Now is the time to give your rose bushes a little pruning, primping
Mid to late February is the month to prune roses here, so if you haven’t yet shaped up your rose bushes, now’s the time. You might hesitate after this wicked season of snow, sleet and freezing temperatures. Roses are tough plants, and even if canes look dead, in all likelihood, the roots are thriving. So the queen of flowers deserves some primping now.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few techniques to speed up the process and make it more enjoyable.
When you’re pruning, protect yourself. Wear durable gloves, preferably with gauntlets to cover your arms. Invest in the best tools you can buy. There’s a reason that Felco, Fiskars and other top quality pruning shears and loppers are costly. They’re well designed and help reduce muscle fatigue. This is very important if you’re pruning dozens of bushes in a day. Be sure that they are very sharp.
You’ll need several different types of pruners. Use a classic bypass pruning shear for most floribunda, hybrid tea and shrub roses. A tool belt or container is useful so you don’t lose the shears in the midst of leaves or canes while you’re working. Thick canes require a heftier tool, and that’s when you need loppers. The extra length gives better leverage. Some canes can grow so thick that you need to remove them or prune with a pruning saw, either a folding or stationary one. Some dedicated rose fanciers use bonsai tools or scissors to prune miniature roses. But if you’re not exhibiting them, you can save time by shearing mini roses at ground level. They’re growing on their own roots and will shoot out new canes with a flourish.
Some people think that knockout roses don’t need pruning. Not so. Like all roses, they are shrubs and need attention.
In general, remove one-third to one-half of last year’s growth. Remove dead canes, crossing canes and weak,spindly growth that won’t produce any worthwhile flowers. Remove any leaves that survived the big freeze and cart them away. They’re probably harboring disease spores like blackspot. While pruning, it’s a good practice to dip your shears in a solution of bleach (wipe shear after dipping) so you don’t accidentally transmit rose diseases from bush to bush. Also, seal cut canes so borers can’t enter. You can use nail polish or glue.
Complete the pruning by cleaning up any weeds growing around the roses. Now is the time to add a large handful of Epsom salts at the base of each bush. This helps encourage basil breaks, those healthy new canes that emerge from the bud union. Don’t fertilize the bushes until the new growth is at least two inches long.
This is also a good time to evaluate your plants and replace any that aren’t blooming well. February is bare-root time, when rose bushes are sold without soil not in containers. It’s the easiest way to order them from catalogues or Internet because they weigh less than those in containers. Some of my favorite sites are Chamblee Roses, Edmunds roses and David Austin roses. When looking to buy, be sure to select those described with excellent blackspot resistance. A large number of roses may be termed disease resistant, but this can refer to their resistance to mildew or rust, diseases which aren’t common here.
For this month’s garden calendar, see page 3C.
Karen Dardick is a Master Gardener and rose enthusiast with more than 60 rose bushes in her garden.