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Are your roses going 'blind'?

A blind shoot - a new stem with no flower bud - grows on a Montezuma grandiflora rose bush. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Weird spring weather pattern produces odd shoots with no blooms

One consequence of our weird spring weather in Sacramento: Fewer April roses.

This first flush of flowers is usually the best as bushes put all their stored-up energy into a big burst of bloom.

Instead, many rose bushes are producing stems with no buds. These are called “blind shoots.”

These stems look healthy with lots of foliage and fast growth. But no matter how long they grow, these stems won’t flower.

Blind shoots are the result of extreme fluctuations in temperature and growing conditions. Our yo-yo weather – cold and rainy one day, warm and dry the next – confused some plants, especially when temperatures plunged back below normal in early April.

A blind shoot (foreground) grows on the same
Mikado hybrid tea bush as a normal shoot
with a terminal bud, a flower forming
at the end of a shoot.
Hybrid tea roses (the most common and popular varieties) produce one large flower at the end of each stem; that flower is called a “terminal bud.” In a blind shoot, that terminal bud never forms. Blind shoots can appear on the same bush with normal blooming stems.

Some varieties seem to be more sensitive to weather fluctuations (and produce more blind shoots) than others. But this spring, blind shoots seem to be rampant. In my own garden, at least 20 rose bushes have blind shoots.

The cure is easy: Snip it off. With pruning shears or sharp scissors, cut the stem producing the blind shoot about 12 inches from the end, just as if you were deadheading (removing spent flowers) or cutting a long-stem rose for a bouquet. Make the cut about ¼ inch above where a five-leaf leaflet is attached to the stem, preferably pointing away from the bush.

The bush will respond by pushing out a fresh shoot, usually at that node where the leaflet is attached to the stem or cane. By choosing an outward-facing leaflet, the new shoot will grow out instead of in, making for better air circulation, less fungal disease and a healthier bush. That also makes for better, larger flowers.

With sunny and consistently warmer weather in the forecast, the new shoots should have normal buds. They’ll bloom in six to eight weeks.

So after this April blind spell (and some spring pruning), we should have a lot of healthy – and normal – June roses.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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