Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Off with their heads II (When and how to prune roses plus new stuff)

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
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.

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
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.

David Austin English roses don’t always appreciate drastic haircuts. 

Cl. Fourth of July
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.

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.


Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Thanks Lynn, good information for all of us! Our forsythia is starting to bloom and after this week I think we are done with the super cold temps. I will use some of Annie's products on my rose!

Lynn Hunt said...

Janet, you are a bit ahead of us but I'm with you in hoping winter is on its way out. In a way I dread pruning this year because I will certainly see the extent of the damage to my roses. But if I lose a few, that means new choices! Always the optimist :) Can't wait to see photos of your 2014 garden!

Phillip Oliver said...

Great advice Lynn! This past weekend I went ahead and pruned some of mine although I normally wait until the forsythia blooms. Since we've had a cold winter, it may be a few weeks before it blooms. I've never fertilized this early though - it is okay to go ahead and do that?

Hoehoegrow said...

Thanks Lynn, good information and very timely too ! I wonder if the tip about the forsythia is true for the uk too ? If it is... I have pruned too early !! Just finished ! Also , what is 'Moo Poo' please ? I would guess fertiliser , but don't know if it is available here.
I have got 2 lovely Old Rose bare roots to plant tomorrow , Louise Odier and Gruss an Aachen. Can't wait to see them in bloom later in the season.

Lynn Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynn Hunt said...

Phillip, just to be safe I'd wait a couple more weeks since the weather has been so crazy! But it is tempting to want to go ahead isn't it? I think we are all ready to bid this winter farewell.

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Jane! So glad to hear from you. I'm not sure if the forsythia guideline works in the UK as well. I must find out! Moo Poo is an organic manure tea (no odor) that is good for everything from seedlings to houseplants to roses. If you click on the Haven's Authentic link, perhaps Annie would be able to tell you if there is something similar across the pond. I love both your "new" old roses. Hope they do well for you!

Janneke said...

This time we had no winter at all, it was and is very mild. The Forsythia is flowering and I started pruning roses last week. Many of them show already new shoots and leaves. I started with the climbing roses which I almost finished. Interesting to read your pruning 'rules' and I came to the conclusion I prune my roses in the same way. We have lovely spring weather the last few days and more beautiful days are predicted, so off to the garden.

Lynn Hunt said...

Janneke, so nice to hear from you. Sounds like our winters flipped this year. We have more snow coming in a day or two. Whew! I'm sick of it. The Forsythia will probably be in bloom by the end of March so until then, I will just sit back and picture you in your beautiful garden!

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Allibuczek! I will keep fingers crossed that Old Man Winter is done with the Eastern Shore (and the NC mountains too although we are due for snow and ice tonight!)

Bill Blevins said...

All very interesting. Let me say this... "Spring pruning is the single most important thing that will enhance your chance for success in the rose garden." Prune with a purpose , and function. Effective pruning is an art form & structures the plant for maximum output in the coming season and future seasons. Good luck all.

Lynn Hunt said...

Bill, you are the master and I would love to be with you one spring while you prune to learn all your tricks. When I first joined the Tidewater Rose Society I volunteered to help prune gardens of those who could not do it for themselves. I basically use the same techniques I learned from the old timers then like Charles Turnbull and Charlie Turisi. But this old rosarian can still learn new tricks!

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