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Roses need TLC, too, in the winter

  • Nanette Londeree
  • If you love roses and want to have bountiful blooms in spring, it’s time to give your plants some TLC. Roses are one of the few long-lived shrubs that, in our mild climate, can provide you with flowers from April to November with only modest care. That’s a pretty good return on your investment. Winter is the time to trim, clean-up and protect these floral wonders.

    Trimming or pruning is all about shaping the plant to keep it within the bounds you desire, and stimulating new growth. Some approach pruning with trepidation, concerned that they will do something wrong. Paul Zimmerman, American Rose Society consulting rosarian and author of the blog “Roses Are Plants, Too” says, “Don’t think of it as pruning. Think of it as rejuvenating your roses.”

    Roses are forgiving. If you make cuts that are less than ideal, it won’t hurt the rose. Zimmerman says that, just like a bad haircut, it may look odd for a while, but it will grow back.

    Before making any cuts, get your tools ready; have your shears and loppers oiled, adjusted and sharp! By-pass type shears and loppers are best as they make a clean cut without crushing or bruising canes. A small pruning saw, preferably with fine teeth, is helpful for cutting hefty canes and getting into tight places.

    Decide the general size and shape you want for your rose; for most types, a plant with four to seven healthy canes in an open, vase-like form that promotes good interior air circulation is ideal. If in doubt about whether to remove a cane, leave it; you can always remove it later in the season.

    Start with the largest portions of the plant you want to take out — it makes the job go more quickly. Remove at least one-third to one-half of the volume of the plant, particularly the three-Ds — damaged, diseased or dead wood. Cut back to healthy tissue — look for white or cream-colored pith (interior of cane). If you have some old canes (usually grey and shaggy) that aren’t producing much new growth, remove them right down at the base of the plant.

    Next comes clean up, also known as good hygiene for the garden. This important step will help reduce the potential for pests and disease in the spring. After our fall rains and cool temperatures, plants may shed some, but not all of their leaves; those that remain may be infected with rust and blackspot. To prevent these rose diseases from spreading, as well as removing sites for insect pests to spend the winter, strip remaining foliage from the pruned plant and discard along with stems and canes from the area. Remove all debris from around the base of the plants, and also pull any errant weeds.

    How to protect your plants will depend on what Mother Nature does in the coming months. We’re often fooled into thinking that since it is winter, there’s no need to water plants. That’s true if your soil remains moist. Dry, cold and windy weather can suck moisture out of the rose canes leaving them looking like shriveled sticks. If rainfall is low, check your soil and if dry, water. This is especially important for plants in containers or newly planted bare root roses that haven’t developed a sturdy root system. Mound soil conditioner around the base of just-planted roses to help them conserve moisture while establishing their root system, and in spring, when new leaves begin to emerge, remove the conditioner.

    When done with the trim, clean up and protection of your roses, sit back and relax. In a mere eight to 12 weeks, plants will begin their glorious display — giving you a whole new flowering season to enjoy!

    If you want to learn how to prune your roses, including the proper rose pruning tools, the how and why of pruning your roses and disease and pest prevention, there is a free event at 9 a.m. Jan. 13 at the Falkirk Cultural Center at 1408 Mission Ave. in San Rafael.