In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2012
Regional Report

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Prune roses now to maximize spring bloom.

Pruning Modern Roses to Promote Better Blooms

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." Abraham Lincoln

Keep that quote in mind while you finish up pruning chores this month on modern roses. By removing problems and improving the bush's health and structure, it can funnel all its energy into producing more stunning roses in the peak bloom that occurs in April and May. (Hold off pruning climbers that bloom on old wood until after their spring bloom.)

Use sharp, sterile by-pass pruners or loppers. Do not use anvil pruners that crush plant tissue against the flat blade surface. Crushed tissue does not heal easily, increasing the chances for pests and diseases to take hold. Sturdy gauntlet-style gloves that protect forearms are a worthwhile investment. (They also come in handy when working around cacti or other pointy, spiny, pokey desert plants.)

As with any pruning project, start by removing dead, broken, or diseased parts. Then stand back and examine the overall structure to see what else is needed. For hybrid teas, hybrid perpetuals, and grandifloras, the general guideline is to cut back one-third to one-half of the shrub, leaving four to eight thick healthy canes. For floribundas, shrubs, and miniatures, cut back one-third of the shrub, leaving eight to twelve healthy canes.

Look for the following problems:

Canes that rub against each other. Remove the thinner, weaker cane.

Scraggly or twiggy growth that is weak or shriveled. Remove it because it will not support blooms and wastes overall energy.

Canes that cross into the center of the bush. Remove canes as needed to promote air and sunlight penetration to thwart fungal growth.

Sucker growth arising from below the bud union. (The bud union is a small bump two to three inches above the soil line where the rose variety was grafted onto the rootstock.) These stems are from the rootstock and will not produce the desired roses. Remove them.

After you have eliminated the above structural problems, prune back the remaining canes by one-third to one-half, reaching live tissue that will be white or green. Seal cuts that are one-quarter-inch or larger with wood glue to prevent borers from entering. Strip old foliage remaining on the canes and rake up leaf debris. Water, fertilize, and apply fresh mulch. Your roses will reward you later this spring!

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