Pruned roses

>> Thursday, March 15, 2007

Gave the roses their annual Spring pruning. I always look forward to this part of Rose maintenance with trepidation. First of all, I know that it is necessary for their health but I am still such a rookie that it just seems I am killing them when I trim them back as harsh as what is recommended. Secondly, I have seen what incorrect pruning can do to rose bushes and it isn't pretty!

In speaking with the neighbors I learned that the bushes had not been pruned for the last several years before we moved in, (the family was going through their own personal turmoil which I won't get into here) just suffice it to say the roses took a back seat for a couple of years.

Having pruned them now for a couple of years and seeing that they are still growing I guess I’m doing okay by them. It’s difficult to follow a book for instruction because I don’t have the perfectly shaped rose bushes to start with. I just cut off all of the winter damage and don’t worry too much about creating show quality shrubs.

When we moved into this house in the Summer of 2004 there were four Roses, I don't know for certain what kind, my guess is they are floribundas, but shrubs anyway, not climbers, with lots of small, deep red flowers. They looked really sad. Anyone could see that something had to be done to save them. They are planted in full sun (which is good), too close to the house (which is bad due to lack of air circulation), without any mulch (which is bad due to loss of water in Summer months), in hard clay (which is amazing they have survived!)

The flower color is beautiful, (this hto was taken last year). Aphids had misshapen the flowers petals, there were spots on the leaves, which I have learned is black-spot and some grayish powder which I learned is powdery mildew. All of these three problems have detracted greatly from the overall beauty of the bushes. So, not only was I faced with learning how to start dead heading them properly, I was now faced with having to learn how to stop these three very common maladies of Roses. The internet is a wonderful tool for these two purposes as well the public library.

That first summer my wife and I decided that two of the four bushes were just too far damaged to save and we were afraid that in keeping them we would be jeopardizing the healthiness of the other two. They were all planted within a 100 sq ft plot. We pulled those two out and began to nurse the other two back to health. I knew my first course of action was to get some mulch on the ground to help keep the roots cool. After dumping some small bark mulch and spreading it to about three inches deep (being careful to keep it away from the main stems) I began reading up on the control of aphids. That part was pretty easy, just spray the bushes with a hard stream of water but I read that insecticidal soap works well and thought that they might need this because they have had such a big head start in building up their colonies.

Next, I began reading up on pruning and controlling diseases of roses. The first thing I was surprised to learn was that the way you dead head determines how a rose bush blossoms. I thought this was predetermined by the type of rose you have. I don't know about most people but I really don't have a huge preference towards fewer, large flowers or more, smaller flowers and since these had not been dead headed by the previous owner these bushes produced a lot of smaller flowers. Plus, since they had not been well-cared for, I was also surprised that they had so many flowers!

Two years ago, Spring 2005, was the first time I had the opportunity to put what I had been reading on pruning to the test and I must confess I was afraid to cut them back as hard as they really needed. We began using Safer Soap whenever we saw aphids, we were careful to water them only in the morning, dead head them as soon as the flowers were fading and added as much compost as we could to help break up the clay.

We were confident enough that we were doing everything right that we bought two more floribunda roses to replace the two that we threw away. We went with Jackson and Perkins 'Tuscan Sun' and 'Honey Perfume'.

Tuscan Sun

Honey Perfume

In the Spring of 2006, we pruned the two older roses a lot harder than we did in Spring 2005 and I was astonished at how quickly they grew back and at how much fuller they looked. Within one month, there are a lot of leaves and new branches.

The two new roses were not to be pruned the first year so we just let them go. The aphids don't even get a chance to get fat any more because we spray those bad characters off as soon as we see them. We stopped using the insecticidal soap, we just spray the bushes with a hard stream of water and use Bayer Advanced 2-in-1 Rose and Flower Care Granules.

I learned that feeding them well and at the correct time works wonders in controlling black-spot I also add Epsom Salt to get the leaves shiny. We spray the plants regularly with a milk-based spray to control the powdery mildew. And, I'm sure that the regular application of clay busting compost has had a lot to do with their overall health. After all of this routine care we were rewarded with flowers even more beautiful than we had imagined.

But something was wrong with the 'Honey Perfume'. It was planted the same day as the 'Tuscan Sun' but on the South side of the shed in the back yard instead of the South side of the house in the front yard. To me, the sitings were identical so there must have been something else going on. It bloomed nicely, at first, but towards the end of the summer the blooms were not looking as good as they should have. I can't figure out what it is but I decided to move it to the South side of the house with the other three roses before it just dies off. Hopefully I am doing the right thing because leaving it there is definitely not the right thing. So, I have to wait and see and keep my fingers crossed. It looks really quite sad. There are three gray sticks reaching up to about one foot tall and there are holes in the center of each stem. I learned that Rose Cane Borers could have created the holes. I put Elmer's Glue over the holes hoping this is the right thing to do. I don't know if they over-wintered there (maybe putting the glue on will suffocate them) or if they ate all of the life out of the plant and moved on already. But one important thing I have learned about nature is to never give up! I have seen plants come back from sticks before and I'm not as ready to give up on these sticks as I was three years ago with two of the original roses at this house.


Nicole March 12, 2011 at 8:38 AM  

I just discovered your blog and am so glad I found it! I'm a very amateur gardener, and relatively new to Utah, so I think your posts and schedules will be really helpful! That being said, we bought a house with old ugly unmaintained rose bushes. I need to prune them badly... do you think now is a good time?

Greg W March 12, 2011 at 4:03 PM  

Welcome to Utah Nicole, March is the perfect time to prune roses here in Utah. Anytime the roses are dormant is great but most experienced growers wait until March when the buds are just beginning to form.

On my older roses I cut them back to about 18”-24” above the ground (leaving 3-5 buds).

If you have never pruned roses it may seem a bit harsh to cut so much away but trust me they will come back stronger for it.

Good luck and thank you for your kind words.

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