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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 March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* 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 help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* 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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