In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
April, 2009
Regional Report

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A dab of wood glue on the ends of cut stems will ward off boring insects.

Start Roses on the Right Path of Growth

Now that it's spring (even though there are still six inches of snow in my own yard) the rose bushes are among the early woody shrubs that start to swell buds and put on new growth. How well the new growth develops will depend on various factors including past and present weather conditions, winter watering, and extreme temperature fluctuations.

In our climate, stem and rose cane damage is often the result of rapid or extreme temperature and moisture changes, plus physical damage. Many species and shrub roses are among my favorites because they are the toughest for our area. The more sensitive hybrid tea roses (that are grafted), floribunda, grandiflora, and similar varieties will vary greatly on survival and damage depending on location, winter protection, and the origin of the variety.

By this time in April, we can usually tell how much winter damage has occurred and make plans to prepare for pruning and starting roses on their path to glory. Bushes that were protected with a heavy layer of mulch or loose soil over the base of the plant should have at least the basal area in good condition. One of the best indicators of winter damage is the darkening of the stems and canes which are normally green.

There is no need to rush pruning, so if you're in doubt, wait for signs of vigorous growth from the healthy, undamaged canes and stems. As the first signs of bud development and emergence of tiny leaves, pruning is possible. By that time, the weather should be stabilizing with less temperature extremes to kill newly emerging growth. Remember, pruning is a stimulus and will cause many plants to start re-growth.

Remove all dead wood along with any signs of wood the seems to be diseased, broken, or injured by wind, winter storms, and critters. Many modern roses, particularly hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras, are budded onto a rootstock that is different from the desired variety we observe on top. While pruning these, remove any shoots coming from below the soil near the base of the plant that may look different or like a sucker. These stems are growing from the root stock and will have different flowers, or no flowers at all. If left growing, they tap strength from the main variety and can often attract more aphids and spider mites.

When pruning rose canes and stems, make your cuts cleanly, and slightly above a strong bud which faces toward the outside of the plant. If you are plagued by rose cane borers that like to enter through the pruning wounds, apply a dab of wood glue over the cut. It's inexpensive and helps to keep insects from tunneling into the canes and weakening them later in the season.

If you need more detailed information and timing on when to prune, please check out my book Month-by-Month Gardening in the Rocky Mountains (Cool Springs Press, 2005). You can check out a copy at your local library or purchase your own. Now have fun out there getting your roses for a season of glory.


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