Wherever you are, in spring there comes a time when you should really stop avoiding your rose pruning duties. I don’t know what it is about roses but they seem to give people anxiety. I know I’m not the only one who has worried about doing roses “wrong”. People always stop to watch and learn when we’re working on the roses as if we might reveal the secret handshake. But you don’t have to be a part of a club to grow a pretty rose and even if you don’t obey the “rules”, the Rose Society police won’t arrest you for misconduct. (I’m pretty sure.)
The best time for spring pruning is before the buds have broken and on a mild weather day when all you want is to be outside doing something productive. Pruning when the roses are ready to break dormancy will ensure that all of their fresh energy goes straight into the canes and buds that you’ve decided to keep. Most of the roses we grow in the Rose Garden and North Garden are shrub roses and floribundas and those seem to love a heavy hand in the spring. (New roses only a year or two old prefer a lighter touch.) For instruction on different kinds of roses like climbers and hybrid teas, there are shelves of books written by experts – your local library probably has a ton.
We cut most of our roses back by about a third but I have to admit that once I get going, more like half goes sometimes. Cut out all the dead canes and give your rose the hairy eyeball to determine if any of the more elderly canes should come out as well. Take your time and go cane by cane – If there’s a young healthy cane and an old one side by side – maybe go ahead and take out some or all of the old one to give the new one room to grow. Your rose will tell you what to do – if you cut too far above a bud, you’ll find an ugly dead stub there in a few weeks. Cut too low and the bud might die. If you make your cut at an angle the water will run off rather than pool in the wound (who wants that?). Think about the shape of the rose to come. A lot of roses look their best with plenty of air circulation through the plant. If you cut above buds that face out rather than in, you’ll be helping the plant to not choke itself. (The books will tell you to make a V shape.) Crossed canes are another something to look for and cut out.
When the volunteers and I started this year’s pruning with trepidation, Julie reminded us, “Plants are forgiving”. Don’t be afraid. Even if you stand back and think you just butchered your prize ‘Ballerina’, it will probably reward your brutality by growing gangbusters.
Have you worked on your roses yet? Do you have a heavy hand or light touch?
The roses aren’t the only things in the garden ready to grow. We’ve started cleaning up the perennial beds – it’s much easier to cut back the dead when the new growth is still tight at the crown. And the Daffodils are looking like a few warm days is all it would take to bust out singing. I still think the peak bloom will be on schedule during the events of Daffodil Days but some of the ‘Ice Follies’ might start their show this weekend. (The house opens for the season on April 12; the grounds are open now.)