Leaves are beginning to appear on the branches of the rose bushes, so it must be time for their ”spring grooming.” And this requires every bit as much technique as your hair gets from a beautician or barber.
Why do we prune roses? The answer is the same reason we go to the hair stylist. A little attention now produces better looks later.
And although it’s a chore, you’ll be happy later that you took the time to give them that special attention because pruning is about more than just looks. It also improves the health of the bush, prevents disease and encourages better flowering.
Ralph Cooper, consulting rosarian with the Fort Smith Rose Society, recommends pruning the week of March 20.
“I know that a lot of our bushes have had some damage due to the extreme cold. When we start getting hot weather, we will discover how bad the damage is,” he said.
Care is the key to long-lasting roses. And pruning is one of the components of care. The others are water, fertilizer and pest control.
Hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and miniatures produce their best blooms on new or current season's wood. So to ensure this type of wood, these roses are pruned very hard in early spring. This usually means removing about one-half to two-thirds of the plant's height and reducing the number of canes.
Another technique of some gardeners is to remove all the leaves from their rose bushes when they prune. This fools the rose into a brief period of dormancy and lets it start fresh for the season. It’s also a good way to ensure you get rid of lingering diseases and insect eggs.
Spring pruning begins with removal of soil or mulch you used to protect the graft union and any debris or leaves used to insulate the bushes in winter. This debris should be tossed in the garbage, not the compost heap.
Here are the steps most hybrid tea rose growers use:
• Remove all dead canes; cut them off at the base (use a saw if necessary) or to healthy tissue.
• Remove small, weak canes.
• Ensure the center of the bush is open for maximum air circulation.
• Remove any suckers (stems that sprout below the bud union) as close to the main root cane as possible.
• Make cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above a leaf axle with a dormant eye.
• Leave three to five healthy, stout canes on hybrid teas, evenly spaced around the plant and cut these canes back, leaving three to five outward-facing buds. Grandifloras can support six to eight canes.
Shrub roses require minimal maintenance.
David Austin’s Rose Handbook offers tips for pruning climbers and ramblers. For climbers, the previous year’s flowering shoots should be reduced to three or four buds or about 4-6 inches and strong new stems tied in, cutting out older ones as necessary. Ramblers need to be left to ramble unless they need to be constrained, in which case they should be pruned like climbers.
As with most plants, roses enjoy a good feeding in the spring — at pruning time. Many rosarians have their special types of food, but a general all-purpose fertilizer also works. Slow release fertilizers need to be applied less frequently than water-soluble fertilizers.
Here’s a mix that many of us rose growers have been using for years: 1 cup cottonseed meal, 1 cup bone meal or superphosphate, 1/2 cup blood meal and 1/4 cup Epsom salts. Spread this mixture around perimeter of the rose bush at the drip line and gently scratch it into the soil. And water thoroughly.
And if you procrastinate and miss spring pruning, don’t panic. Let your roses go through their spring blooming (which is usually their best because days and nights are still cool and the hot Arkansas sun hasn’t bleached the color yet) and prune afterwards. According to Austin, this procedure can be repeated throughout the season to encourage more compact growth and quicker repeat flowering. Last summer, my sister Rosemary and I pruned whenever they needed it with very good results.
And although not a Knock Out rose fan, I know many of you are and value your no-care roses. Despite self-cleaning label instructions, pruning not only improves the shape of Knock Out bushes but encourages more blooms throughout the summer.
If your garden needs a few new roses, hgtv.com offers this list of 10 beautiful new varieties for 2018: Rose ‘at last,’ Plum Perfect, Imogen, Hot Paprika, Savannah, Roald Dahl, Sweet Mademoiselle, Mango Lemonade, Bathsheba and Moonlight Romantica.
Many beautiful words have been written about roses and many famous masterpieces have been painted, but nothing quite compares with Mother Nature’s version in the garden — available to all of us.
Additional information about growing roses will be available at the River Valley Lawn and Garden Show at the Fort Smith Convention Center. Two lectures are scheduled March 24. Fort Smith Rose Society rosarian Ralph Cooper will speak on “All About Roses” at 10:30 a.m., and University of Arkansas Extension Plant Pathologist Sherri Smith’s topic will be “Rose Diseases” at 2:30 p.m.
For those of us who love roses, there’s always something new to learn. After all, the rose is Fort Smith’s official flower, and many of us remember with deep affection the man who made it possible — Mayor Ray Baker.
And finally, since plants are arriving daily in local garden centers, there’s an opportunity to learn about new 2018 plants and get ideas for sprucing up the garden at Sutherlands’ “Kick Off of Spring” on Saturday. Lectures will be held every 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Topics will range from chemicals and fertilizers to top floral performers, from organic vegetables and herbs to choices for shade gardens, from roses to small fruit trees and from terrariums to fairy gardens.
More than 20 vendors are expected, plus hot dogs and a free cabbage plant to each attendee, according to Vicki Whitfield, Sutherlands’ garden expert and organizer of the event.
Next week, the topic will be: The arrival of spring is a gardener’s Christmas morning!
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.