|Some Austin roses prefer light pruning|
Although the calendar says early March, it isn’t too early to start thinking about tidying up the garden for the growing season ahead.
As I write this, it's sunny and 56 degrees F. (13 C) here in the mountains of North Carolina, so I ventured out to get an idea of the damage Old Man Winter has done.
I wasn’t surprised to find dead leaves everywhere. It doesn’t matter how often we suck them up and turn them into mulch, tons of additional leaves find their way to our front garden.
I was somewhat surprised to see that a few of my roses and some perennials have died. That has never happened before, but since we’ve had several days of below zero temps over the winter, I guess it is to be expected.
|I pruned my perennials, but not the roses|
So after assessing the state of the garden, I rolled up my sleeves, got out my Bionic rose gloves, secateurs, mini rake, Cobra Head Weeder and iPad and went to work. (I find an iPad or iPod to be essential gardening equipment since all chores go more quickly when listening to my favorite tunes.)
I bagged the leaves, extracted weeds, and cut back most of my perennials including catmints, hydrangeas and lavenders, but I didn’t prune the roses.
Rule of thumb for when to prune
When we get the occasional nice day in winter, people ask if it’s okay to go ahead and prune the roses. I advise waiting, because if another cold spell comes along, canes can be damaged and you’ll just have to do it all over again.
In most areas of the country, a good rule of thumb is to prune when the forsythia blooms. Start by pulling off any diseased leaves that have wintered over on your rose bushes. Dispose of them right away -- don’t throw them on the ground or you’ll be inviting even more disease problems.
|Unless you exhibit, don't prune too severely|
Then get out your newly sharpened pruning shears and remove dead wood right down to the bud union.
To help improve air circulation, remove any canes that crisscross, canes that grow into the center of the bush, and any weak, spindly growth.
Diseased or winter-damaged wood should be pruned to the point where you find light green or white pith. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle about 1/4 inch above a leaf bud that faces toward the outside of the plant. (In his excellent new book Everyday Roses, Paul Zimmerman says it is unnecessary to cut at an angle to an outward-facing bud eye. But it is too late for this old rosarian to stray from what I was taught!)
Many rose varieties have specific pruning requirements
|Thin and shape old garden roses|
Hybrid perpetual roses, shrub roses, and old garden roses just require thinning and shaping, so limit yourself to removing only old canes, dead wood, and spindly growth.
David Austin English roses don’t always appreciate drastic haircuts.
|Cl. Fourth of July|
Repeat-blooming climbers need to be pruned while dormant in the spring. Again, remove any old or unproductive canes, then cut back side shoots to pencil thickness.
Miniatures and minifloras are your easiest task. A recent study showed meticulous pruning didn’t really affect the plant’s success at all. So whether you use secateurs or a chain saw, cut back to about half of last summer’s height.
|Minis don't mind a chainsaw haircut|
After pruning, paint any cuts wider than a straw with a sealing compound (Elmer’s glue will do fine) to discourage insects and disease.
Roses are greedy feeders so after you've finished, give them a dose of rose fertilizer – in the past I’ve used plain old 10-10-10. However this year I am adding a special product to my fertilizing program. I will start out soaking my new bare root roses in Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo tea to help them get off to the best start possible.
Then I’ll be using Moo Poo and Alfalfa tea on all of my roses. The tea conditions the soil so root systems can better absorb nutrients, and it is gentle enough to use on newly planted bushes. I have seen the results others have experienced and can’t wait to give it a try. By the way, Annie Haven says you can spritz plants with Moo Poo to deter pests and disease. I am anxious to check this out.
So now that I’ve tidied up, I’ll be pruning and fertilizing in the next couple of weeks. After all this pampering, my beauties should be more than ready to bloom their heads off in 2014.