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Why prune now? Your roses will thank you

Master rosarian shares simple rose pruning tips

Pink Promise
This Pink Promise rose needs pruning -- it's 10 feet tall and still blooming in January. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Why prune? Why now?

Those are prickly questions for anyone who grows roses.

January is rose pruning season in Sacramento. Why? It’s a time when roses usually are dormant, quietly sleeping through a cold winter. Any blooms have turned to orange hips. Foliage has dropped, revealing bare canes.

But not this year. A relatively warm winter and abundant rain prompted lush new growth on many large bushes. In my own garden, I have dozens of blooms on such hybrid teas as Pink Promise and First Prize.

Other bushes that lost their leaves are now showing signs of bud break, a swelling of nodes where new foliage emerges. Early bud break isn’t a problem – if the bush is already pruned. But if that bush is still a thatch of twisting canes, new growth just compounds problems.

Prune anyway, says master rosarian Charlotte Owendyk. If not now, later.

“What happens if you don’t prune? Life goes on; the roses will get bigger,” Owendyk said. “You can trim as needed during the growing season; just don’t do it in the heat of summer.”

Owendyk is one of the featured speakers at the Sierra Foothills Rose Society’s Winter Workshop. Set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 15 at the Orangevale Grange Auditorium, the free in-person event covers a wide range of rose care topics from pest prevention to finding the right rose for the right place. The Grange is located at 5807 Walnut Ave., Orangevale; face masks are required.

Of course, pruning will be a big part of the discussion. Thursday, Owendyk offered a preview to the Sacramento Rose Society.

“Why prune? The plant needs it!” Owendyk said. “Pruning increases the plant’s vigor – you get more and bigger blooms. Pruning also helps achieve the desired shape and size for that bush. Prune for safety, too; you don’t want canes sticking out into walkways.”

Baldo and Charlotte
Charlotte Owendyk holds a cane being pruned by Baldo Villegas
during their 2020 Winter Rose Care Workshop. (Photo:
Kathy Morrison)

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, Owendyk recommends letting the bush dictate how it will be pruned.

“Generally, you don’t want to remove more than one third to one half of the bush’s height,” she explained. “But if a bush is already the right height or just small, it may only need a little touch up or trim.”

“When pruning, remember the three D’s: Dead, diseased, damaged. Take out any canes that fit in that category,” she added. “Just prune it; the plant will be happy.”

Pruning also allows time for re-evaluation and rejuvenation.

“Look at the structure,” Owendyk said. “Pruning is an opportunity to slowly, over a number of years, rejuvenate the plant. Remove old gray canes – one a year, not all at once – so new healthy canes can grow.”

When pruning, Owendyk always strives to open up the center of the plant, removing canes crossing in the middle. That allows for better air flow and cuts down on fungal disease. It also prompts more healthy new growth.

Strip off any leaves clinging to the remaining canes; it can contain fungal spores ready to infect new growth. Once done, clean up any debris.

“I always top-dress the soil, too,” Owendyk said. “It smothers any fungus on the ground.”


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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