Before you confidently recite that you are in zone 6, ask yourself when was the last time you remember a winter that was between zero and minus 10?   Or if you think you are still in zone 5 (where the USDA Map above shows most of northern Illinois) ask yourself when was the last time you remember winter temperatures being -10 to -20?  I believe that if you give this some serious consideration and discuss it at your various club meetings, my guess is you will find that virtually all of northern Illinois and Indiana are in zone 6 and substantial portions of southern Illinois and Indiana are experiencing consecutive winters that do not go below zero, firmly placing them in zone 7.


My conjecture is based on 51 years of data that I have compiled for the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St.Paul.  While the USDA continues to place us in zone 4, the National Arbor Day map shows us in zone 5, and my temperature chart below confirms that not only are we in zone 5, but are on a statistically valid trend line path that is moving us quickly toward zone 6.  So, if we interpolate this data further south to Illiana, we should be seeing similar changes. 



So what does all of this portend for winter protecting your roses in Illiana?  I began by saying that the objective of winter protection in zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 is to keep your roses frozen so they don’t repeatedly thaw and freeze again, thereby killing them.  Well, if Illiana is virtually all zone 6 and 7, it stands to reason that you all might have a different, but  perhaps equally difficult problem; that is, keeping them from freezing in the first place.  Fortunately, I believe the solution is virtually identical, i.e., some acceptable method of insulating each rose, either before it freezes or afterward to keep it frozen.


First, it is important if you are growing grafted roses, that your bud unions should be several inches below the surface of the ground to insulate them. I recommend planting the bud unions five or six inches down so the roses can develop their own feeder roots above the bud union as an added bonus.  I also recommend growing as many roses as possible on their own roots.  I plant all my own-root roses with the crown several inches below ground for good insulation and root development.


Once your bud unions are at least somewhat below grade or, even better, if your roses are growing on their own roots, here is what I recommend for winter protection.  Year-round, mulch your beds with at least three inches of wood chips overall, and in the late fall pull more of those chips up around your plants from the area surrounding them, so you have five or six inches of chips around every plant (in the summer fewer chips are desirable around the plants, to work in fertilizer, coffee grounds etc.). Next, mound a couple of shovels full of compost from your mulch pile around every plant.  My mulch pile is primarily shredded oak leaves from last fall and hundreds of pounds of composted Starbucks coffee grounds that I collect regularly.


Next, when it starts getting cold and your roses have stopped blooming, bind them into bundles and cut them down to about 12 inches. (Don’t worry, you’re not losing anything here; what you want is the strong new growth you will get in the spring.)  Here’s what this looked like when I was cutting back my mounded Buck Earth Song bed with my hedge trimmer, in preparation for putting on leaf bag insulation.






The next step is to prepare a bunch of half-full, regular plastic leaf bags.  For heaven’s sake, don’t use the compostable leaf bags (as I did one winter, picking them up from neighbors’ leaf bag piles).  They break down over the winter and leave you with piles of leaves to clean up!


When you put these bags on your roses will differ, depending on where you live in Illiana.  In zone 5 and the colder parts of zone 6 (like Chicagoland), wait until the ground freezes lightly, before putting them on.  A good signal around here is when our local ponds get a skin of ice on them for the first time.  Now, with the objective of keeping your roses frozen, one-by-one slit open the bottoms of your leaf bags and shove them down on each of your plants, flush with the mounds. In the warmer parts of zone 6 (or colder parts of zone 7), you can probably just rely on the mounding process and wait to see if you get snow cover to insulate your beds.  However, I would put the leaf bags on the plants not later than the latter part of December, as a precaution against repeated freezing and thawing.  There really is no downside to putting on your insulation earlier, just as long as you put something around your plants to protect them from the inevitable onslaught of voles.  In that regard, please see my Minnesota Rose Gardener blog articles on vole protection: .

The use of construction blankets for winter protection has also become quite popular up here in Lake Wobegon and I believe it could be very useful in Illiana, with your freeze/thaw issues.  I will be writing a blog on this method, which can be incorported as another article for Illiana in the near future.  In the meantime, here is a picture, taken by my friend Deb Keiser, rose specialist at the Virginia Clemens Rose Garden in St. Cloud, Minnesota, of her garden all covered up for winter in mid-November.  Just imagine!





Please feel free to address any questions to  Have a nice warm winter!

I’m Thankful for Mom, Apple Pie & Roses

Home Made Apple Pie
Home Made Apple Pie
Home Made Apple Pie

This is a glimpse at the simplicity of managing life’s expectations. The family was all sitting around visiting. I said “I’m writing a Thanksgiving post about what I’m thankful for.” Out-of-the-blue, Big Daddy announces, “I’m thankful I haven’t had my first heart attack.” You can imagine he’s a pretty happy guy most of the time. Motivational Speaker to presidents and Firewalker Tony Robbins says essentially if you aren’t happy everyday lower the bar. It makes sense.  I guess “Big Daddy” has a fairly manageable level of expectations. Tony says “every day that he learns something new is a good day.” Since I learn something new every day and I am glad Big Daddy has not had his first and especially his last heart attack I am on track to have a Tony Robbins kind of life without having to pay a bazillion dollars to walk on hot coals with Tony and Oprah, who also happens to be a big fan of Tony’s. Another fan of Tony’s is marketing guru Chris Brogan. Knowing these simple truths could save me a trip to the hospital like some of  the “fire-walkers,” that have attended Tony’s seminars and perhaps didn’t have the right mind-set to walk on hot coals, or cool shoes, ;).  Another seminar attendee declared that his philosophy is “everyday above ground is a good day.” You see, its all a matter of prospective.

Bloom Where You Are Planted
Bloom Where You Are Planted
The Carousel at Stonebriar Mall, Frisco, Texas
Mother, Grandmother, me
Mother, Grandmother, me. Three generations #ThrowbackThursday

I’m Thankful for Moms

Here’s why. My mom taught me the most wonderful things about the holidays, like starting early and cooking every kind of pie and filling the house with the most wonderful cooking smells imaginable. She taught me how to make corn bread in a cast iron skillet and that the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach. This is probably why Big Daddy is concerned about having is first heart attack. Mom also taught me you can solve almost every kind of problem by getting in the kitchen and cooking something wonderful.

Apple Pie | Yellow Roses | Chrysanthemums
Apple Pie | Yellow Roses | Chrysanthemums

Apple pie is simply the most wonderful feel good food on the planet. I can resist almost any desert except warm apple pie. My sister-in-law actually traveled from Wisconsin to Texas just to have my homemade apple pie that’s just like my mother used to make. The wine shown in the picture, The Show, is a Cabernet Sauvignon that the wine steward at Whole Foods Plano, said was one of their best selling Cabs. Looking at the cowboy on the label reminds me that this is not my first #ThanksgivingFeast rodeo. 🙂erik_W13

Babies and Puppies
Babies and Puppies
Gabi with Puppy
Gabi with Puppy

Babies, children and their laughter make a house a home. Anyone that sees a child and a puppy together know what joy is.

Rose Garden Look of Fall
Rose Garden Look of Fall

“Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it or hold it & let it be without imposing a word of mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you.” ~ Eckhart Tolle


As Nick Kellet, Founder of Listly says “statistics prove people love lists.” I’ve started an interactive list for you to add what you are thankful for including a link to a picture on the Web if available. You can also vote up and down those items listed by clicking arrows on the left up or down votes.

[listly id=”Ba4″ layout=”full”]
Happy Thanksgiving from my neighbor’s pet turkeys George Washington and his brother Harry. I bet George and Harry are glad they are pet turkeys. 🙂
Pet Turkeys George Washington and his Brother Harry on my Neighbor's rescue farm
Pet Turkeys, George Washington and his Brother Harry on my neighbor’s goat, alpaca and animal rescue farm

Living Christmas Trees | Red Roses | The White House Historical Assoc. Christmas Ornaments

Norfolk Pine Fresh for the Holidays


Fresh for the Holiday Norfolk Pine from Costa Farms
Fresh for the Holiday Norfolk Pine from Costa Farms, decorated with red roses and The White House Historical Association Christmas Decorations

Norfolk Pine A Living Christmas Tree

The White House Historical Association creates and sells an ornament each year to commemorate how presidents through the years have celebrated Christmas in the White House. One of my favorites is the 2003 White House Ornament. It’s a boy on a rocking horse.  It is inspired by an authentic Victorian illustration of a child’s joy at Christmas.

Monica, Gives Presidential Ornament Each Year
left to right Gabi, Monica, Tanna Monica Gives Us the Presidential Ornament Each Year

My daughter-in-law’s parents began giving us an ornament each year when we all became a family. I can’t wait to see the exquisite gift box that holds the treasured ornament every Christmas.

The White House Historical Association Christmas Ornaments

This year the Garden Media Group featured a Facebook promotion for their client Costa Farms, in Florida. The promotion showed an adorable Norfolk Pine and asked this question “How would you decorate a “Fresh for the Holidays” Norfolk Pine?” I said I would decorate the tree with  “my treasured White House Historical Christmas Ornament Collection.” I am delighted to say I won the Norfolk Pine! Here’s the Costa Farms Fresh for The Holidays Living Christmas Tree decorated with the White House Historical Association ornaments, and red roses. The live tree arrived in perfect condition. I received an email from Stacy at Garden Media Group saying that it shipped yesterday and it arrived today packaged perfectly smelling of Christmas trees.

Norfolk Pine Fresh for the Holidays
Decorated Norfolk Pine from Costa Farms, with Graham Thomas, a favorite rose grown and photographed from Gaga’s Garden framed in the background

Costa Farms Living Christmas Tree and Red Roses

The ornaments are extra special for two reasons. History is important, and all profits from the ornaments go to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent White House Collection, and to assist in the preservation of the public rooms in the White House and to further its educational mission.

Norfolf Pine with Santa as a Tree Topper
Norfolf Pine with Santa as a Tree Topper

Extended Family Giving Ornaments

The second is I enjoy a special relationship with our son’s in-laws and think of them as a caring and thoughtful extended family. I think this ornament is such a thoughtful meaningful gift that one can treasure always.

In closing,  a dear friend, Nancy Healey once said to me “Susan, relationships are fragile.”  Like ornaments on a Christmas tree relationships are fragile.  As we approach the holidays it’s a good time of year to remember to preserve our relationships and create new memories for our family histories.


Roses Fall Into Winter

Magnificent Sweet Gum Tree

I think I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree ~ Joyce Kilmer

Fall is a time for reflection. Time seems to slow down. Even the clock falls back. This autumn in Illinois the leaves took on reflective hues that seemed to dance and play in a slow waltz as the inevitable drift toward winter. The whole process of fall color is fairly well understood, yet so complex the reason for it is less clear.

Our country lane at sunset in the fall
Our Illinois country lane at sunset in the fall

Suddenly this year as the days got cooler, vibrant colors of gold, yellow, purple, red and brown began to emerge. The shimmering light of sunrise and sunset lit the forests as if they were bathed in liquid gold.

Rock Path Garden, Tall Grasses
Rock Path Garden, Tall Grasses Kissed with Golden Sunshine

Most everyone thinks cool weather or frost cause the leaves to change color. Temperature can affect the autumn color and its intensity, but temperature is only one of many factors that play a part in painting the woods in glorious color.

Fall Leaves | Blue Skys | Lil Red Barn
Fall Leaves | Blue Skys | Lil Red Barn

This year we had a growing season with ample moisture that was followed by a dry, cool, sunny autumn that has been marked by warm days and cool but frost-less nights that provided perfect weather conditions for the brightest fall colors. Lack of wind and rain prolonged the brilliant displays until the recent strong storms across Illinois. This article includes a pictorial of the beauty of the autumn this fall.

'Weeping' Rose and Leaves
‘Weeping’ Rose and Leaves called Oh My in Weeks Catalog | Dad’s Day by ARS classification

Fall Into Winter

Thanksgiving is this week. With winter just around the corner here’s a simple and concise “Winterizing Your Roses Tips” from Witherspoon Roses. Witherspoon Rose is the rose supplier that I ordered grade 1 bare root roses from for the 3rd stage of the rose garden.  I wrote about and included pictures of these roses all this season as a first year garden.

October Rose Garden
View of Witherspoon Roses, St. Patrick in the forefront

Some of the most spectacular include Love Song, Dick Clark, and Legend, just to name a few, which are all Weeks Roses and first year roses in this garden.

Top 10 Tips for Winterizing Your Roses



 Re-printed Courtesy of Mary Alice Pike, Witherspoon Rose

The blooming season comes to a close in autumn. During this dormant stage, take care of important gardening tasks, to ensure your next spring is as breathtaking as you always dreamed!

1.      Plants should be reduced in height (waist high) to prevent breakage from winter winds.  Climbers remain tall but should be secured to the trellis or fence.  Cut leggy branches from Tree roses to produce a rounded shape.

2.      This is a good time to apply lime as needed to obtain a pH of around 6 to 6.5. (The local Agricultural Extension Agency is a great resource for soil testing & evaluation)

3.      Mulch should be mounded around the base of rose plants to protect from winter freezes.

4.      Timed irrigation systems should be shut down for the winter.

5.      Container grown plants should be moved closer to the house to protect against winter winds. Extreme climates would require more drastic measures.

6.      Check the health of your plants and place an order for fresh bareroot roses to arrive  January through mid-April.  Replace plants that are spindly or reduced to less than 3 healthy canes (pencil diameter).

7.      Dilute Lime-Sulfur with water and spray over entire bed including the ground.  This is very important to rid your garden of pests and black spot spores that would harbor over the winter.

8.      Transplanting roses can be done successfully during this dormant stage.  Carefully prepare the new spot 16″ deep, enriched with cow manure and soil conditioner.  Placing spade 10″ from base of plant dig straight down into the bed in a circle around the plant, trying not to cut roots.  Lift the plant with the shovel and carry it directly to the new spot.  Fill in soil and cover the plant with a mound of mulch.  Water 3-5 gal.

9.      Make plans for new rose beds or additions.  Autumn is the perfect time to prepare the soil for winter or spring plantings as the soil has time to set and stabilize.  Turn over the soil 16″ deep and apply proper soil amendments to produce a light loamy mixture.  (Or call a professional rose specialist)

10. Clean, sharpen and oil shears and pruners to prepare for spring pruning.

Pet Turkeys George Washington and his Brother Harry on my Neighbor's rescue farm
Pet Turkeys, George Washington and his Brother Harry on my neighbor’s goat, alpaca and animal rescue farm

Happy Thanksgiving from pet turkeys George Washington and his brother Harry that live on my neighbors animal rescue farm down the road.

Fantasy Pick Roses

Love Song a floribunda

Fantasy Pick Roses for 2013 

Susan Fox in the Rose Garden with Chicago Flower and Garden Show Hat
Susan Fox in the Rose Garden with Chicago Flower and Garden Show Hat


Sports analogies dig deep into the heart of the American landscape.  Rose gardening can be a tough physical sport. A helmet is my next gardening fashion statement. It shall coordinate with my leopard rubber boots. This fall, during an attempted shovel pass, I did a face plant into Ketchup & Mustard, (F), and took a direct hit by known dirty player Baronne Edmond de Rothschild (HT). Rothschild’s position on the team was questionable at the time due to lack of performance. Baron, a top draft pick due to his ARS league standing (8.3) in the 2014 ARS Handbook for Selecting Roses has been a bitter disappointment. Long, tall, leggy with an inconsistent performance record on this S. Central Illinois gardeners team roster, Rothschild is known for smacking players in the face as they walk by, repeated penalties and face-mask violations basically unprovoked.


Late Hits | Defenseless Players

During this same hit I sustained a defenseless player low hit by Bolero (F) and Pumpkin Patch (F) as I smashed my head into the landscape timber resulting in a concussion. Injuries from this attempted shovel pass, or shall we say passing the shovel resulted in blood dripping wounds, quarterback removed from the field of play and out for several games. The visiting Team then needlessly ran up the score and brought banned substance weeds on the field of play. The end result is the Rothschild contract will not be renewed and he will be shovel pruned next season. His career on this field of play is over. While dazed and laying sideways on a landscape timber I pondered the flexibility of this guy that was nearly uprooted in the pile-up yet bounced right back to his usual shenanigans. This brings into play the discussion that is raging in the sports world about whether low hits may be more injurious to a player than the upper body which are usually more protected. Of course that is if one is wearing a state of the art helmet.


Roses Performance Ratings

Roses that “make the team” and into our gardens are usually selected pre-season based solely on their “agents” pitch. The stats for new entries in your field (garden) and on your team are many times no more than speculation by the “sales rep,” their agent, the growers and sellers. You, and the buying public are presented with slick bios, glamorous, perfect pictures and  romantic write-ups via catalogs and sales brochures of promises of performance with a product that has been mostly tested, especially a new rose, by the sellers/growers themselves. The American Rose Society does have a rating system developed by rose gardeners that submit their ratings of roses that I follow closely for good reason in the Handbook for Selecting Roses* however, you see that system has its element of discovery. Look no further than Baronne Edmond de Rothschild for proof. It’s still rated 8.3, which qualifies it by this system as “a very good to excellent rose.” There are many factors to consider when looking at a “players, ” (plants) performance, such as conditioning, fitness for your climate and care. Many times a “player’s” performance can be traced back to “coaching staff” (gardener) or conditions on the field, and handling but many times it’s the “player” (plant) itself we can look to for performance and the quality of the grower and seller. This is important especially because roses are expensive and you have a tremendous time and emotional investment in them. I want your Team of Roses to be a Team of Winners.  Here’s this Seasons Fantasy Picks for the 2013 growing Season in plant hardiness zone 6b. I’ve also grown every rose except Opening Night in Texas zone 8 with great success.


Gaga’s Garden Fantasy Pick Roses

Opening Night, Hybrid Tea
Opening Night, Hybrid Tea

Opening Night, HT first year in this Illinois garden looks like a pagoda draped in rain. This rose is rated 7.8 and was a stellar performer this year.

Moonstone, Hybrid Tea
Moonstone, in the Rain

Moonstone, a hybrid tea is consistently winning in rose shows across the country. Again a first year rose, it is a beautiful cornerstone for this Illinois garden. White roses light up your garden at night.

Rainbow Sorbet a Floribunda
Rainbow Sorbet a Floribunda

Rainbow Sorbet, floribunda is true to its name. It offers a rainbow of colors as the buds open and continue to change in colors. It is a consistent bloomer. The profusion of blooms and bloom cycle is amazing.

Love Song a floribunda
Love Song, floribunda, be still my heart

Love Song is a new rose heavily promoted because folks like lavender and purple roses. It is pretty. It bloomed heavily in the first of the season and did slow done. Lets see how it winters. I will be reporting back to you because as I said roses are expensive and blue roses can be tender to cold and boy oh boy this rose has been promoted!

Betty Boop, floribunda
Betty Boop, floribunda. Blooms that seem to last forever

Betty Boop, is a floribunda that blooms and the blooms seem to last forever. I really can’t say enough good about this little rose if you like roses in your garden for bloom cycle and profusion of blooms. However I have not seen a single rose that has lasting characteristics like this rose except Charisma. Last but not least is the season’s All Star, Easy Does It. This rose wins for profusion of blooms, disease resistant and bloom cycle.

Easy Does it, a floribunda that is prolific in bloom cycles, disease resistant and holds its color. The perfect rose for your garden
Easy Does it, a floribunda that is prolific in bloom cycles, disease resistant and holds its color. The perfect rose for your garden

Check out the best sports analogy blog that I read by Brian Vickery

In closing, check out my inspiration for this post  Brian Vickery’s Web site. He writes the best sports analogy’s as they relate to marketing and real life. Our mutual friend, football aficionado, marketing wizard, and PR genius, Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks says it all about him in this write up, #FollowFriday Brian Vickery

Here are two Brian Vickery articles that are my favorites. You are in for a treat.


12 Most Texas Tale Tales Growing Up Down By The River

I dedicate this gardening sports analogy to Brian Vickery and Gini Dietrich who I hope will get to watch a football game this week-end and it looks like Cutler is cleared to play. Brian, I have a special request, as a fellow #Cowboys4Life fan maybe you could write an article about thoughts on Jerry Jones going back to the sidelines, hmmm? And I didn’t mention our football friend Margie Clayman because she said the Cleveland Browns broke her heart. Our teams do that sometimes just like our gardens. Perhaps Sean will not be roping us into marketing studies and laundry and do what real Americans do. Watch football, laundry and garden.

*The American Rose Society Handbook for Selecting Roses is free to members and available for $5.00. Every rose I purchase I look up the rating of the rose first in this book always.