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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 April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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