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 Pruning? Yes. Question – When In The Desert?

This page was last updated on: September 15, 2005

By Henry McCarty,

ARS Consulting Rosarian Emeritus

No one should fear the craft of rose pruning. Rumors of how difficult and demanding work it is are just that?rumors! With sharp shears in hand, taming and training brings the rose to a handsome shape, turning raw materials into a rejuvenated plant of elegant habit. Being among the most forgiving of plants, roses have the uncanny ability to endure cutting and sawing, making pruning less of a threat and more of an event of developing a healthy plant. Successful rose growers have learned similar, basic pruning techniques, discovering as they go what tricks and shortcuts work best for them.

The purpose of pruning is to remove the inferior, damaged or dead canes, shape the bush and to create a healthy foundation for the new bloom cycle. If you place a pair of pruners or a pair of lopping shears into the hands of three different rosarians, you’re apt to get three different approaches to the pruning process, each telling you with great pride why they have removed what they have removed from their plants. This is where common sense comes in play, and the experienced rosarians may have the upper hand. The severe pruner cuts the plant to three or four short canes. The moderate pruner leaves a few more canes (five to seven), resulting in a larger bush for the garden. Floribundas and grandifloras generally thrive well with this treatment. Light pruning produces an abundance of short-stemmed flowers on large bushes. The method you use should fit your taste in the kind of plants you want and the kind of blooms you expect.

Since we live in a mild climate (usually frost free) leaving a given number of robust bud eyes pointing upward and outward will help shape he plant and ensure an abundant new bloom cycle. Having a plant with three or four viable bud eyes to a cane would be wonderful! Be careful to cut 1/4 inch above the bud and angled at 45 degrees gives the bud a new boost to grow a new stem and a new bloom. KEY: The stem of the new bloom will be no larger than the stem from which it grew. So, select strong stems at least as large as your largest finger. Remove all growth inside the plant giving it a bowl shaped look. As the new growth develops you will see the results of the selection of the stems you saved and the directions you shaped the new growth.

When to Prune – The rule of thumb in most areas is when the last frost has occurred and the rose is ready to emerge from dormancy. Since we do not have frost in the desert and the roses do not go into dormancy, the question is when do you prune? In the desert the winters are mild and summers hot and the best growing season is between October and May. Following an old desert gardener’s suggestions, some 15 years ago, I have revised my pruning, growing and dormancy or resting period of my roses. When you cut a bloom the rose bush is immediately forced to grow a new bloom to reproduce. This is the normal life cycle of a rose bush. Keeping this in mind I developed a growing plan around the following schedule:

September: moderately prune the rose bush, to shape, remove dead canes, open up center, remove spent blooms and select 4 to 7 strong canes with bud eyes facing outward. I begin fertilizing regularly and continue watering. New blooms will develop by the first or middle of November based on the temperature. The plant will provide blooms from November till June- the best rose growing months in the desert. You will enjoy roses for about seven to eight months.

June: stop cutting blooms, which forces roses to reproduce, reduce fertilizer to about 25% of normal and continue watering on a regular schedule. This forces the rose into a summer dormancy when it is not producing new blooms and gives the plant a rest during the hot months. Rose blooms in the summer are small, misshaped and lose their fragrance. Working in the garden in the desert when it is 110 to 120 degrees is not a very productive and enjoyable activity.

Start the cycle over again in September. Try this approach and see how it works for you.

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