Valentines Day Means Time to Prune Your Roses

by Kathy Feagan

Valentine’s Day is the traditional time to think about pruning your roses but it is actually just the ‘starting point’. Now is the time to start thinking about pruning and bed-building. It’s not just for roses, it is also a great time to ‘gently’ prune your crape myrtles, too.

Roses need a great home. They need at least 6 hours of sun each day and a nice, rich soil with very good drainage. You might have to do some amending. Roses grow laterally and shallow, so you can do great with a raised bed.

Pruning controls the size and shape of your roses and keeps the varieties blooming repeatedly all summer long as they flower with new growth. Well established hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras should receive a pretty major pruning each spring after the winter protection is removed and just as the buds swell – which is why Valentine’s Day is the key date used to begin the process. After this pruning, all that’s needed through the growing season is to remove any diseased foliage or canes and to dead-head, cutting the stems just above the first five leaflet leaf.

Old fashioned and species roses, along with climbers, bloom once per year on wood from the previous year’s growth. Prune these right after flowering. Annual pruning is very essential to ensure future blooms and the long-life of the rose. Think of it this way: rose pruning is really done year-round. Every time you cut off old blooms and remove twiggy growth you are promoting new growth. You should prune seriously spring and fall. Remove any dead or old and non-productive canes, they are usually gray and scaly and easy to identify. You should also prune any weak or crisscrossing canes and remove growth about an inch above a canker. Also, remove damaged, dead or broken canes and sucker growth as close as possible to the main root. Remember to prune your bush to a ‘vase shape’. Cut back canes and growth to 5-6 healthy canes that are 12-18” tall and form that vase type structure on hybrid tea and grandiflora roses.

Floribundas are not pruned as severely but be sure to remove any dead, broken, damaged or blotched branches back to where the center of the cane is white and healthy looking. Also, remove weak, spindly canes or canes growing towards the center, the weaker of two that cross, out-growing then up-growing canes and any suckers.

On all roses, trim all remaining canes back to 1/3 to 1/2 their height. On miniature roses, in spring cut them almost to the ground, to 2-3”. On old- fashioned, antique roses and shrubs, remove dead canes and lightly trim the rest of the bush, removing about 1/3 of the growth. You can LIGHTLY groom all roses through the year to encourage new growth. BUT, be sure to only prune ONCE BLOOMING roses AFTER they’ve bloomed. And, here’s an interesting tidbit. Mike Shoup of Antique Rose Emporium suggests using cut canes for barbecuing. “Soak brown canes and place them near the charcoal so that they’ll burn slowly and impart a fruity flavor to lamb, turkey, chicken and pork!

Roses are heavy feeders but don’t use bloom boosters or super phosphates on them. You can balance feed them with a 8-8-8 fertilizer if you use fertilizers, once per month March through September. There is also Systemic Rose Foods which feed roses and prevent bugs.
Remember this: at the Cisco Rose Trials, we use NO fertilizers besides compost tilled in before we planted and then keeping our mulch levels up. The same is true with our 100+ variety perennial trials. Our roses and perennials are preforming beautifully!! The majority of perennials lost have been due to 1) overwatering (we didn’t know Cisco was still watering for awhile) and 2) discovering that some plants slated for FULL SUN, weren’t prepared for the full sun and wind of Abilene, Texas! But then, what is a trial garden for but to determine the BEST plants for OUR area, anyway??? You don’t have to use chemicals and fertilizers to make your gardens beautiful. Go by Cisco soon and take a look and find out how to grow naturally, without fertilizers, chemicals, pest controls and excess water – think about gardening the Earth Kind Way.

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