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Rose Care Basics > What You Do Today Saves Time In May

From the February 2006 CCRS Meeting
28 Feb 2006


by Jeff Stage, San Diego, CA






v      Every year, generally in December or January.




v      Roses should be cut down to at least 18” and depending on the variety they should be cut at a 45-degree angle away from a viable eye.  The eye should be facing outside, or AWAY from the center of the bush.  The cuts to the canes should be made such that the new eye/cane will not conflict with a neighboring cane.  Learn to anticipate where the stem will reside.




v      Some plants are what I call “awkward” in that they will grow stems sideways, down, and every which way.  “Marilyn Monroe”, Elizabeth Taylor, and “Stepping Out” are prime examples.  We make exceptions to the rule here and cut to an “up” eye, that is, an eye that faces straight up on the topside of the cane.  This will insure a nice straight stem for cutting.




v      Study the plant for a couple of minutes and decide what is going to have to go vs. what’s going to stay.  Approach the plant from the outside and work your way into the center.  Don’t worry at this point about getting the dead or crossing stems until such time as they present themselves in the normal course of pruning.  I often find myself pruning 2 & 3 roses at the same time in order to make sure they all have their own “space”.  Continue working the outside perimeter of the plant before finally making the crucial cuts at the crown.  It is important that the center of the plant be left “open” with no crossing or dead canes.  Make “logical” cuts, meaning when you stand back and scrutinize your work, you should be able to know which stems will grow here, which ones there, etc.




v      For instance, you may have made a cut with the intention for the cane to “push” a certain eye, but instead the cane pushes an eye that is two leaf sets down.  What the plant is saying is that you can cut it harder, so go ahead and cut down to the growth.  By doing so, you are working WITH the plant.  Also, if a bush is stingy with basil breaks, there IS a way to work older canes, even if you’ve used just about every viable eye on the older canes.  If you look closely at where one cane has been cut to produce another (right where they form the dogleg), you will see a “line”, or a “ridge”.  If you cut right in front of that line (mind you, there will be no viable eye there), the plant will push what is known as “latent” eyes, meaning eyes that are present but unseen.  This is an excellent way of prolonging the health and productivity of the plant.




v      You should strip all of last year’s foliage from the bush and pick up all dead leaves, weeds, etc. from the garden.  It’s at this time that I spray with Volck oil to kill scale and other waiting pests.  I also take a putty knife and “pop” the old bark off the crown to allow new basil breaks to come through more easily.  It is also wise to mulch at this time.  I use a product called Kellogg’s Gro-Mulch and I apply it to a depth of 2” around the entire garden as well as around the rose bushes themselves, and then water it in.  I then come back in a couple of days and put a pre-emergent weed killer.  This stops weed seeds from germinating and is very effective for almost a year.  It will not kill existing weeds, mind you, so you need to do the weeding first.




v      Now you may think that once you’ve pruned, cleaned the beds, and mulched that you are done but there is one vital step left to take which will save you a lot of work/time in May.  When the plant starts pushing the eyes on the primed canes, you will notice that, if allowed to, the cane will push almost every eye on the cane.  What you need to do is discourage this.  Remember, you don’t want the center of the plant blocked up, so any eyes growing “inboard” need to be thumbed off, or “thumb pruned”.  You don’t want eyes to conflict with a neighboring cane so this must be done.  Don’t allow more than 3 eyes to a cane and this cane should also be pretty strong (at least ½” in diameter).  After doing this thumb pruning, the eyes that are left will have a clear and logical path in which to grow.  (Some canes may have only 1 eye…that’s OK).  Thumb pruning should be a daily process for the better part of 3 weeks.  You eliminate what I call “fuzzy” plants…the ones with no appreciable stems, blind eyes, etc.  You should also thumb prune the auxiliary eyes alongside the main eye, as the plant will try to push these, too.  If, per chance, the main or occipital eye has been damaged or broken off, by all means select one of the auxiliary eyes and will give you a very viable stem.  If you do this thumb pruning while the plant is just getting started in February, you eliminate unnecessary pruning in May.  You should keep an eye on all of your viable cuts to make sure they’re doing what you intended.




v       Watch for dieback and cut down to the next “good” eye as soon as possible.  Get into the habit of taking your pruning shears into the garden with you each time you go.


Jeff Stage
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