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December rose care: Start pruning

Warm days keep bushes blooming, but prune anyway


T.J. David created this beautiful bouquet from his last roses
while starting winter pruning. (Photo courtesy T.J. David)




With all this sun, our roses are refusing to go to sleep.

Following a trend seen all fall, this has been an unusually warm December with highs in Sacramento (and most of California) tracking 10 degrees above normal.

As a result, most roses are refusing to go dormant. They keep pushing out blooms instead of making rose hips, their season-ending fruit. They’re stubbornly holding onto their foliage, which often still looks healthy green.

And this is the beginning of pruning season. It’s a lot harder to prune a bush still loaded with leaves and flowers.

The solution? Go ahead and prune anyway. The only way to get roses back on a more normal schedule is to cut them back and force them to take a winter break.

Normal pruning season in Sacramento runs from early to mid-December through early February. By late February, bushes will be pushing out lots of new growth.

What happens if you don’t prune? New growth will sprout out of the top of the old growth. If your bushes are already 5 or 6 feet tall, they’ll be over 8 feet by May. It’s hard to smell your roses if you need a ladder to reach the blooms.

In addition, last season’s foliage (on or off the bush) may harbor fungal spores that will immediately infect healthy new growth. And in an effort to shed damaged foliage, the bush may shed all its leaves next spring – when you want the bush to concentrate on flowers.

So, sharpen your pruners and get to work!

In the meantime, bring in some bouquets of those late blooms.

T.J. David, founder of the International World Peace Rose Garden at Sacramento's Capitol Park, has started his pruning. With hundreds of bushes that need tending, it’s a matter of time; pruning has to start now. Many of the bushes were still blooming, but he started pruning anyway – and brought home a big bouquet.

Said David, “Sometimes the last roses of the season are some of the best!”

What else would you be doing in the December rose garden? Here are tips from master rosarian Baldo Villegas:

* Check watering system to make sure that all roses get adequate water. Decrease or stop watering once rain starts.

* Let hips form to encourage dormancy. They also provide colorful interest in the late fall garden.

* Remove any diseased blooms or fallen petals and foliage from the ground around the roses. That cuts down on fungal disease.

* Acquire the proper tools for rose pruning and winter chores: One pair of bypass pruning shears, one pair of goatskin gloves, one pair of knee pads, one pair of 24-inch loppers, one folding pruning saw.

* Find spots to plant more roses. It’s the start of bare-root season, too!

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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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