Six-inch-wide blooms of fragrant old copper, yellow, coral and deep red English roses will cascade through mid-June around the front and rear yards of NJIT junior Matthew Mitchell, 20, of Hillside. Since the age of 14, Mitchell, a mechanical engineering major, has applied his penchant for precision to cultivate these gorgeous antique blooms for his parents Aldeana and Joseph Mitchell.
Mitchell researches, feeds, prunes and admires daily eight, hardy specimens entering the peak of their days through June 30, 2008. (ATTENTION EDITORS: To interview Mitchell and set up a photo shoot at his home with these glamorous blossoms, call Sheryl Weinstein at 973-596-3436. Northern New Jersey’s peak season for growing roses typically lasts through June 30.)
Mitchell’s unconventional teen hobby started some six years ago, when Aldeana Mitchell purchased a pricey, but beautiful David Austin bush from England. Eventually her husband, Joseph, accidentally killed the bloom with over-pruning.
“It wasn’t that my dad was an inexperienced gardener,” said Matthew. “For years he and my grandfather used our entire backyard—about a quarter of an acre—for growing vegetables. But cutting a rose bush requires some knowledge and skill and he trimmed it to the ground one season. It died the following winter.”
That spring Aldeana Mitchell received a replacement bush for Mother’s Day from Mitchell’s older brother, then also an NJIT engineering student. Today, Joseph Mitchell Jr. is a chemical engineer at L’Oreal Cosmetics, Clark.
That’s when the youngest Mitchell stepped in.
Yet still a high school junior at Roselle Catholic High School, he threw himself into making the new bush flourish. Nursery instructions and an Austin manual explaining pruning, feeding and watering were especially helpful, he said.
“Roses can grow fast and wild,” said Mitchell. “According to the manual, a bush should be five feet tall by three feet wide. But these bushes were wild. If I didn’t keep after them, people could walk past our house and get hit in the face with a thorn.”
Eventually, he tamed the beauties, retaining for years to come the role of head gardener even while studying engineering. His greatest aid has been the library. He especially recommends four general gardening books featuring extensive sections on roses as well as growing plants in New Jersey.
Through the years, friends and family request growing tips. Favorites include:
- If you don’t know what the rose is, let it grow. Patience is key.
- Take time to think about where to plant the bush and what plants to group near it. Roses love acidic soil. However, if you try to grow them with plants adverse to acidic soil, either the rose or the other plant will die.
- Be cautious with feeding. A bush doing too well will grow too fast and branches will weaken. The plant won’t die, but the roses will sag and it’s hard to encourage new growth from weak growth.
- Don’t feed more than twice a season.
- Inexpensive bushes are a gamble. Typically they’re grafted—one species grows from the other’s roots. This won’t work because eventually the dominant species destroys the weaker one.