By: Linda Campbell
Each spring we watch the garden. Only the most dedicated understands the wait for the amiable responsiveness of each rose to nature’s warmth. With the warmth comes the swelling of buds, red and eager to produce yet another dazzling display of foliage and blooms. This is a sweet occasion for the natural busybody gardener. We know that those skeletons in our gardens are beseeching us to once again come forth, to defy the ravages of weather and to meet the challenges of spring pruning.
No one should fear the craft of pruning. Rumors of how difficult and demanding it is, are Just that–rumors! With sharp shears in hand, taming and training brings the rose to a handsome shape, turning raw materials into a rejuvenated plant of elegant habit. Being amongst the most forgiving of plants, roses have the uncanny ability to endure cutting and sawing, making pruning less of a threat and more of an event of health for the plant. Successful gardeners have learned similar, basic pruning techniques, discovering as they go what tricks and shortcuts work best for them to realize their bounty of bloom.
Simply, pruning removes the Inferior or damaged canes, shapes the bush, and leaves a healthy foundation for the bloom cycle to come. If you place a pair of band pruners or a pair of lopping shears into the hands of three different rosarians, you’re apt to meet the butcher, the barber, and the timid soul, all telling you with great exuberance why they have removed what they have removed from their plants. This is where common sense comes to play, and the experienced rosarian may have the upper hand. The butcher cuts bacseverely to three or four canes when doing renewal pruning following dormancy. This works well for the exhibitor with a strong bush, desiring prize blooms. The moderation of the barber leaves a few more canes (five to 12), thus a larger bush for the garden. Floribundas and grandifloras generally fall into this category. Light pruning produces an abundance of short-stemmed flowers on large bushes. Recently, in the gardens of Trevor Griffiths, author of A Celebration of Old Roses, a pruning technique which might seem more bold than timid was observed. He took hedge trimmers to his shrubs and lightly sheared to perfect mounds, leaving as much viable wood as possible. The bushes were covered in the spring short-stemmed roses due to using a light hand in pruning. Since each removal of wood endows the plant with its own unique characteristics, all at the whim of the pruning shears, careful thought needs to be exercised. When in doubt, opt for the moderate route, aiming for a handsome shape. Nature prunes for us in Colorado, giving obvious indication where each cane needs to be cut, at about an inch or two above the ground many years. The illusion of leaving a given number of bud eyes on each cane is unrealistic, and we would welcome having the wood left on our plants that many of you do in milder climates. Having, a plant with about half-dozen viable eyes to a cane would be wonderful! Choosing a robust bud pointing upward and outward, a careful cut 1/4 inch above the bud and angled at 45 degrees would give such pleasure and the right spring boost for gardener and garden. (The angle to cut is down and away from the bud eye). We’d just be waiting for the sap to move up toward the tops of the canes to push those buds outward.
So, what’s essential growth and what can be done away with during this rejuvenation? First, the rosarian removes all dead wood, cutting back to good, strong, live wood. The pith of the cane will be white and healthy, not brown and desiccated. Your cut is at least an inch below the dead part of the cane. If no like bud remains, remove the entire cane. Now take out all weak stems, twiggy growth, and stems showing disease such as canker. Remove stems crossing through the center of the bush. Remember to try and keep the center area of the bush open, with canes reaching upward and outward. Sealing the major cuts with white glue or nail polish can help prevent loss of nutritive sap and protect from insects and disease enter- ing the plants. Any variety of roses with canes larger than a pencil in diameter should be privileged to this tender-loving care all year and whenever a cut is made.
Roses on their own roots usually require some variation in pruning. Old- fashioned garden charm and ease of care tend to be desired with these types of roses so less severe pruning meth- ods remove only I/3 or less of each bush. Usually, the main aim is to preserve the informal habit. Dead canes still need to be removed and thinned out, while also taking some of the older canes and allowing newer ones to develop. Miniature roses seem to bloom more heavily, and all season long, when this method is followed. Many old garden roses bloom once in a season. Heavier pruning of these varieties after they have bloomed allows you to tidy up your landscape while renewing the plants. These large shrubs, are inclined to put out their greatest “hoorah!” of bloom in spring and early summer and then meld into the background of your garden. Actually, a light pruning at the beginning of summer to remove any damaged or dead canes, and then another renovating of the bush after the bloom cycle keeps these roses under reasonable control and vigorous. You can shape the bush, then let natural maturation take place. Be sure to leave some of those gorgeous hips in place for a spectacularly elegant show of color and birds during autumn. Again, try never to take more than a third of the bush at a time.
Care must be taken with some climbers. Many of them flower on laterals from wood grown the previous season, and if this is cut off, there will be no flowers until the following summer when the wood matures again. I don’t know what the genetics of this is, but I do know many a frustrated rose grower who thought pruning of climbers to be similar to hybrid teas. Most bloom on second-year wood, and most will thrive when that is remembered, Obviously, any injured or dead wood should be removed as in pruning any other rose. but keep your light touch when removing ripe wood.
Pruning stimulates, promotes, maintains, directs, and energizes, thus provoking new growth from dormancy. It is renewal. Next time you’re in your garden, make certain the pruning, shears are close at hand and don’t be afraid to revitalize the garden. it’s simple. Just go at it with the swaggering confidence of a peacock, then sit back and admire your labors.
Originally Appeared in the Beginner’s Column of the April 1992 Issue of The American Rose Magazine
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