When we checked in on the garden last, I promised I’d give you some tips on taking care of roses. I recently attempted pruning back my rose bushes and I gotta tell you, it’s not relly much fun. After getting all clawed up from the thorns and almost throwing in the pruners, a friendly neighbor happened by and offered his expertise. Since I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to this, I was pretty relieved! He was so sweet and helpful and I learned a lot from that quick conversation! Inspired, I looked up some more info on the net, and thought I’d share my newly gained knowledge to spare you all the wolverine-like scratches down your arms. You’re welcome.
The articles on rose care can be pretty confusing, so I hoped to simplify some of it for you. I have a climbing rose and a bush variety, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about. I figure those are the most popular varieties anyway, right?
First things first: WHEN to prune? In the winter after the last frost. This is a dormant time, and sap is not flowing yet. Apparently that’s important, because if you prune too late you risk draining too much sap from the rose plant and that’s bad news bears. Less sap = weaker plant = more prone to all sorts of scary sounding stuff. If you prune too early, you risk zapping the freshly shorn plant with frost come freeze warning time. Don’t prune the first year, though. Let your baby rosebush grow the first year however it wants. This makes it strong. Do remove suckers from the root ball the first year though. Ahem. Mind out of the gutter, please. A sucker is anything growing on the bottom half of your root ball/bud union/stem system. Also known as the bottom of the plant.
Now, HOW you do it. The hard part. At least I knew the when, HOW was my downfall. Follow along:
Second year (or if you’ve been ignoring your roses for a while)- Hard pruning: cut back 4-5″ of the plant, which beefs up your root system and creates new, stronger canes/stems from bud union.
Winter/Spring pruning– cut any dead, sick or damaged stems, and any thin, scraggly growth or canes that cross/rub together. Make sure when you cut that the inside of the stem is greenish white, brown insides mean the cane is dying or sick and needs to be removed. Try to contain your snip-happy self and don’t cut more than half the bush at a time.
Making your cuts: they should be one inch or less above an outward facing bud at a 45° angle in the direction you want your stem to grow. To quote bhg.com: “cuts should be 1/2″ above a leaf axle with a dormant eye.” Do whaaaaat?? In other words, make your cuts above the nubs in your stem that don’t have leaves coming out of it. Like this:
Choose an eye/nub/thingee on the outside of the cane/stem and slope the cut down to the opposite side (45°, remember?). Cuts made closer than 1/4″ and more than 1/2″ could damage the cane/stem or create a nice little home for irritating buggers. You want to create a bowl shape with your plant right now and also cut anything low to the ground so that your pretty plant will get lots of air circulation and grow big for you. Finally, use a sealant to put on the cuts you make so that nasty stem borers don’t get in there and kill your plant from the inside out. You can use glue, lipstick, nail polish or acrylic paint.
Summer pruning– for bush-type roses, you’ll want to deadhead and lightly prune after each flush of flowers to encourage more blooms and maintain the plant’s shape. Climbing roses will flower all along their stems if you train the stems horizontally. *this was sort of a eureka! moment for me, since mine only bloom at the top of each stem.* After each flush of flowers, deadhead and cut back the flowering stems to the first 2-3 sets of leaves. Once the stems are trained on a climber, prune back after the summer bloom to the first 3-4 sets of leaves and reshape at the start of winter. Also, apparently the plant will grace you occasionally with a new, long stem from the base of the plant. This bad boy should be left alone because it’s supposedly pretty important to the strength of the plant. Additionally, cutting each side stem to the lowest possible 5-leaf point will force the plant to flower along the entire length of the stem. I’ll have to give that a whirl next time, since I discovered this nugget of wisdom after I Edward Scissorhanded my rose bushes.
Last, but not least, contain yourself and don’t fertilize for 3 to 4 weeks after pruning.
I hope this helps you sort out what to do with your rose pruners. I know I’ll be better off next year with this info-shame I didn’t wait to chop my rosebushes until AFTER I surfed the net. Figures, huh? Here are a couple more links if you want more information: Rose Magazine and American Rose Society. Do you have any tips to share? Please do! My rose bushes will thank you for it!