How many cartoons have you seen where the family is on vacation and the kids can’t stop asking “are we there yet, are we there yet?” Such has been the tenor of your recent e-mails asking about whether it’s time to uncover and prune roses. Yes kids, we are there; it’s time to uncover the roses and get them ready for spring.
It was a pretty easy winter for them. Not much cold other than the October deep freeze that froze the leaves to the plants and may have done some damage because the plants weren’t close to dormant. The December Christmas cold was more of a nuisance. There was enough rain to keep the ground moist.
Start by pulling off all the mulch and spread the compost you hilled up over the grafted roses around the plants. Clean up any old rose leaves you didn’t get to in the fall and add a new layer of mulch to prevent weed growth and conserve moisture for the growing season.
Pruning roses depends on the type of rose you have. Tough shrub and landscape roses like the Alba, Centifolia, Damasks, Gallica, and Mosses that bloom once a season on old wood will probably need only a little trimming to shape and clean up around them. Trim out any dead or broken branches and thin out crossing or rubbing branches. Many of the Carefree, Knock Out, David Austin and Meidiland roses that have hit the market in the past few years also fall into this category.
Modern ever-blooming roses, floribundas, hybrid tea and grandiflora roses all bloom on new wood that will grow this spring. To get that new wood, prune them hard in the early spring (now) to encourage new growth. First remove dead and weak wood and then prune the plant back by half or two thirds (18 to 24 inches is an average) from its normal height. If you pruned them in the fall, trim back the strongest canes to green wood. Leave three to five strong canes evenly spaced around the plant. When pruning, try to cut one fourth of an inch above an outward facing bud. This will encourage the plant to develop an open structure which improves air circulation and thus reduce disease and insect problems later in the summer.
After you get your plants nicely trimmed, its time for their first feeding of the year. Sprinkle a handful of a good quality all-purpose organic fertilizer or rose food around each plant and work it into the soil. Water the plant well to help dissolve the fertilizer. Then stand back and look for your first blooms sometime in mid-June.
A last tidbit of advice from a gardener who has tried to kill her share of roses. It’s really difficult to kill them; they are tougher than you think and will grow out of a bad pruning just like you grow out of a bad haircut.