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Prune now, in less time (just follow Baldo's directions)

Warmer weather brings out rapid rose growth

Baldo Villegas demonstrates his 3-minute rose-pruning method at a 2022 workshop. At right is fellow rosarian Charlotte Owendyk.

Baldo Villegas demonstrates his 3-minute rose-pruning method at a 2022 workshop. At right is fellow rosarian Charlotte Owendyk.

Photo courtesy Sierra Foothills Rose Society

It’s almost the end of January and I’m facing another deadline – completion of my annual rose pruning. And this time, Mother Nature is putting on the pressure.

Our winter deluge – nearly three consecutive weeks of rain – put me way behind in this yearly chore. Before Christmas, it was so warm and dry, my roses kept blooming – so I kept procrastinating. (It was the holidays; I had things to do I liked more than tangling with prickly bushes.) After Christmas, it did nothing but rain.

I’m not alone in this predicament; many gardeners are trying to beat the calendar – or growth hormones.

Sacramento rose lovers try to get our bushes pruned before Valentine’s Day. It’s a semi-arbitrary deadline; roses are dormant during the chilly winter months and a lot easier to prune. Roses start growing again as soon as the weather warms, usually after a round of deep-soaking rain. That combination usually hits sometime in late February or early March.

Our January storms were not only wet (and deep soaking), but warm. Afternoon temperatures have been edging close to 70 degrees. And that prematurely woke up my roses. Suddenly, I had bud breaks and new growth everywhere – and a real mess.

I squeezed a little pruning in between storms, but it was mostly to bushes adjacent to firm footing on the patio or driveway. Finally, the ground in my garden was dry enough this week for me to plunge into serious pruning; 120 bushes done and 20 to go.

How did I get through so many roses so quickly? I kept remembering Baldo’s three-minute method.

Baldo Villegas, best known as Sacramento’s Bug Man, is a retired state entomologist and master rosarian. He also grows a tremendous number of roses – about 3,000 bushes. To tackle that many plants, Baldo came up with a strategy: Start from the bottom. Look at the base of the plant, determine what canes to keep and what to cut. Then, go for it.

Often, you’ll need to start at the top, too, especially if it’s a very large bush. Cut the rose down nearly to the height it should be when blooming (usually 4 feet tall for hybrid teas). Then, sort out the canes.

Baldo’s method simplifies the process of rejuvenating the plant. Pruning back to the same points year after year does not make good roses; it shortens the life of the plant and limits its growth. By focusing on strong, healthy, younger canes, pruning allows those “keeper” canes to flourish – and flower more.

Baldo recently explained his method during the Sierra Foothills Rose Society’s annual winter rose care workshop. The podcast team from Green Acres Nursery & Supply was on hand to record Baldo in action and get his tips.

“These rose pros share their best methods for pruning, and a few safety tips while working with these prickly plants,” says Green Acres. “With some goatskin gloves, and Baldo’s bottom-to-top technique, you’ll be pruning like a master rosarian in no time.”

Listen to the podcast here:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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