Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring Rose Pruning and Other Rosy Ramblings by Gardener Dave

Over the nearly 40 years that my wife and I have lived on Green Mountain in Lakewood, I probably have had nearly a hundred roses in my garden. I have cut back on the total number for several reasons: One – there is now much less full-sun area there used to be in our yard, due to my shade trees growing larger. I am not about to cut down the trees, as we enjoy their shade in the hot summer. Two – (also due to the trees) my main rose garden has become quite full of roots that compete with the roses for nutrients and water. Ergo, my rose garden is gradually becoming a slope that will be mostly ground cover that enjoys the shade. Three – although I enjoy roses very much – I am cutting back on my total yard care efforts (with my wife’s urging!). Oh yes, I still have many roses in our yard, mostly in raised beds in the areas that do have adequate sun for them, but I don’t feel compelled to rush out every spring and make room for several new ones. (Tempted, but not compelled!)

Along the way, I have learned a few things about rose care in our Front Range area that I will pass along to you fellow gardeners. The following are just a few supplements to the good rose information available from our C.S.U. Extension Fact Sheets such as 7.404 “Selecting and Planting Roses”, found here http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07404.htmland from many other good “rose care hints” out there. 7.404 also lists recommended roses that I think of as “old standbys”. My results with growing some of these over the years have matched the ratings on the list quite closely.

My personal favorites from the list:
Hybrid Teas: Chicago Peace, Double Delight, Electron, First Prize, Mr. Lincoln, and Peace.

Grandifloras: Queen Elizabeth, and Sonia.
Floribundas: Angel Face, Europeana, and Showbiz.

I have also had some good luck with (Improved) Blaze, and Don Juan climbers, but our climate is not kind to over-wintering climber canes. Bonica is a good pink rose in the “Shrub” category, but also seems to have quite a bit of winter dieback and does not form an actual shrub in my experience. I have other favorites not on the list. If you would like to know these, please ask me for them. (And also please excuse all my “I” problems in this writing, I’m not sure how else to tell about my experiences. Any ideas on how to avoid this?)

1) Pruning: I DON’T try to save rose canes in the spring that are really dark in color or have “weather cankers” on them. They will almost NEVER support good roses later in the season, even if they have new sprouts on them. When you cut the canes back from the top, look for a healthy green cambium layer all the way around the cane down to the base, then stop pruning a bit above that point. This spring my roses will be severely pruned!

2) Pruning: I WAIT until late April or early May to prune the canes back. By that time you will have a pretty good idea of the extent of winter damage, and new sprouting growth will be evident. This ast winter was hard on roses in our area, especially if they were exposed to below-zero temperatures and drying winds. In my first years of growing roses, I would prune canes back on mild days (during some of our “false springs” in February or March), only to prune them back some more after later cold spells. All right… I’ll admit that some years – such as this one – I just can’t stand the sight of ugly tall, brown, thorny canes, and I do lop them off early to improve the general appearance of the garden.

3) Pruning: I HAVE had considerable success with planting bare-root roses if I buy those with good sturdy canes and large well-formed bud unions (grafts). You can’t see the roots when you buy them, but at least you can evaluate them after unwrapping and before planting, unlike with pre-potted roses. Prune off any broken roots at this time, and spread out the good roots over improved soil in the hole as you plant them. Prune the canes per instructions in Fact Sheet 7.404 after planting, and provide protection to prevent drying out.

More than pruning – I have learned: to plant new roses with bud unions (grafts) below the soil surface an inch or so to protect this critical area during the winter, to apply a good layer of mulch, to practice some winter watering during mild spells, to withhold fertilizer after early September to discourage growth of soft new canes that will surely die over winter, and of course – to cut blooms back to just above a five-leaf cluster where new shoots will form for continued blooming. I just wanted you to know a few of the things I consider important. Thanks for your attention – good roses to you!

Gardener Dave