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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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