Cut back rose bushes now for beautiful blooms in spring

Experts offer advice on pruning and care
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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They were beautiful through spring, summer and into fall. But now it’s time to give the rose bushes some preventive maintenance. January pruning is crucial to keeping that cycle of beauty running smoothly. Expert Dave Coop, a member of the Gold Country Rose Society, has been growing roses since 1990. “(This time of year) most of them have gone to rose hips — the orange-red seed pods. They’ve gone to seed,” he said. “When they form those hips, it creates a chemical that signals to the bush that it has finished its growing cycle for the leaves. (The bush) starts dropping leaves and the cold weather makes it drop its leaves.” Prior to pruning, Coop suggests picturing the bush as in thirds — top, middle and lower. “You need to cut the flower bush by at least a third because all that energy has gone to the roots and will stay there until spring,” he said. “By late February or early March, it will start pushing all that energy and sap fluids back up and start forming new branches.” Those new branches will create new blooms by late April or early May. “If you do nothing to it at this point in time, in the spring, (the bush) will (create blooms) at the end of all these little branches formed last year,” he said. “You don’t want it to do that. You want it to bloom where branches are nice and strong and capable of handling a load of new branches, new leaves and new blooms.” Don’t be skimpy about pruning .back the branches. “If you leave on any twiggy growth, you’ll only get more twiggy growth,” Coop said. Something to keep in mind when pruning an established bush is that the root system is already in place to support it. “If you reduce that bush above the ground by a third or a half, when it starts to spring to life in the spring, it has no choice but to put out new branches, new growth and, hopefully, brand new canes from the crown,” Coop said. He also takes out one or two of the very oldest canes — all the way to the bottom. “The ones that look like they are starting to develop gray bark are the oldest,” he said. “Smooth, green or purplish canes are the newer ones and you want to keep those. … If you continue to take out one or two of the oldest canes each year, you will continue to be renewing that plant with new canes and keeping it young.” When making cuts to the bushes — for whatever purpose — Coop suggests using the American Rose Society standards — a 45-degree angle in the direction of the new bud. “But I have found if you make a flat cut slightly above the bud, the stem will seal itself over much easier than if you make an angled cut,” he said. Once the pruning is completed, remove any remaining leaves and clean up all the leaves and debris underneath the plant. Then spray the remaining bush and the ground around it with dormant spray. “Now is not the time to apply fertilizer,” Coop said. “Even though we haven’t got rains, they are coming. If you put fertilize down now, rains will wash it away. Plants don’t start putting fertilizer into the roots until that spring warmth starts pushing out new leaves. Then it starts taking in nutrients.” Early March is the best time to begin applying fertilizer. “Natural is better than chemical,” he said. “Mulch you can get from a recycle center in Roseville is much better than buying a bag of pellet fertilizer.” Thinking of adding to your rose garden? Local nurseries have a large selection of potted and bare root roses this time of year. “This is an ideal time to plant new roses, dig out those that aren’t performing well and plant new, fragrant roses,” Coop said. One of his favorite recent varieties is a shrub rose called Thrive! (The registered name has an exclamation point, he said.) “It is very bushy. It has brilliant red blooms and it just doesn’t want to stop blooming,” he said. “It doesn’t have a whole lot of fragrance, but I can picture it as a hedge that would be outstanding.” Coop plans to attend the rose pruning clinic at Eisley Nursery in Auburn Saturday. “After the clinic is over, quite a few Rose Society members will do one-on- one prunings with people, using leftover roses from last year that Eisley provides. We get to talk to individuals and show them exactly how to prune. People enjoy that one-on-one assistance.” At Eisley Nursery, rose expert Dorothy Lewis said customers often have concerns about cutting back too much when pruning. “Anytime I have to cut off a flower bud, I groan, but they have to be encouraged to go dormant and take a rest,” she said. Once the bushes are pruned, she advises to spray them with a fungicide or insecticide. “So you can help get rid of back spot, mildew and all the bugs,” Lewis said. “Spray them now and it really helps come summertime.” Reach Gloria Young at ------------ Rose pruning and maintenance clinic When: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21 Where: Eisley Nursery, 380 Nevada St., Auburn For more information: call (530) 885-5163 ----------- New roses At Eisley Nursery, rose expert Dorothy Lewis says there are not a lot of new varieties this year, but there are some really interesting ones. “A couple of really neat ones are called Iconic,” she said. “They’re an inch and a half or two inches across, light yellow and pink with a reddish color eye. They only have about seven petals. The rose it was crossed with was an old-fashioned one that only bloomed in spring. This blooms all season. I thought the samples I had were excellent.” This season’s All American entry — the top rose of the year — is called Sunshine Daydream and is a medium yellow. Another of Lewis’ favorites is called Ketchup & Mustard. “The front of the petals when you are looking at the flower is red,” she said. “The back side is yellow. The rose is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a little floribunda. It blooms to three-and- a-half inches across with lots of petals.” Another one that has caught her eye is the Koko Loko floribunda rose. “It starts out as kind of a milk chocolate like a milkshake,” she said. “As the bloom ages, it turns lavender. It’s something a little different and it really is. When I walked by one when the bloom was aging, I thought that’s different, that’s pretty.”