Hit the Road Jack: The Brutal Art of Shovel Pruning
Master Rosarian, San Diego Rose Society
Let's face it: sometimes things just don't work out. You start off with the highest of hopes, the best laid plans, the noblest intentions, the most beautiful dreams. But somewhere along the way, something goes wrong. You begin to feel let down and disappointed, apathetic and strangely depressed. Deep in your heart, you know it's time to call it quits.
And yet, it's so hard to let go! You don't want to give up those fantasies of a perfect life together. You can't bear to face the gaping hole that saying good-bye will leave in your life. You're not convinces that anything better will ever come along, and anyway you dread the work involved in starting all over. Above all, you're wracked with guilt.....
Hold on. Let's stop right here for a minute and tighten our tether to reality.
First, we're talking about roses. A rose bush is not an actual spouse. At best, it was a blind date. You weren't really committed. You never promised to live with the thing in sickness and health until whichever one of you keeled over first. No matter how infatuated you were when you planted it, no vows were taken, no binding contracts signed. When the time comes for the two of you to part ways, there will be no legal consequences. You will no have to pay alimony for the rest of your life, nor will you be indicted on charges of first degree murder.
Second, a rose bush does not have neurons and therefore does not feel pain. There will be no blood curdling primal scream when you rip it out by the roots.....not from the rose anyway (wear gloves! ). I confess I have some issues around this myself, as I've always had a tendency to anthropomorphize everything in sight. When I was a child l named all the bugs and butterflies I caught and wept bitterly when they died. But, I am crazy. Don't let it happen to you.
Now, let's review some of the Frequently Asked Questions about shovel pruning.
Q: What does it mean to "shovel prune" a rose?
A: It means you look the rose in the eye and you say, "Hey nothing personal, it's just business." (Or maybe, "Honest, honey, it's not you, it's me; I just need some time to think.") Then you pick up the shovel and pull the trigger, and that's that. Capisci? If you can't bring yourself to kill it, just give it to your mother-in-law.
Q: When is the best time to shovel prune a rose?
A: Some schools of thought think you should give a rose several years to prove itself: "First year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps." Other schools of thought think you should inflict capital punishment the minute a rose starts to seriously get on your nerves. Most people tend to be bit more trigger-happy when they're running out of room for new roses. It's really up to you.
Q: How can I tell whether I should shovel prune a particular rose?
A: Always remember there are no bad roses. There's only the wrong rose in the wrong climate or the wrong place for the wrong person in the wrong mood at the wrong time.
That said, let's look at nine examples of roses that are prime candidates for shovel pruning:
THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT---All the books swore this rose would be a compact three-foot shrub, yet it takes up more space than a 20-piece mariachi band. All the books swore this rose was an excellent rebloomer, yet you haven't seen a flower since last Easter. You find yourself swearing more than the books.
THE PETRI DISH---So many gross minor-oganisms flourish and fester and ooze on this rose that the CDC is sending a team in haz-mat suits to place it under quarantine. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date before you go near it.
THE ANESTHESIOLOGIST---The rose that's so boring it puts you to sleep.
THE MAIL ORDER BRIDE---You though you clicked on Jessica Simpson, but somehow you ended up with Eleanor Roosevelt in your shopping cart. Gee, think maybe those photos were touched up just the teeniest bit?
THE CUJO---This vicious and highly aggressive rose has repeatedly tried to rip off your arm, put out your eye, or maybe even slit your throat. It's had your poor husband cornered in the back of the tool shed since last Tuesday. Time to rent a Bush Hog and show the beast who's boss.
THE EBENEZER SCROOGE---This stingy old thing makes you work your fingers to the bone, yet payday never seems to roll around. Just say bah, humbug!
THE FICKLE PROMISE---Here's a rose that never seems to grow. Year after year, you wait with bated breath for full and lush and magnificent mature growth, but the actual plant just sits there looking exactly like the pathetic little bundle of twigs it was the day you planted it. Ask yourself: what's wrong with this picture?
THE ONE CANE WONDER---It tries so hard, puts a few great roses on it's single, solitary, lone cane but can't seem to grow another cane. Maybe it's just an old curmudgeon, a hermit, a feckless old fart with a bud union so gnarled and tight-fisted it won't ever let a companion join the fun.
THE NORWEGIAN BLUE---How much longer are you going to pretend this moribund bush is just pining for the fjords? Maybe it's time for you to wake up, Polly. In the immortal words of John Cleese, "I'll tell you what's wrong with 'im: 'e's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory!" Face it, there's never going to be a better time to dig and toss.
In the final analysis, life is too short, yards are too small, and there are too many wonderful roses out there to waste time on any rose that doesn't make your heart dance the Macarena with joy. SO don't be afraid to grab that shovel! No need to be sad, Brad; just dig up the dirt, Kurt; rip out the roots, Toots; and get yourself a rose that makes you happy instead.
(with special thanks for thoughts and ideas from Elizabeth Churchill)