Trim and Fit for Summer
by Mirjana Toyn, Consulting Rosarian, Connecticut Rose Society
This is a 2020 AOM winner
The exuberance of June blooms is nothing but a memory by mid-summer as we coax our roses into their second flush, managing pests and fungal diseases along the way. Despite the melting temperatures, I find it a good time to do a little maintenance, especially on once-blooming old garden roses by pruning them, making cuttings and potting up suckers. Space in my small garden is at a premium and it’s a constant battle to find room for new specimens whilst stopping old favorites from getting out of hand. Much as it pains me, every couple of years or so I prune back some of the vigorous old garden roses like my favorite rambler ‘Veilchenblau’ and ‘Salet’, (ABOVE) whose long, lax canes flop onto the lawn or swallow other, more well-behaved roses.
‘Salet’ is a reblooming moss rose that makes a very dense shrub. The abundance of her long canes creates a thicket, letting precious little sunlight get through, thus causing the bottommost canes to die off eventually. Each spring I crawl underneath to remove all dead wood, making sure to wear long sleeves so I don’t look like I tried to tame a tiger! I strive for a rounded appearance by pruning the bottom canes first and working my way up to the top. It’s amazing how much more upright the shrub becomes as you snip off the excess length! This year I tied the back of the shrub to a trellis for better air circulation and the rose seems to be quite happy. ‘Salet’ would be perfect for fanning out against a wall or trellis. It likes to blackspot, so that will certainly keep it healthier.
In my early gardening days, I would never waste a clipping without trying to root it. As my rose collection grew, it became a herculean task that I quickly abandoned. Yet, I always try to root at least a few sprigs. You never know when you might need to replace a prize specimen. There are many ways to propagate your old garden roses. Some roses are difficult to root from cuttings, but will happily sucker. My gallicas love spreading into the lawn as you can see from the photo. Carefully dig them up and try and capture as much root material as possible before severing the sucker from the mother plant. Then simply pot up these baby roses and – voilà! Keep them in the shade for a couple of weeks, and water them well to help them recover from the ordeal. ABOVE: Pegging a rose
The long pliable canes of many old garden roses lend themselves to layering. All you need to do is select a cane that is already touching the ground or is close to it. Slice off a sliver of the top green layer and dab some rooting hormone on it (see photo). Next lay it down on the soil and either peg it down with a few long metal pins or place a large rock on top. Come spring, you can remove the rock or pins and give the cane a gentle tug. If you feel resistance, congratulations! You have successfully rooted your rose and can now cut the cane off the mother plant to repot your new baby.
It’s hit and miss, but occasionally, roses root even in plain water. First you will see a knobbly callus appear on the bottom and eventually the roots will start to sprout. If you have a lot of cuttings of the same rose, why not try this just for a laugh? You might get lucky!
Pruning in mid-summer allows your OGRs to put on new top growth before the onset of frost without sacrificing too many flowers the following season. Once-blooming roses bloom ONLY on old wood, so heavy spring pruning is a no-no. Removing one or two unproductive or really old canes can rejuvenate a rose. Just don’t get too carried away. These old ladies don’t appreciate being treated like a hybrid tea rose and will sulk. I’ve known people who gave their once-blooming roses a virtual buzz cut and then complained they never got any flowers! If in doubt whether your rose is a repeat bloomer or not, always prune after the first flush in summer.
We all have some underperforming roses that never quite live up to expectations. I found those do better and can put on quite a show if I grow them in large pots. Yes, they are a nuisance to winterize, but the advantages outweigh the trouble. Several of my longtime pot dwellers were nearly tossed into the garbage. Given one last chance to shine, they rewarded me with lovely blooms in their new pots. I can line them up on my terrace where I can tend to them easily and admire them up close. ABOVE: Potted cutting
Late summer is a great time to assess your roses. If you can’t move them, prune them or rejuvenate them to perform, give them to a friend who will lavish them with attention and possibly better growing conditions. Finally, make time to check your soil pH and send soil samples to your local agricultural station for analysis. This way, you won’t have to guess what possible imbalances or deficiencies stop your roses from blooming profusely. These are not glamorous tasks, but they will ensure you can enjoy better roses in the fall and in future years.
All photos by Mirjana Toyn