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Companion Planting Roses in Hot Climates

Updated on March 18, 2014

Painting the Roses Red...

A rose is a rose is a rose. It is a flower so common, so beloved, that things are described as "like roses". In this regard, one can only assume that everyone has roses, or could have roses, depending on the circumstances. In the south, however, many of the old roses struggle in the heat, and our landscapes are dotted with varieties specially-bred just for us, like "Grandma's Yellow" and "Knock-out".

Down here, one of our greatest enemies are the mild winters. The aphids and insects that feast upon roses do not die back in great enough numbers in the winter. When spring comes, there is a flood of aphids. Controlling insects through inorganic methods, like pesticides and sprays, does more harm than good, because beneficial insects will die by the same spray. Instead, seek out companion plants and herbs that will naturally deter insects, to minimize the need for spraying anything.

And, honestly, no amount of deterrence will fully succeed. There will come bugs. When you do spray, use a spray that will drive off bugs, without killing beneficial insects.

In a food processor, liquify...

  1. 1 garlic clove
  2. 1/2 an onion
  3. 1 tablespoon baking soda
  4. enough water to fill a spray bottle

After liquifying the mixture, add it to your spray bottle, and include

  1. 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap

Shake it up to mix it all together, and spray in the early morning, and evening, once every two days until the problems recede.

For issues of leaf spots, if it looks like our southern weather is instigating some mold and mildew, add a tablespoon of copper to the spray.

Now, let's talk about good companion plants...



A classic insect-deterrent, Nasturtium repels cabbage flies, and numerous other harmful insects. It is also a beautiful flower, on its own, and appropriately-sized for a low-lying ground cover around regular-sized roses. (Smaller, fairy roses might be drowned out by the big, broad leaves, and bountiful mounds of flowers!)

Seek out varieties that complement the color of the rose blooms. Yellow roses look wonderful set against red nasturtiums. Red roses and orange roses bring fire to the eye.

Plant nasturtiums from seed by nicking the large seedpod, and soaking them overnight. In the morning, place them evenly spaced at the depth of a knuckle of your finger and cover with quality soil. Soon, these beautiful, useful, and edible flowers will reseed themselves like crazy, and you'll never have to plant again in the flower bed!


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Alliums - Chives, Garlic, Onion

Alliums stink. I mean, they really stink. That is, if you are a bug, they stink. If you are a person, they smell like onions, which does smell good to most of us, but not in the same way that roses smell good. One of the easiest ways to deter pests in the south is to border roses with a wall of alliums. And, wall is probably the right word. When planted in rows at the edge of the border, these upright growers will form a straight wall of green, like prison bars, keeping out all unwanted pests with their stink.

In the deep south, one of the best plants we have is from South Africa: Society Garlic. Imagine chives that taste like garlic? Now, imagine it as a perennial bulb that forms attractive flowers, on its own, but will mostly just remain a clump of sturdy green, year-in, year-out, emitting the stink of garlic into the soil and plants all around.

Also a good idea: Veggie gardeners love to plant their garlic and onion crops in the front yard. Most neighbors won't even know you're getting your annual onion harvest from the flower beds because the recognizable bulbs remain underground. Neighbors will see the upright green stalks, some attractive scapes or flowers, and all the while, the roses are protected from infection by the hidden vegetable crop, distracting passers-by with the beautiful blooms.

Chives are likely the easiest to plant. A row of chives around the base of a rose bush will provide excellent protection from pests for the cost of a single packet of seeds. The chives will reseed themselves, if allowed, and come back every year.

Garlic is particularly useful to rose-growers in humid climates, like Georgia and Florida and most of the Sunny South. The pungent bulbs have natural anti-fungal properties and are rumored to help stave off common fungal infections and molds. Plant bulbs of garlic in early fall, and allow them to overwinter. We generally only grow the hardneck varieties in the south, so you might need to look for a local farmer's market to acquire seed garlic instead of a grocery store. Not all garlics will thrive down south!


Lavender or Rosemary for drier climates

In drier parts of the south, with rockier soil, lavender is an excellent companion for roses, confusing insects with the powerful perfume, and pleasing neighbors who enjoy the scent. Lavender is a perennial, but it is not eternal. Expect your beautiful plants to live only a few years, maybe even less than five after a rough winter! But, the seeds are relatively easy to harvest and start again, and the flowers can be cut before going to seed to extend the life of the plant, encouraging new flowers.

In fact, few things are as impressive and beautiful as a straight hedgerow of flowering lavender. The profuse purple spikes color the air with a powerful aroma, and the aesthetics are simply lovely. Consider low-lying lavenders, like classic English lavender, curving in a line in front of the rising rose bushes, with gorgeous yellow or red flowers.

Alas, some people really hate lavender, because it does smell, shall we say, "grandmotherly", and to these folks I would recommend trailing rosemaries for similar foliage, and lovely scent reminiscent of pine forests. the flowers on rosemary will still be a beautiful purplish-blue, though much smaller than shocking spikes of lavender.

Herbs, Wonderful Herbs!

Thyme, Oregano, Cilantro, Chervil, Parsley, you name it, if it is an herb, it is probably a great companion to deter pests. The pungent smell of herbs fool bugs by drowning out the smell of the roses. Place plenty of herbs around the base of rose plants, perhaps intermixed with Nasturtiums and onions, to provide a diverse range of aromas to throw off potential insect pests!

Thyme is a wonderful groundcover, as is oregano. Mint will take over, so be careful where it is placed. (In hot, dry climates, mint will likely die back every summer, but not so in Georgia!)

The only real disadvantage to herbs is that they are primarily annuals that will need to be replanted every year, and will not always successfully reseed themselves with our mild winters. Also, starting herbs from seeds is more of a challenge than other common vegetable crops. For this reason, purchasing plant starts every year is required, and the volume needed in your rose beds may be pricey!

Still, if you plan to cut herbs and use them in your kitchen, it is a wonderful way to expand available growing space for edibles into ornamental areas, and will end up being much less expensive than buying fresh herbs at the store.



Nematodes - those pesky soil-born buggers - persist in the soil of the south with our mild winters. To combat nematodes, few plants are as effective as common marigold. Also, they happen to look lovely and come in a variety of shapes and colors and patterns. They are readily available as inexpensive transplants from garden centers, and reseed readily year after year, if allowed to set seed.

Marigolds, and even their related flower the Calendula, are excellent choices for rose companions. They will flower long, and stop underground nematodes before they can get to the roots of the rose bushes!

No garden is complete without plenty of marigolds! Plant some today! Right now! GO!


Citronella Geraniums to Deter Humans' Pests!

One of the most useful plants to have beside high-traffic areas is the citronella geranium. Southern growers always must temper their desire to garden with the knowledge that mosquitoes are going to drink their blood, possibly infect the body with some disease or other.

So, enter the beautiful and lemon-scented Citronella Geranium!

Many scented geraniums work well in mixed-flower plantings, but few offer any real benefit beyond aesthetics. Even classic scented geraniums, like Rose of Attar, don't have the same beneficial property, driving away pest mosquitos.


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