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On windy winter day, look up and start pruning

This "Fragrant Lavender Simplicity" shrub rose is blooming above the house gutters at right. The windy weather makes those canes dangerous. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Tall rose canes can be hazardous to plant and people

In winter, I garden with one eye on the weather forecast and the other on the calendar. Sun, wind or rain pushes various chores up the to-do list.

Windy conditions have me pulling out the loppers. I've got to do some pruning before somebody gets hurt.

Thursday's gusts sent tall rose canes swaying wildly, whipping about dangerously across paths and patio. If a prickly cane doesn't whack the house, it could whack me across the face. All that wind dancing can rip plants apart.

Those canes are coming down.

With 25 mph wind gusts forecast for Sacramento, protection against wind damage becomes a top priority. Which plants need help? Tie down or support new transplants that may be whipped around or bent. Prune tall rose canes that may be broken.

In my garden, I'm focusing on the rose canes.

It's a little early for me to be pruning my roses. Most still have leaves and flowers. They haven't yet gone dormant, the best time to prune.

Rose pruning is my biggest annual garden job. As a longtime rosarian, I've accumulated a lot of roses. I have well over 100 bushes in the ground. (That's small by rosarian standards, but there's only so much sun in our yard.)

Most of my rose pruning happens in January and February. Due to warm fall weather, scores of bushes in my garden are still blooming. That same warm weather also caused growth spurts. Several bushes pushed out incredibly tall canes that are susceptible to wind damage.

A prime example grows at the edge of our patio. "Fragrant Lavender Simplicity" is a shrub rose. Usually about 4 to 5 feet tall, it flowers abundantly in an amazingly long season, from early April to pruning time. It's still blooming, but right now at the end of 10-foot canes. They reach past the rain gutters. Because the canes are not much thicker than my finger, they really move.

If I prune the whole bush now, it will try to push out new growth in January. Those tender sprouts may be susceptible to frost. Also, part of pruning is removing all foliage. There are too many leaves; better to wait and let colder nighttime temperatures prompt leaf drop. (Then, I can just rake them up without getting scratched.)

Although the bush is not ready to fully prune, removing those tall canes will help start the process and protect the bush.

This shrub rose has more than 20 canes. I won't decide which to keep or take out until later. For right now, the whole bush is coming down to about 3 feet. It will be protected from wind damage and halfway pruned.

And I'll have a nice winter bouquet for indoors, out of all that wind.


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* 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 needs nutrients. Fertilize 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.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* 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.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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