In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2003
Regional Report

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Frequent pruning encourages abundant flowers.

Pruning Roses

Now that daytime weather has cooled sufficiently to make meandering through the garden a pleasure, I'm relishing my reblooming roses. Although some varieties have been blooming almost constantly since March, there have been lulls when old blooms are fading and new buds are forming. This is prime time to do some minor pruning that will have major results: a last flush of color to brighten our Thanksgiving and even our end-of-the-year holiday décor.

Here are some tips for promoting this year-round splendor. The really great thing about these guidelines is that I've developed them as a "lazy" gardener. It always takes me a month or two to get through by "have-to" list, but this seems to engender new — and many times more successful — approaches. (In fact, this is how I completely changed my method of winter pruning and ended up with stronger, longer-blooming plants. More on that in a minute.)

Making Cuts for Bouquets
As you cut a vaseful of blooms, cut canes as long as possible while still maintaing the shape of the bush. You don't want to leave a gaping hole that has no side growth to fill in. If you can, cut just above an outward-facing node. Then, retrim the cut rose just below the lowest node. In both cases, you don't want to leave the internode portion of the branch either on the bush, where it will die back, or on the cut stem, where it will not absorb water easily.

Trimming the Bush
Take a look at the whole bush, and trim long branches with no buds to an outside-facing node as far down as the general shape of the bush will allow. This will encourage more interior growth and flower buds on canes. You don't want a roly-poly, hedge-trimmed look to your bush, so try to keep the new growth and flowers generally within its confines.

Fertilizing and Watering
Spread manure and compost under the plants. If you prefer chemical fertilizer, give them a no-nitrogen, high-phosphorus, high-potassium composition now to help them harden off for the winter. (You do want them to rest so they'll be revitalized for next year's bloom.) Apply the amendment or fertilizer no closer to the trunk than about 6 inches, and extend it at least 12 inches beyond the dripline of the foliage. This provides constant gentle feeding to the plant roots.

The best way to water roses is with soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Cover the hoses with compost or mulch, and water every week or two. These methods ensure that the water will go down to the roots rather than evaporating, and they reduce the problem of splash-up of soil-borne particles and diseases onto foliage.

A Look Ahead to Winter
Now, back to my invented method of winter pruning. I do this anytime between Thanksgiving and Presidents' Day, per my delayed to-do list mentioned above. For beginning rose gardeners, late February or even March might be a better time. By then the new shoots have begun growing so you don't have to guess where they will appear.

First, I hack off all the growth higher than my elbows — easily done with a hedge trimmer or loppers — with no attention to nodes or direction they're pointing. This is to just remove all the top growth. Then I start paying attention to cutting out the big branches that are unproductive or crossing.

Next, I remove smaller branches that cross or head in towards the center of the plant or parallel another stronger branch. Now, I can actually see the potential plant, where the remaining branches will head for new growth. This is the time for fine-tuning; I shorten top growth to the final height I want (usually about 24 inches) and trim out scrawny side branches.


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