Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2010
Regional Report

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This is as close as I can get to a perfect 'vase' shape on a floribunda rose.

Let the Pruning Begin!

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is the perfect time to prune your roses! Rose pruning is a daunting task for some, a joy to others. I imagine my friend Kiwi will take a deep breath before she begins pruning her 300+ plant collection, but dormant season pruning is a chore that will reward you next spring with bigger blooms, healthier plants, not to mention a very sore clipper arm immediately after the task has been completed.

If you have a lot of roses, like Kiwi, you may want to do your pruning in stages. I started by pruning the roses that grow in containers on the deck at Henry's. There are about 20 of them and I have been going at it slowly. Next, I will work on the climbing roses along the fence, then the shrub roses on the hill, and finally the hybrid teas and grandifloras that border the garden. This is way too much pruning for one session, so I break it up in sections.

If a rose has grown very large over the last season, start by cutting it down to a manageable size before you start to thin and shape the plant. I use loppers for this task. My sister-in-law hasn't touched her roses for the past five years and they are enormous. The plants are just easier to work on if you reduce the overall height.

Next, remove anything that has grown from below the graft. These are suckers and will not produce flowers. Then, look for dead, diseased, or injured wood and remove those branches as close to the main structure as possible. Dead wood is easy to identify; it's either black or a faded brown in color. Sometimes a branch will be sunburned and only look dead. If you are unsure if a particular branch is dead, scrape a bit of the bark away to see if it is green underneath. Green means life.

The next step is to remove any rubbing or crossing branches. Any growth that goes through the center of the main structure of the plant should be removed. This will allow for maximum air circulation next spring. Roses are susceptible to all sorts of fungus diseases and the more air you have moving through the plant, the less chance they will have of contracting a disease. Remove these troublesome branches as close to the main trunk as possible to prevent suckers from growing. Any hint of a remaining bud will probably shoot up like a rocket.

Once the plants have been groomed it's time to prune for shape. Hybrid teas, grandifloras, and florabundas should be pruned into a "vase" shape. This goes for standards or tree roses as well. There should be five to seven main branches growing from above the graft at base of the plant. Ideally, these should be spaced an equal distance apart and have the remaining buds facing out. In all of my many years of pruning, I have never come across the perfectly shaped rose after pruning. They are living things and seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to growing. Do the best you can and let nature take care of the rest.

Once the roses begin to grow when the weather starts to warm, guide the new growth by picking off unwanted buds that may be heading in the wrong direction. They brush off easily and this grooming will save you pruning in the future.

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