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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 Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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