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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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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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