Friday, February 7, 2020

Off with their heads (when and how to prune roses.)



Some Austin roses prefer light pruning


Although the calendar says February, 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 as to what damage Old Man Winter has done, if any. To be honest it’s been very mild thus far. That makes me quite nervous about what March may bring.

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 two of my new roses have died. ‘Flamenco’ aka ‘Ivor’s Rose’ was just planted in September and we’ve had no drastic weather to speak of. I won’t be ordering from that nursery again!

Another unpleasant discovery was that people cleaning the gutters had trampled an area of the garden. At the moment, it doesn’t appear that the little patch of roses and other perennials will recover.


I can prune perennials now, but not my 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 iPhone and went to work. (I find an iPhone and a wireless speaker are essential 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, buddleias 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 wimpy 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 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

How severely you prune depends on the type of rose. Unless you plan to exhibit, most experts recommend moderate pruning of hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras leaving the bushes about 18 to 24 inches high.

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.

Thin and shape old garden roses

Most David Austin English roses prefer a lighter touch with the secateurs. 

Pruning climbing roses can be a bit trickier. Climbers that have only one flowering period should be pruned after they bloom. Take out old, weak, or entangled branches. 

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.

Cl. Souvenir de la Malmaison

Miniatures and minifloras are your easiest task. A recent study in England 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 chain saw haircuts

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, I now believe the David Austin Rose Food I put down last year made a big difference, so I will be applying it again.

I will also be soaking my new bare root roses in Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo tea to help them get off to the best start possible.

I’ll use Moo Poo and Alfalfa tea on the roses after the first flush of blooms, then again in August. 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 a few weeks. After all this pampering, my beauties should be more than ready to bloom their heads off in 2020.



2 comments :

Sunil Patel said...

Hello Lynn, this is perfect timing as I'm looking at all the DA roses that are starting to come to life and thinking, I *really* need to prune them soon. The Forsythia is a little way off flowering but there's so many roses I need to do that it might have flowered and finished between the first and the last. I'll focus attention on the rose bed at the front as it always gives a stunning display and grows out of control al too easily.

Lynn Hunt said...

I'm sure your garden is going to be spectacular this year, Sunil. Can't believe we are coming up on 5 years since I visited!You had just put in a few of those roses in the front.

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