The 2013 winter season to date has been a roller-coaster ride of warm and cold temperatures, with periods of freezing rain and snow. Just a typical winter in north Texas, right? True, except for one distinction – the shifts in temperature have been quick and the temperatures have remained colder, longer. This scenario, particularly with actively growing plants, causes extreme damage to the stems, and many times the death of a favored perennial.
Roses, particularly those that are cold sensitive, do not fare well when this happens. Plants that were not watered or mulched sufficiently prior to an extended arctic blast will suffer the greatest damage and require the most extensive pruning in March.
The goal in pruning rose bushes is to improve the health and vigor of the bush. Removal of dead, diseased, damaged, unproductive, or crossed canes, also assists in disease prevention.
Of particular note – a once blooming rose should NOT be pruned until AFTER it blooms in the spring. Roses that bloom from spring until frost can be pruned before they leaf out completely. Green canes should be pruned back to healthy, creamy white, wood. Old garden roses (OGR’s) shrub roses, and climbers should be pruned lightly.
As with any garden chore, assembling the necessary equipment prior to beginning makes this yearly task much simpler to complete. Standard rose pruning equipment includes the following: (a) a sharp pair of BY-PASS pruners; (b) solid leather thorn-proof gloves (no part of which should be cloth); (c) a pruning saw, or sharp pair of long-handled, BY-PASS loppers (to trim away large diameter canes); (d) a trash can for debris (both what has been cut off and what may be lying below the plant); (e) a good whet stone to keep the pruners/loppers sharp (dull blades damage canes and tend to be a hazard for the operator); (f) appropriate footwear for working in the garden (sandals and flip-flops don’t protect from thorns, ants, or the accidentally dropped pair of pruners); (g) long-sleeved shirt and jeans; and (h) stocked first-aid kit (complete with tweezers for picking out the “thorn in the flesh”).
“Opening up the bush” to allow for greater air flow, requires the cutting out of interior crossed canes, and cutting above an outward facing bud eye. A “bud eye” looks like a little smile with a nose above it and is where a leaf was attached last year. New growth will originate from the “nose” of the bud eye and grow in the direction that it is pointing. The strongest new growth on a cane originates at the cut end, therefore, cutting to the outside facing bud eye directs the new growth outward and upward. This increases airflow through the bush and deters fungal growth. Pruning cuts should be made approximately 1/4” above the bud eye at a 45° angle with the peak directly above the bud eye.
In the Hunt County area, the optimum time to prune is the first two weeks of March. However, late freezes or mild winters can shift the timeline a week or so in either direction. If you had a problem with disease in your rose garden last year, particularly blackspot, then it is important to remove and dispose of ALL trimmed material to keep from immediately re-infecting the new growth. Add new mulch where needed and finish off by adding whatever fertilizer has been recommended through soil testing. Roses are heavy feeders and prefer a pH of 6.5 – 7.0, but can tolerate a more alkaline (higher pH) soil, provided the nutrients they need are available. Testing the soil is a very important part of keeping rose plantings healthy and blooming. Contact the Hunt County office of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 903-455-9885 for further instruction/supplies on how to do this very simple test.