Saturday, February 23, 2013

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 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 surprised, though, to see that almost all of my rose cuttings have died. That has never happened before, and it’s perplexing since this winter has been fairly mild.

I can trim perennials now, but not my roses

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

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 got 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 OK 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 (cleaned with alcohol) 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. 

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.

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.

Cl. Fourth of July

David Austin English roses don’t appreciate drastic haircuts. 

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.

Minis don't mind a chainsaw haircut
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.

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 -- I use plain old 10-10-10. I also sprinkle a handful of alfalfa pellets around each bush.

Your beauties should then be ready for the 2013 blooming season.


Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, thanks for these tips. I have David Austin climbers planted last year from bare root so they still have a ways to go before they'll require pruning but it's very helpful to know they dislike being pruned hard.

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Sunil! I agree, the new Austins I planted last spring will just need a light trimming. I will prune back older, more robust bushes to waist height. Michael Marriott once said varieties like James Galway (one of my favorites) that tend to throw out very long canes can be pruned more severely to "train" them to put more effort onto the overall bush.

Jason said...

Thanks for the tips, Lynn. I have a mix of shrub, rambler, and a wild climber (R. setigera). I have pruned pretty moderately, except for the wild climber.

Lynn Hunt said...

Glad you are done with your pruning chores, Jason! Sometimes those "wild things" just need dead stuff trimmed away. Many of them live on their own without any care and seem to do just fine.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Well, should have waited for this to know when to do my roses. I have one, 'Janet' and she was pruned (rather hard) about 3 or 4 weeks ago. That being said, our weather hasn't been that harsh so I may be ok. Hope so. :-/ Next year I will know better (if she lives!)

Lynn Hunt said...

Oh Janet, don't worry! Your Janet will be fine. Maybe a little slow to get started, but she'll catch up should you have a late cold snap.

One of my mentors became fascinated with roses after he ran over a bush with his lawnmower and it came back strong. He later had more than 100 varieties in his garden.

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