By Chris Gardner
Surprisingly, January’s an active month for gardeners who love roses. There are two important things to be done now: rose pruning and rose planting. Both can be a lot of fun if you don’t feel rushed and you have the right tools.
Pruning can be quite therapeutic — mild physical activity done in a peaceful setting warmed by the winter sun. Using the right tools is critical for success and enjoyment. Leather or heavy-duty gauntlet rose gloves will protect hands and arms from thorn damage. High-quality hand pruners are also essential. Use Swiss-made Felco pruners or the highest-quality from American-made Corona. Felco makes a version for smaller hands as well as a pruner for left-handers. Long-handled pruners may be needed for the large branches of old, long-established rose bushes. Corona’s lightweight, aluminum-handled pruners are best.
The purpose of pruning roses is simple: roses bloom on new growth, so you want to cut back the old wood (last spring and summer’s growth) to encourage lots of new, flower-producing stems. Additionally, roses are shrubs that grow rather unevenly, so January’s the time to reduce the shrub size and balance the shape. Small, twiggy growth should be removed; it will never produce flowers. Damaged or diseased branches should also be removed. Reducing the shrub by 30 to 50 percent is the goal. At the same time remove all the leaves. This will help bugs and diseases from overwintering.
A critical rule
Established rose bushes are quite indestructible — they can be pruned to within six inches of the ground and be just fine. But there is one critical rule of success: make all cuts just above a leaf or leaf node — ideally one that faces away from the center of the shrub. If cuts are made below the node, then you’ll likely get dieback. The stem begins to turn black and die — often all the way to the ground.
The selection of roses at nurseries is largest at the beginning of the year and they are easily planted while dormant. (Dormant means they’re not actively growing. It also means they’ve been pruned and leaves have been removed.) Dormant roses planted during January and February begin to send out new roots into the surrounding soil and will burst forth with new growth and flowers come spring.
New rose varieties
The climbing rose Eden has huge old-fashioned roses of pale pink and cream. New this year is Eden Pretty in Pink, a climber with vibrant, rich, pink cabbage roses. Anna’s Promise is part of the Downton Abby rose series. It has unique coloring: golden petals blushed warm pink with a glowing bronze reverse. Heavily flowering Doris Day is a pure golden yellow rose with a strong spiced fruit fragrance.
The new rose named for Neil Diamond recalls his textured voice with deep pink flowers irregularly mottled and splashed with white. Neil Diamond has an intense sweet fragrance. Ketchup & Mustard, introduced a year ago, is still in demand for its striking, bright red flowers with an intense yellow reverse.
Roses live a long time in the garden, so prepare the soil well. Dig a hole twice the width of the container and one and a half times the depth. Amend the soil with an organic rose planting mix and SureStart fertilizer, following the directions on the bags.
Remove the container and set the rose so that the soil level of the container matches the garden soil level. Fill in around the root ball, firming the soil. Make a trough of dirt around the rose to hold a couple of inches of water. Water thoroughly. Keep the soil moist until the rose leafs out. Reduce watering after that.
Armstrong Garden Centers offers free classes on rose pruning where all points are demonstrated. Visit www.armstronggarden.com for more information.
Chris Gardner, California certified nursery professional, is manager of the Mission Valley Armstrong Garden Centers. Email questions for him to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Chris Gardner