Remembering revered Rosarian and her sage tips

L as Vegas lost a great Rosarian who passed away Aug. 9. Lee Heenan was an amazing woman, a great gardener and mother, and her entire life was spent serving others.

Heenan played a major role in developing many garden clubs in Las Vegas, ending up in their leadership positions even up until her death. Twice she served as the Nevada Garden Club president. She played a major role bringing about the Garden Club Center building found in Lorenzi Park.

Heenan became a very proficient judge, earning all judging certificates and becoming recognized both locally and nationally. One of her most cherished judging titles was becoming a Master Consulting Rosarian. She was a kind, thoughtful and dependable person and was loved by all. Her memorial services will be Oct. 4.

Here is some of the advice she shared in my garden column several years ago on fall rose care. Your roses are now preparing themselves for this fall’s flush of beautiful blooms. Heenan suggested the following:

INVENTORY YOUR ROSES: First, Heenan inventoried her roses. The “heartless woman” said to yank those out that didn’t produce to your satisfaction.

Small blooms: The intense heat caused the puny blooms.

Yellowing leaves with pronounced green veins: The bush is crying for iron. Heenan found some roses needed more iron than others. She used iron chelates, an organic compound that protects the iron from our alkaline soils so your roses can use it. “There are cheaper irons, but I’m dealing with royalty and wanted the best for them.” She dissolved the amount of chelates needed in a gallon of water and drenched the base of each bush.

Small, pale-yellow leaves: This signals a bush crying for nitrogen.

Scorched leaves: This sent two signals to Heenan — the plant is not getting enough water or salts are building up in the soil. A heavy leaching will flush away the salts.

Sucker growth: These are aggressive canes free of thorns and small pale-green leaves coming from below the crown (large knob at ground level). They eventually dominate and weaken the bush. Remove them from below the plant’s crown.

IT’S GROOMING TIME: Heenan called it grooming rather than pruning. She cleaned out the bush so sunlight can kiss each leaf. The sun also warms the plant’s crown to generate sturdier canes for next year’s bloomers. Here’s how Heenan suggested grooming:

■ Remove all faded flowers. If you don’t, the plant directs its energy to producing seeds, something you don’t want.

■ Remove all dead and diseased wood.

■ Cut out one-third of all top growth. This will hurt, the expert said, but sturdier canes will develop to carry bigger roses this fall.

■ Cut out crisscrossing canes to allow the sun to pass through.

■ Finally, clean out the small twiggy stuff.

■ Make all grooming cuts flush to another cane. Never leave stubs, as they become potential entry sites for boring insects.

FEASTING TIME: Your roses have struggled this summer so feed them a royal meal, as they are heavy feeders. Here’s her recipe to spread under each bush:

1. Give your plant a good drink to avoid any fertilizer burn.

2. Add a balanced rose fertilizer as directed on the package. Nitrogen generates lush growth for more blooms. Phosphorous promotes strong, sturdy roots and breathtaking blooms. Potassium improves the bush’s overall health.

3. Apply a cup of soil sulfur to free the iron, zinc and manganese.

4. Spread one-third of a cup of epsom salts or magnesium sulfate (same nutrients) to prolong the life of your blooms and strengthen next year’s cane growth.

5. Add a half cup of cottonseed meal to put more quality in your blooms.

6. Finally, scratch these nutrients into the soil surface. Scratching also adds oxygen to our soil for good rose production.

7. Follow each feeding with a good irrigation.

Do not feed roses after Halloween, the expert warned. Late feeding leaves bushes vulnerable to cold injury.

WATER BECOMES CRITICAL: Roses like long, slow irrigations. Heenan pushed her educational index finger 2 inches into the soil. If the soil feels dry, water; if it feels moist, check again in a few days before watering.

EXPECT APHIDS: You’ll find them on the new growth. Control them with insecticidal soap.

BUDDING: Roses always produce six buds. The first bud is the biggest and five others emerge below. On hybrid tea roses, she rubbed those five off to get bigger roses. But with grandifloras, she removed the center bud to allow the five to develop into a beautiful bouquet.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 702-526-1495.

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