Ed Easom had all but retired as comptroller for WEDU-Ch. 3 when his son bought him a couple of floral department rose bushes from Publix. Ed, who’d never grown roses, gave them his best shot.
But this Army veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars rises to a challenge, and the love of his life, his wife of 54 years, Monika, adores roses. Back in the day, he’d pick up a bouquet for her every week on his way home from work.
So he talked to his father-in-law, who knew some people who knew some people. Soon, Ed had a generous rosarian, the late "Hubb" Hubbley, teaching him the ways of the rose.
Twenty-five years later, Ed, now 85, and Monika, grow more than 200 rose bushes — hybrid teas, mini floras, minis, floribundas, old garden varieties and David Austins — on their 1 acre property in Lutz.
"If you love one another, you give them what they want," Ed says. "Whatever Monika wants, Monika gets."
Growing roses also gives them something enjoyable to do together. This time of year, that includes serious hours stripping leaves, pruning and serving up a late winter smorgasbord of nutrients. It’s a good way to ensure you grow old, Ed says.
"If you sit around, you’re not going to stay around as long as someone who’s working."
Have you fallen in love with Ed? You’re not alone.
"He’s one of our best rosarians," says Judy Lawler who, like Ed, is certified by the American Rose Society and member of the Tampa Rose Society, serving Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. "He not only grows beautiful roses but is a go-to person in our society for seasoned rosarians and a mentor to our new members."
If you’re thinking about adding roses to your landscape, now’s a good time to start. If you already have roses, you should be sharpening your pruners. Cutting back now will likely give you a first flush of roses in March, and an even more stunning display in May — just in time for the Tampa Rose Society’s annual Mother’s Day weekend show, which anyone can enter.
Sally forth, rose lovers! Ed and other Tampa Rose Society experts share tips for success:
• Ed plants his bushes in 25-gallon pots buried in the ground. It’s not a must-do, but can help ensure your bushes get the nutrients you feed them.
• Plant bushes at least 5 feet apart to ensure good air circulation, advises Marilyn Bertch, rose society president. Crowding promotes fungal infections. Don’t be tempted to buy inexpensive bare-root shrubs (leafless canes with roots). They’re hard to establish.
• Buy only roses grown on fortuniana root stock. If you can’t verify that, don’t waste your money; the nematodes in our soil will soon kill your bush. Marilyn recommends Hardin’s Rose Nursery (and so do I!) at 6011 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. It’s open only 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and has no website. Read more about it at bit.ly/2BAnORM.
• Roses love water. Add 3 to 4 inches of mulch around bushes to help prevent evaporation, but don’t pile it around the main cane, or trunk, Marilyn says. Use pine bark, pine straw, even oak leaves collected from neighbors’ curbside recycling.
• Before pruning, Ed and Monika remove all the leaves to dispose of any lingering fungi or disease. Pack ‘em up and trash ‘em!
• To prune, start at the top and work your way down. "You can always cut but you can’t put back," Ed says. Remove twiggy growth from the top, dead and damaged branches, and those that cross — picture turning your bush into a bowl. Then prune the healthy canes by about half. Look for the bud nubs that face outward and cut a quarter inch above them on a slight, inward facing slant.
• Many rose growers have their own smorgasbord recipes. They also recommend the mixes sold by Hardin’s and at Shell’s Feed Store in Tampa. Here’s Ed’s:
• 1 cup pelletized Dolomite
• 1 quart cotton seed mead
• 1 quart alfalfa meal
• 2 cups milorganite
• 1 cup fish meal
• 2 cups agricultural gypsum
Growing roses isn’t so hard — even I’ve got ‘em! If you plan to start, Ed’s No. 1 tip is to visit your local rose society.
"Once you get into the rose society, nobody has secrets,’’ he says. "If something works, they pass it on. The only time they try to outdo each other is when they’re in the rose show."
Contact Penny Carnathan at firstname.lastname@example.org and join the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.