A rose by any other name, or color, would look and smell as sweet on the picturesque campus at The University of Southern Mississippi.
The renowned All-American Rose Garden, which opened in 1974, features approximately 800 separate bushes that consistently attract admirers from South Mississippi and beyond.
“I have so many people tell me it just does their heart good to see the roses doing so well,” said Loren Erickson, superintendent of campus landscape. “People call and visit from all over the country. One couple this year timed their vacation to drive through Hattiesburg at peak bloom on their way from Pennsylvania to Florida.”
Under Erickson’s supervision, the Rose Garden has received extra attention and care that he hopes will bring even more acclaim and prestige to the campus landmark. Since joining the Southern Miss Physical Plant Department six months ago, Erickson has initiated a renovation project for the roses that includes these important steps:
Erickson points out that the weather dictates when the roses begin blooming, but the first full “flush” normally appears by mid-April. The roses continue to bloom throughout the summer months until the cooler days and nights occur (early November).
“We prune our roses late winter to early spring,” said Erickson. “The roses are reduced to 12-18 inches high and cut to strong, outward facing buds. After the first flush of blooms, we remove spent blossoms and continue to thin for air and light to get in. The roses are cut back at least once a week during blooming season.”
Slow release fertilizer is applied in the spring and summer along with Epsom salt to promote lush green growth and consistent bloom color. Fungicide is limited to only what is necessary to prevent total loss of a plant. Mulching involves only pine straw collected from the university grounds. Proper mulch retrains moisture, retards weed growth and prevents any disease and fungus from spreading.
In addition to the more than 36 distinct varieties in bloom, Erickson and his staff installed five different selections of “drift rose” in front of the resurrected climbing rose arbor. The drift series, similar to knockout roses, is being used as a new ground cover for the garden.
Located at the front entrance to campus, the Southern Miss Rose Garden is open to the general public free of charge, seven days a week. However, anyone caught snipping a blossom faces a monetary fine.
“The roses are really for everyone to enjoy and each one adds to the overall beauty of the garden,” said Erickson. “I think people actually respect that.”