I own a lot of roses. Too many in fact. At first look in spring, I am stunned by all the thorny canes I’ll be facing. Until this year, I used regular gloves, which ensured numerous scratches up and down my forearms. I’ve actually been asked if I’ve been in a cat fight and lost. Very funny.
Several years ago, I bought a pair of relatively inexpensive rose gloves. The jury’s still out on whether I like them, but my forearms look better. I’d like a pair of Bionic Rose Gloves like the ones on the right, but it’s only March, and I’ve already spent a small fortune on gardening implements. (I had to replace my trusty hoe, and of course, I couldn’t decide, so I bought two.)
Now, for the roses. Used to be, we all grew Hybrid Teas, the hot house flowers of the rose world. We were told to take the bush down to three or four canes and prune at least a third of it off. This was to create the perfect exhibition bloom. I never did exhibit my roses, but over 20 years ago, I followed “their” advice. I don’t do that anymore. Roses bloom on new wood, and such extreme pruning reduces the number of blooms. I’m into quantity, not show quality.
Many of my roses are landscape varieties, like Floribundas and shrub roses, hybridized for disease resistance. I own a few Hybrid Teas, but I prune them gently. Most are grafted, which means their root stock is a different variety than the rose growing on top. Have you seen any ugly, wild-looking, dark red roses growing around town? Those are roses, which died down to their root stock, and that is what you see blooming. They should be dug up and thrown away. The will never look beautiful again. A graft is a weak spot in any plant, and it’s not good for Hybrid Teas to struggle too hard. They are likely to swoon if too much is expected.
On the left, is the Hybrid tea, ‘Rio Samba,’ a lovely yellow and red-orange AARS award winner. I have two of these, and they really like the heat, but not the cold. I thought I would show you step by step how I prune this bush. First, I cut the cane which is growing across the middle of the bush. You don’t want any crossing canes if you can help it. Next, I look for any dead wood, which will be a light brown, and I cut it all the way down to the cane joint. Your cuts should be diagonal as shown in the photo on the right so that water doesn’t pool in the open wound. Even though I have cane borers in my garden, I don’t seal the wounds with sealant or Elmer’s glue. I used to, but it was too much trouble, and then I read the sealant harbored diseases. I just cut below cane borers. Also, prune to an outward facing bud. That way, the cane will grow outward giving more airflow to the bush and not cross over.
Once I’ve pruned this far, I stand back and look at the bush again to get an overall feel for what I’ve accomplished.
While on the subject of pruning, if you have a garden with shrubs, like roses, and tough perennials, buy yourself a decent set of pruners, like these Felco pruners. You’re worth it. For years, I tried to prune roses with inferior pruners, only to end up with hand strain. I own the Felco #6 for small hands, but I wish I’d bought the original ones. They’re cheaper and bring more strength to the job. I noticed in the photo that my pruners need to be sharpened because the cut doesn’t look as sharp as I like it. I’ll take mine to Circle Saw Shop, a small family owned business located in Edmond, for sharpening.
After I look the bush over, I check for any signs of disease. ‘Rio Samba’ has a real problem with dieback, which means she gets cold, or tired, or whatever, and her canes die back at certain points. This is not a good quality in a bush, but she blooms so heavy, I figure she gets tired like women who have a lot of babies right in a row. She’s entitled. I just cut below the dieback point and hope for the best. This photo shows another problem, which I call “blowout.” It’s not the technical term, but I think it’s an apt description. You need to cut below this even if there’s beautiful stuff above. Don’t worry. Just do it.
After I’ve finished this, I look at the bush and make cuts to create an even urn shape like this. See how nice she now looks? She’s ready for the garden party in May and June.
As for roses like Knockout®, they don’t need a lot of pruning. Simple deadheading and shaping up will suffice. Don’t overprune them either. They are supposed to be three to four feet in height and two to three feet in width. Give this plant some room and some fertilizer, and you’ll be rewarded with cherry red blooms all summer.
Once I’ve finished pruning, I clean up all of the leaf debris around the rose. Rose leaves harbor diseases like blackspot, so it’s important to keep it clean.
I hope you have fun pruning your roses this spring. If you get finished before I do, come on over and help. I’m sure I’ll still be out there pruners in hand. Oh, and once the pruning is finished, it’s time for feeding. That you can’t miss.