In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2002
Regional Report

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Delay pruning rose branches with still-nice blooms or just-forming buds.

Still Time to Prune Roses

Gardeners in our region needn't panic if they haven't yet planted their new roses or pruned existing ones. In fact, aside from lopping off growth taller than 3 feet, I've taken to leaving my rose duties until I'm done with my fruit trees. The roses won't suffer with the wait, but the fruit trees will.

In Southern California we don't have to be as rigid as Midwest and East Coast gardeners, who are advised to prune their rose bushes down to 3 to 5 canes that are just 12 to18 inches tall. One year, I never did get to prune the bushes lower than their three-foot lop-off, and they bloomed profusely all summer. That's when nature taught me that I didn't have to be so severe in my dormant pruning.

Pruning Tips

Rose pruning is pretty simple, taken in steps. First, lop off that tall stuff, so you've got it out of the way. (Save the still-nice blooms for your dining table, and delay pruning individual branches with just-forming buds.) Next, take out dead and crossing branches, weak shoots, and any leaves remaining from last year. Once that's done, you'll be able to see more clearly what you're dealing with and what choices you have. If strong canes are less than 5 or 6 inches apart, remove some to gain better spacing. Then bring the tops down, trimming to outer-facing buds. Done!

In a month or so, when newly emerged growth is an inch or two long, simply flick off any shoots that are heading in toward the center, so the bush remains open for good air circulation. Then, let the strong foliage and blooming take off!

Note that old-fashioned roses with a single bloom cycle in the spring, as well as most climbers, should be pruned following that bloom.

Watch for Pests

To reduce the incidence of powdery mildew, gently spray the plants -- especially new growth -- with plain water from a hose two or three times a week, making sure to cover leaf undersides. This water spray will also help dislodge aphids, which love the succulent new growth of new sprouts and buds. Be sure to place your hand in back of delicate growth and new buds when spraying so the blast doesn't damage tender stems.

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