Spring is in the air and Valentine’s Day is coming up next weekend. When the rest of the world’s thoughts turn to romance, a gardener’s thoughts turns, not to romance, but to pruning roses. For Southerners, the Valentine’s season is the perfect time to prune America’s favorite flower. Everybody loves a rose. They are the embodiment of romance, the horticultural incarnation of passion and beauty. If you have some in your garden, what follows will tell how to prune them. (Just as an aside, this is also the perfect time to go to your nurseryman and buy a few. Get them into the ground right away).
Hybrid Teas, Floribunda and Grandifloras are the first types of roses we will consider. These roses are pruned very severely each year. A Floribunda or Hybrid Tea can grow to six feet tall in a single year. All of the canes should be drastically cut back to a bud that is about fifteen inches from the ground. The bud should be one that is facing outward, for that is where the new cane will appear. This will keep the plant from growing in on itself.
Now, most of the large-flowered roses are grafted. In other words, the rose is grafted on to rootstock. The rootstock is from a rose that has a very healthy and robust root system. Onto this root system, the Hybrid Tea is grafted, giving the plant extra vigor to bloom that it would otherwise not have. The graft is relatively easy to identify. Make sure no canes are appearing from below the graft. If they do cut them away. Any canes growing from under the graft may produce blooms, but they won’t be very attractive at all.
If your rose bush is several years old, you might want to get a wire brush out and rub down the graft or bud union which after many years becomes a fist-like, gnarled, woody ball of tissue. This wire brush rub down will cause the bud union to produce brand new and vigorous canes from which very beautiful roses will bloom
The important thing to remember is that these roses produce good, quality cut flowers. They have been bred and engineered by horticulturists to produce cut flowers. Keep in mind that the reason for pruning these roses back so severely is to encourage the plant to produce new canes. It is generally the new canes that produce the highest quality blooms. The final thing to be said about this group of roses is this. They are not long-lived plants. Some rose growers joke that hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras are not perennial shrubs (which they are) but biennials; they are so short lived. Buy them in the nursery one year, and two years later you are buying more to replace the ones that have died; but, in the meantime, you will have some beautiful and magnificent cut flowers.
The next groups of roses are the old garden roses and modern shrub roses. These roses are actually good landscape plants. They look good in the garden because their shape and form is the important thing. These roses cover themselves with blooms in great masses. The individual bloom is not of primary importance, rather it is the great masses of color- lots of blooms. Shrub and old garden roses should basically be cut back almost like an azalea, lowering it enough to keep it in shape. Opening up the shrub is not as important with old garden roses as it is with the hybrid teas. An old garden rose can sometimes get quite large in a single season and may need to be cut back hard during this spring pruning, but the point is to generally shape up the bush and reduce it to a manageable size.
The one exception to Valentine’s Day pruning is “the climber”. Climbing roses do most of their blooming in the spring on the previous season’s growth or “old wood”. If you plan to prune your climbing rose, put it off until after the spring bloom. Generally, the rule with climbers is only the sickly or dead wood is removed. The important thing to remember with climbers is not so much their pruning but rather their training. As a climbing rose puts out canes, tie the canes as parallel to the ground as possible, gently bending it down and tying it as it grows. The rose will put out blooms all along the cane as it runs parallel to the ground. A cane growing vertically will only bloom at the tip. Climbing roses are usually trained on fences or against walls. I have found that the trellises sold in garden centers are totally unsuitable for the training of roses. To train a rose on one of these means tying the canes up the trellis instead of parallel to the ground. Also, these trellises are far too small for training roses. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of training a climbing rose along a wall or fence, you can train it up on a post, creating, as it were, a great fountain of blooms, but growing a climbing rose like this takes lots of room.
So, Valentine’s Day is coming up next week. I suppose gardening is not overtly romantic, but now is the time for planting roses , pruning roses, fertilizing roses and readying your roses garden for a long and opulent blooming season. A little work in the garden on Valentine’s day will, in the end ,produce roses, lots of roses! And they will be sublimely romantic the rest of the year.