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Summers in the low desert of southern California are brutal, with average daytime high temperatures in mid-July soaring to about 110-115 degrees F, day after day, week after week. In July 2005, the daily high temperature reached or exceeded 120 F three times in one week. The intense desert sun scorches nearly everything in sight and neither rose nor human is happy when exposed to full summer sun for very long.
Against that backdrop, three years ago I decided to try to come up with creative ways to provide various types of canopies of shade that would be sufficiently open to allow filtered sun to penetrate, but which would hopefully protect the roses below from crisping, thereby enabling them to recover more quickly when the temperatures began their descent in September and October At least that was the theory.
I planted several plumeria in and around the rose beds, on the assumption that the growth pattern of plumeria would be ideal for providing the type of foliage canopy I had in mind, with a root system that wouldn't present a problem for the roses.
Four climbing roses were planted on the four posts of a backyard pergola, with the expectation that they would eventually grow up the posts and over the top, providing a modest amount of shade for roses in adjacent beds, and a greater amount of shade under the pergola, making it more tolerable to sit outside from time to time.
An arbor was constructed in my side yard, and again I planted climbers on the posts, with the hope that within a few years they too would grow up and over the top, providing relief for the rose bushes in the side yard which had suffered badly with no overhead protection.
In the front yard, in the area that had an attractive mix of roses, cacti and succulents, I planted a small Royal Paulownia tree (Paulownia tomentosa, aka Empress Tree), with the thought that its fern-like leaves would again provide a high canopy allowing filtered sun to penetrate to the plants below.
Fast forward three years Many of the plumeria, planted when they were no more than a foot tall, or a few perhaps two feet at the most, are now taller than the house, and nearly as wide as they are tall. I learned that with sufficient water, we have a nearly ideal environment for plumeria, and I was rewarded with wonderfully fragrant blooms month after month. But despite constant trimming and major limb removal, the lush foliage provided so much shade that little sun penetrated the tropical jungle to reach the roses which the plumeria were intended to protect.
The area under the pergola did indeed get the intended protective shade, but with plumeria on one side and the climber-covered pergola on the other, the roses in the adjacent bed received an insufficient amount of sun.
The arbor in the side yard did a fantastic job of cutting down the amount of direct sun that hit the roses below – so much so that every rose bush planted in the side yard had to be moved to sunnier locations.
Side yard arbor – before the after. The climbers have virtually blocked out any sun to the roses planted below. Note: After photo was taken 1 year ago.
And how about that little Royal Paulownia tree? It's now a magnificent specimen that covers most of that section of the front yard, with foliage so dense that very little sun reaches the plants below.
One by one I've removed the roses under the tree, and some of the cacti and succulents as well, giving the Paulownia center stage and allowing it to take its bows without having to share the applause with the likes of lowly rose bushes!
It was never my intention to create shade gardens, but that's exactly what I did And rather than affording protection for the roses, I created three environments that were no longer hospitable for roses. I would have been far better off putting up shade cloth over the roses during the summer months, leaving the roses in full sun during the cooler months of the year.
So before embarking on a project to intentionally create areas of shade, or even when deciding to plant companion plants without the intention of creating shade, try to fast forward in your mind to envision what these areas will be like in a few years. You might decide to scale back or not proceed at all with certain plantings or structures, and your roses will be a lot happier you did.
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