Best plan come rose-pruning time is to keep it simple

Published 2:02 am Sunday, February 19, 2012

I really don’t know how this newfound rose hobby came to be. The original plan was for me to be a cattle baron by now. But when I got in the cow business 35 years ago, cattle futures prices got low enough and interest rates high enough to break a country banker’s heart. And mine.

Generations of Southern gardeners have heeded the advice that Washington’s birthday is the time to prune rose bushes. Any horticultural difference between Washington’s actual birthday Wednesday and the “observed” President’s Day tomorrow is not found in garden books. But now is the time for late winter rose bush pruning.

Rose bushes will live on and bloom without pruning. We prune roses to force them to produce more of what we want than they would do on their own. If it were up to the rose plants, they likely would choose not to be pruned at all because they couldn’t care less about what we want.

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Ditto for muscadine vines and fruit trees.

There is no limit to the detailed advice out there for pruning roses based on rose type, size and classifications. Gardeners with different types of roses should read all that good information. But for those with a few rose bushes and not worried about which ones are grandifloras or floribundas or hybrid teas, let’s keep it simple. Cut mature bushes back to a foot and a half to 2 feet from the ground, 2 feet for the 6-footers and 18 inches for those that get 3 or 4 feet high. For miniatures, remove the outer third of the canes and branches. The new low-growing Drift roses need to be cut down to about 6 inches high.

Climbing roses, obviously, should not be cut back close to the ground. For climbers that only bloom once a year, reducing new growth soon after spring blooming is the way to go, not a winter pruning. For repeat bloom climbers, a late winter outer shearing will yield more blooms.

No annual rose pruning is complete until we remove dead and diseased canes. This is an important part of rose disease control. I find it is easiest to cut back the whole plant first and then go in and cut out the dead canes.

I now use a rechargeable cordless hedger for a lot of my rose pruning. It sometimes leaves ragged cuts on large canes, but I do follow up with hand pruners to make smooth cuts.

It’s taken me some getting used to the way rose folks organize. Their groups are called “societies.” I am a dues-paying member of the Old Garden Rose Society. And I recently went to Natchez for the regional meeting of the American Rose Society. Before roses, I had never been in any society. I’m more of the “association” or “club” type. And I am still very much an amateur rose-raiser, neither experienced nor knowledgeable enough to be a true rosarian. But I am now in a society, by gosh!

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.