Indian Gardener, 1: 266-267 (June 9, 1885)
By an Expert
Soon after joining my appointment in Northern India, in October 1864, my predecessor (an amateur) in honorary charge pointed out this Rose, of which there were several plants in various parts of the garden, and enquired if I knew its name, stating that it was known only as the Bombay Rose in that part of India; and asked also if I could explain the cause of its flower-buds dropping off without opening. My reply was that I recognized it as the Rose "Edouard," and the dropping its buds to be characteristic of it in England. The cause generally assigned was the climate being too cold and the soil too wet for it there; but this, I remarked, could not be the reason here, and that I was now inclined to believe that it was owing to the plant being too free in growth, that is by producing more flower-buds than it could carry out or bring to perfection, a freak of nature not altogether unusual in other instances, and amongst fruits especially. He expressed his pleasure in hearing its proper name, and requested me to take some of the plants in hand and see if I could ascertain the cause and rectify it. I did so as follows. Some of the healthiest and best plants were taken up, divided, (for there were several stems or ground shoots to each plant forming a clump), and pruned; all suckers and growing buds below the surface of the ground were cut out, so that no more suckers could form, also the buds above the ground for three or four inches up the stem were removed, to secure clean single stemmed plants, by which the plants should be handled when potting operations are being performed. It also becomes the only medium or passage for the ascending sap or life blood of the plant, from the roots to the head, and thus secures an equality of distribution to all the branches and parts alike, and that uniformity of growth and flowering so essential, so that a plant of any kind may be induced to give its flush of bloom or crop uniformly and simultaneously. If a plant is allowed to have more stems than one, or a multiplicity of suckers be allowed to predominate, they soon throw out and make roots and set up on their own account, and not being detached will rob rather than assist the parent plant, for the roots of suckers do not contribute thereto, but, on the contrary, detract therefrom, and primarily each supplies itself, hence the wretched condition the plant is soon reduced to, when unassisted by art. Moreover suckers beget suckers rapidly, and flowers as rapidly deteriorate and fall away to semi-double, then single, and ultimately into the natural wild condition, from which by cultivation and art it had taken generations to bring them to the perfection of a fine double rose, and the climate has to bear the blame. Gardeners term these suckers "robbers."
The plants thus reduced were potted into the smallest size pots appropriate for the quantity of roots to each plant, then plunged rim deep in a bed prepared for them, watered moderately as required, shaded daily with canvas from 8 A.M, and syringed or sprinkled freely with water every evening. When the pots were filled with newly formed roots and the plants had broken in to new growth they were shifted (repotted) into a size larger pots, the number of shoots reduced by disbudding or thinning (as gardeners term it) to a given number of branches decided upon to form the future plant, and consistently with the quantity of flowers the plants individually were deemed of strength to bear. All were returned to their bed, replunged at greater distances apart than previously and treated as before, until as usual, a multiplicity of blooming buds appeared upon each and every branch; these were reduced by the aid of the grape-thinning scissors to three or four of the finest on each shoot, neat stakes and ties were now used in the adjustment and regulation of the branches symmetrically. When the buds began to expand into bloom, the sprinkling of water over-head was discontinued, as it injures the blossoms to some extent, but was somewhat copiously applied to the whole surface of the ground to insure the beneficial effects of evaporation in conjunction with the requirements of the roots.
A fine display of flowers was the result, each full and perfect in form and well developed. They became the admiration of all who saw them, and attracted attention from far and near. As soon as this flush was over, the old flower spikes were cut back to the first perfect leaf with growing bud at its base. This second pruning or shortening, which gardeners term trimming, is by some mistaken for a general pruning and called summer-pruning.
A second growth soon appeared, (to me it seemed somewhat rapidly, for I was not then so well versed or initiated in the excitable nature of this climate on the growth of plants generally in comparison with that of the British Isles as I have since become). A second flush of bloom also followed, the flower buds were thinned, and the treatment was the same as before, except in the supply of liquid manure which was increased in strength and number of applications. I may here state that liquid manure is applied as a rule after the flower buds appear and have been thinned, the blooming principle is benefited thereby and larger flowers are developed. This flush, though not equal in size of flowers to the former, was very creditable, indeed, highly satisfactory to the many admirers, who had watched what was to them an experiment, but to me a routine practised for many years at home in preparing Rose plants for forcing and early and late blooming in pots. To me the difference lay in the short space of time in which the growth and development occurred, and the mass of flower buds that were produced upon each shoot. I was well acquainted with the system adopted by our Rose-cultivators at home for competition at the flower shows, of thinning or discarding the supernumerary buds, and reducing the number to three upon each shoot and the use of manure water at this particular stage to assist and enhance the size of the flowers in development, I therefore only applied my former knowledge as mentioned above. When the plants and their roots especially are in a good healthy growing condition, which can at all time be ascertained by turning a few of them out of the pots for examination, carefully replacing, without disturbing the roots, they are found satisfactory, and the growth made is stout, firm in the wood, and short jointed, let well alone and reserve the stimulant for the benefit of the flowers or fruit as the case may be. In other respects it is used to recoup exhaustion, and as the plants advance in age, it may be increased with effect; nor is it well to be covetous in the way of quantity when quality in flowers is the desideratum.
We have now arrived at the third stage, or rather our pet has entered upon presenting us with a third display of bloom. This was watched somewhat keenly and our misgivings were realized, the result was exhaustion which showed itself but too plainly in the weakened state of growth and deterioration of the flower buds, some of which turned yellow and dropped off, the others were discarded, water was then gradually withheld until the wood showed signs of ripening and the plants of going to rest. Either the climate was too exciting or the plants had been too good natured and free, the treatment too liberal, the season over, as it was then late, or perhaps all combined to cause the failure of the third crop of flowers.
The whole were in due time removed to an open, somewhat airy, cool, building, out of the sunshine which had been selected as quarters of rest. Water was almost wholly withheld, sufficient only being given to maintain life by keeping the wood from shrivelling; the leaves turned yellow and fell off. This last is a sure and satisfactory sign of the plants being a rest.
I will here mention that plants in a tropical climate can obtain rest by withholding water only. A dark, dry, airy building or shed where the sun's rays cannot penetrate will assist. We must follow nature. In temperate climates cold, frost and snow will give vegetation rest. In the tropics excessive drought, with an arid atmosphere, has a similar effect, which may be seen when the deciduous trees are leafless and the natural indigenous grasses and herbs apparently burnt up, still there is life enough in them when the rains come, which is ample proof of their having been in a state of rest only.
During this state of dormancy the plants were pruned and repotted. This pruning is the general annual pruning, which I will now describe. The reader will remember that in the former part of this article, the Rose plants taken up were reduced to a single stem each, consequently, the branches now to be pruned are side shoots from that stem. We will therefore continence with the lower ones, which were previously trained to a horizontal position or nearly so. These were now cut back to about six to eight eyes, (joints or buds) so termed by gardeners, the bud being dormant and in recess, not protruding. The next above them, four to six eyes, or three to four inches. The remainder to three or four eyes, or one to two inches except the top one or leader, which is maintained in an upright position and forms the main or centre stem in continuation of the single one to which the plant was at first reduced. This one is left about eight inches long. The foundation and shape of the future bush is now formed. The plant is thus left in a conical shape, which is considered to be one of the best for this and bush Roses generally. The semicircular form is also appreciated and the pyramidal. In after years there is very little trouble in pruning and training any bush so started. It soon comes to cutting back the shoots all over to two or three eyes above the preceding year's pruning, the leader being left six to nine eyes long in its perpendicular position, and the bush increases in size annually in accordance. This is termed the short spur system of pruning. It will readily be understood that the two last made growths, with a portion of the first, are entirely cut away. The buds or eyes left are dormant, not protuberant, and situated in the earliest made and best ripened wood of the past season's growth, and therefore the strongest and best adapted to produce the finest flowers in the coming season.
At the same time that this operation of pruning takes place, the annual re-potting takes place also. A portion of the soil that comes away freely, by shaking, without injury to the roots, is dispensed with. The roots must not be mutilated in any way or handled, as it injures them. As mentioned previously a stem has been prepared for this purpose. The pots selected were a size larger, ranging from seven to ten inches in diameter and depth internally. Two inches increase, or one all round between the ball of earth left and the side of pot, is considered a fair annual shift for the season. Nor is it at all wise to overpot, as it engenders exuberant growth and less flowers, resulting in a ragged, loose appearance and flimsy branches. It must also be borne in mind that a size larger pot is required every season.
After four years, more or less, the plants will become too large for further pot culture, and as a rule, are planted out and younger stock take their places. Moreover it will be found that the younger plants are better adapted in every way for pot culture, and flower much better than the older ones.
Gardeners adopt a routine whereby the older plants are dispensed with and younger ones are introduced annually. In potting, drainage is of primary consideration, and should be attended to. Soil is of equal importance. The compost for Roses, when selected, should consist of three parts loam, one of thoroughly decomposed manure, to which may be added a little charcoal and wood ashes and bone dust if at hand.
If loam is not at hand, any good garden soil will do. The best alluvial soil was used in this instance, no other being available. Potting should be done firmly, and one inch of space in depth on top left for water. A good watering was given to settle the soil about the roots thoroughly after potting and replacing them in their dormitory, the pots were enveloped in sand, but any dry material will do. Water was finally withheld after this. Still the roots were found to be active and growing slowly. After about two and a half to three months the season for activity had arrived, when they were taken out, arranged and replunged in the place prepared for them. In this way the plants in question were managed, and I found no necessity to change the treatment or cause to regret the trouble I had bestowed upon them. Three flushes of bloom followed during the season, and the flowers were very fine. This was the first of my experience in Rose culture in India, and it will still be found valuable in application to this and the Hybrid perpetual and other hardy European varieties in most parts of India.