Q: I have had lots of problems with black spot on my roses. Is there anything I can do now to prevent this problem next spring and summer?
A: Our recent spate of warm and very wet weather can cause lots of problems for roses.
Black spot is a fungus, and the spores will multiply and spread in warm wet weather. Even if your roses have almost no leaves right now, the spores will survive until spring and can lead to major damage. Your roses can be pruned to open up the cane structure and allow free air movement.
A total cleanup of the areas around any rose garden is crucial and should be done every fall. All dead leaves should be raked up and disposed of by burning or removal. You can add a layer of fresh, clean mulch to insulate the plant roots.
However, don't leave last year's mulch on the roses. You can rake it up and use it in areas with big trees or shrubs that rarely suffer from fungal problems. Get old mulches away from your rose bushes.
As the winter progresses, keep the area near your roses clear of dead foliage. Wet soil conditions can foster fungal diseases.
If you have a problem with drainage or have wet soil conditions that are affecting your roses, there is a quick fix that will work for the short run. Drive a four-tined, heavy garden fork into the soil about 6 inches deep in a circle around your rose bushes. When the tines are fully penetrating the soil, grasp the handle and rock the fork back and forth. This will create deep open pockets in the soil that can last for a few weeks. They will allow moisture to evaporate into the air and provide more air to the roots of your plants.
If the problem persists, you can fill these "air pockets" with sand, which will help to lighten the soil much longer. The moisture will evaporate quickly.
Budding rosarians can get good advice about nurturing their plants from members of the Tri-State Rose Society of Chattanooga. Meetings are held regularly, and a wealth of information and support are available. Find more information at chattanoogarose.org.