Category: Growing tips

Electronic Mist Controller for Propagation

I’ll be using an Arduino controller and rain sensors to build an automatic mist controller for my cutting propagation. I couldn’t find anything off-the-shelf that met my needs: I want my mist irrigation to adapt to weather changes by increasing or reducing the frequency of watering cycles. I can use the rain sensors to simulate how quickly water will evaporate from my plant leaves. This is my first attempt at an Arduino project, programming… and I’m not too comfortable with electronics in general, so I’ll happily take advice and feedback from more experienced hobbyists.

Because I was learning as I went, I bought a little more than I needed to (like the whole Arduino starter kit). If I were budgeting this with only the parts I need, it would be in the range of $40 or $50.

Here’s the video of what I put together:

Below is the code I ended up using, which is a little revised from the first version in the video:

/*
* Electronic mist control
*
* This my first attempt at Arduino coding – be kind!
*
* Most of this is just mashed together from the included samples
*
*/

const int waterPin = 2;
const int threshold = 1600;
const int duration = 6000;
const int waterDelay = 10000;

void setup()

{
pinMode(waterPin, OUTPUT);
Serial.begin(9600);

}

void loop()

{

digitalWrite(waterPin, HIGH);
Serial.println(“Pausing…”);
delay(waterDelay);

int valsensor1 = analogRead(A0); // read input from 1st sensor
int valsensor2 = analogRead(A1); // read input from 2nd sensor

Serial.print(“Sensor 1 = “);

Serial.println(valsensor1);

Serial.print(“Sensor 2 = “);

Serial.println(valsensor2);

if (valsensor1+valsensor2>threshold) {

Serial.println(“Watering… “);

digitalWrite(waterPin, LOW);
delay(duration);
digitalWrite(waterPin, HIGH);

} else {
Serial.println(“No water required”);

}

}

Build a Rose Arbor with Bent Metal Tube

I would need a fast-forward button to improve my skills at garden design. I could hold the button, and the years would zoom by to show me the eventual size and scale of the trees, shrubs and perennials I’m planting. Somehow, my imagination isn’t adequate to the job. One example of this is in the cedar arbors we installed on either end of our rose garden:

Above pictured are the quite lovely roses ‘Amadis’ (a thornless pink climber) and ‘City of York’ (a thorny beast on the other side of the archway). I guess I knew that they could exceed the height of the arbor when I planted them, but without that fast forward button, I don’t think I grasped quite how out of scale the little wooden structure would look. Quite aside from the looks of it, there then came the stability problems. We tried to shore up the arbors with heavy landscape posts dug in beside them, but under the weight of the plant growth and the ongoing assault of the winds, the structure is struggling to keep standing.

So, my wish-list for replacing them:

  • larger – enough to drive our ride-on lawnmower through, and tall enough to support a 12′ climbing rose
  • stronger – dug into the ground deep enough to support itself against strong South (summer) and East (winter) winds
  • long-lasting – if I use wood, our wet climate will put it at jeopardy of rot. I don’t want to rebuild them any time soon!
  • affordable

A bit of online shopping left me no further ahead. There are plenty of metal or vinyl arbors, but they aren’t much different in size to what I have already. They would also face the same issues of anchoring them into position against our persistent winds. To buy a pair of anything nearly suitable was at the very top end of our budget – without exactly meeting our needs.

Our eventual solution was to build our own, and this video documents our efforts:

The supply list in detail:

13 x black top fence rail (10ft by 1 3/8″) approx. $26 ea. = $338

4 x galvanized top fence rail (10ft by 1 3/8″) approx. $20 ea.= $80

1x 1 liter can of black gloss paint for metal = $20

20x 2″by 5/8″ carriage bolt, nuts, & washers = $15

8x bags of quick concrete mix approx $8 each = $64

2x new drill bits = $20

Total budget: approx. $537 for both arbors

Here is the front one finished (with the old one flat down in the background):

And here’s the back one:

The total height of each arch (above ground) is around 10.5 ft. Additionally, there’s about 3.5 ft of the support posts sunk into the holes and held down with concrete.

Most everything went smoothly, and I’m pleased with the results. They actually look a little larger than I anticipated, but this time I think they’ll be in proper scale with the climbing roses, so it’s just going to take a little time until they’re grown over and blend better with the landscape.

The only difficulty I really had was with the drilling (which took a lot longer than I thought it would) and I also had to accept that there would be imperfections along the way – everything is built, cut, bent, drilled and painted by hand. There are flaws that (I hope) are only visible to me, and will, in any case, be pretty hard to spot once the roses grow over.

One last note that I would make is that the large size of my arbors really did determine the budget. If you scaled down the cross bars to 3 1/3 ft (down from 5), and reduced the height / buried portion, you could easily get the budget down below $200 per arbor.

As for the time involved, it took me about 2 weeks from start to finish – not full-time, of course, but evening hours and weekend days. The most time consuming part was the drilling (2 to 3 evenings) and painting of the arches (2 evenings). The project happily wrapped up on Christmas eve, just in time to clean my work area before having holiday guests over!

 

Hardwood rose cuttings, quick and easy

During the main growing season, I find myself splitting my time in many directions: the day job, kids, selling activities, watering, mowing, tomatoes, and the list goes on. Rose propagation, just by lack of urgency, tends to drop to the bottom of the list. That’s why I’m renewing my efforts at late-season hardwood cuttings of my roses. They’re easy to do, they don’t require a lot of maintenance, and the way I do them now, I can line up hundreds at a time into a single bed. Very satisfying!

The right timing

The kind of cuttings you should take depends a lot on the firmness of the rose’s wood, which in turn depends a lot on the season. In the spring and early summer, the new growth on your roses will be soft wood – very bendable. I don’t use this kind of wood for cuttings. As the roses bloom and ripen into summer, you will be able to find semi-hardwood sections of wood. I do semi-hardwood cutting extensively, and you can find my instructions in this article. For hardwood cuttings, of the kind I’m describing here, look for full ripened, firm wood from the current year of growth. For best results, I recommend cuttings in the late fall or early winter, when the weather is cool.

Where to cut

Not every rose is the same, and so the thickness, length and number of nodes present on your cutting may vary. Roughly speaking, you should be sectioning you cuttings to the length and thickness of a pencil. Take your top cut above a node – identifiable by the dormant bud and leaf scar. On the bottom end, cut just below a node. Because you’ve chosen fully ripened wood, it should be quite firm. If there are leaves still on the rose, you can strip them off.

My shortcuts and tweaks

Check out my particular setup here:

I’ve scaled-up my hardwood propagation this year, and that’s why I’ve focused on simplicity:

  1. I’m not using any rooting hormone, as I haven’t noted any difference in success rate while using it for winter cuttings
  2. I’ve used a prepared bed in one of my greenhouses, where I can easily protect them and control moisture
  3. Instead of digging a trench for the cuttings, I’m using a pitchfork to “dibble” holes, and then just firming the cuttings in

I’ll follow up with another article when it comes time to dig the (hopefully) rooted cuttings next year!

And for those in Canada who want to buy, sell or trade roses and/or cuttings, I invite you to join this Facebook Group.

 

 

 

Challenging Common Rose Planting Advice

At the risk of seeming foolish, I’m going to court controversy, and attempt to debunk a piece of gardening advice so commonplace that it’s taken as gospel truth. It goes like this:

When planting a rose, dig a much larger hole than the pot size, and then amend the soil heavily before back-filling around the new plant.

I’ve seen different versions of this. Some say a hole 2 times as wide as the original pot. Some say wider. As to depth, many articles advise to dig just the depth of the pot (which makes sense to me), but others say to dig 18″ or 24″ no matter the pot size. In any case, there are any number of recommendations about how to amend the soil: bone meal, kelp meal, compost, well-rotted manure, alfalfa pellets, granular fertilizer, chelated iron, bagged potting mix, feather meal, and maybe even the kitchen sink!

I disagree with nearly all of this, and I’ll tell you why – first in this video, then in written detail below:

To recap my reasoning:

  1. The very most important thing to establishing a newly planted rose is to encourage the roots to grow outwards and downwards into the surrounding soil.
  2. The roots being firmly anchored down into the undisturbed native soil becomes really important over the winter, when the shrub is subjected to the additional weight of snow/ice and force of winter winds.
  3. The “boundary” between your improved soil and the surrounding unimproved soil becomes a barrier for roots and the natural drainage of water. Just common sense: if the soil inside your planting hole is so much richer, wouldn’t the plant favor root growth there instead of anchoring to the surrounding soil?
  4. I’ve learned it’s safer to err on the side of less fertility when establishing new plants – both here on my farm, and in my job as a grower. This isn’t a drag race… you don’t need to pump in the nitrous oxide!
  5. Back to stability: all those organic components mixed into the soil will eventually break down, leaving a pocket of less dense soil in the improved planting area.
  6. All of the soil improvement you could hope to achieve by the big hole method can be more safely and evenly applied by subsequently feeding your soil from the top down. Topdress with those organic amendments, add a mulch to the surface, and let the worms and soil life do the rest. They’re really good at the soil-improvement business!

Plus, less digging. Nuff said.

Avoid These 3 Things To Help Your Roses Survive Winter

Roses are built to survive winter

Don’t treat your roses like they’re the fancy dinnerware of the garden. Most are descended from tough, northern climate species, and they’re well prepared to get through the cold of fall and winter – at least in the mild-to-moderate climate of the Fraser Valley. Some of the “special care” that gardeners offer their roses in the lead-up to winter can, in fact, be detrimental to their survival. Don’t kill your roses with kindness! Avoid these 3 mistakes to give your roses a fair chance to survive:

#1: Late season pruning

Lock those pruners and back away from the rose… slowly. It may be tempting to give your roses a good cleanup going into the fall and winter. The leaves are yellowing and falling, the flowers are spent, and the stems are untidy – if not downright overgrown. You might think that your rose has a better chance if you cut it down lower, and send it into the winter with clean stems. You’d be wrong. Let me say this unambiguously – before winter is the wrong time to do structural pruning on a rose.

Why? Look at what winter damage on a rose looks like:

The stems are blackened at the top end – the most exposed tissue to the cold and drying winds of winter. The length of cane damaged will depend on the hardiness of the rose (many varieties have some sub-tropical genes bred in to promote reblooming) and the severity of the winter. In a mild winter, it may be only a couple of inches – in a severe winter, I’ve seen the damage exceed 18 inches!

Now I ask you: if you left your rose unpruned at 3 to 4 feet of height, and you lost 18 inches of stem in a severe winter, how would you feel about it? Not bad, probably. You were going to prune for shape and structure in the spring anyhow. Now how about if you pruned it back low  before winter – say to 18″ from the ground? If the winter damage reaches all the way back to the crown, it’s game over.

As an added advantage to leaving your rose a little untidy over the winter, birds and other wildlife depend on the rose hips and canes for food and protection.

I will add an exception now, just for completeness: there’s no bad time to remove dead or diseased wood from the rose. Also, if there are a few stems that have grown well above any support, and you know that they’ll just blow around and break in the wind, go ahead and prune them back to a reasonable length.

#2: Late season fertilizing

This one is a little counter-intuitive. It seems like a good idea to supply your plants with all the nutrition they need before the harshness of winter. A late-summer or fall application of fertilizer, however, can send your rose the wrong signal.

Those sub-tropical semi-evergreen rose genes I mentioned in passing come back into play here. Some of the best reblooming roses have a tendency to push new growth late in the season. They’re opportunistic growers. If the weather suits them, they’ll keep growing. As of today, November 19th, I still see a dozen or so roses in my garden cheerily flowering and sending up new growth.

In addition to mild weather, they’ll also grow in response to ample feeding and to heavy pruning.

That soft growth has no chance of hardening-off before winter. By far, you’re better off leaving the fertilizer until spring. Here on the rose farm, I stop feeding my outdoor roses in August.

#3: Deep Winter Mulch

The practice of hilling soil or mulch over the crown of a rose is a carryover from advice given to gardeners in very cold winter regions when trying to overwinter roses that are not well suited for their climate. It doesn’t apply well here, and from what I’ve read, it should be applied with caution even in colder climates. Read this article from the University of Illinois Extension for a good description of these methods. The emphasis is on not trapping moisture at the crown of the rose.

I don’t winter mulch anything. We take -10 celsius with heavy outflow winds, and my losses have been minimal. I’m crossing fingers and knocking wood as I write this, but I’m also quite sure that in our wet climate, anything that could hold water against the crown of my roses is not worth the risk.

 

For those who are more visual learners, here’s a video I made on the topics discussed above:

Trading Roses & Cuttings

Recently, I’ve been talking to anyone who will listen about why we (rose gardeners) need to take control of our own hobby and safeguard the many garden-worthy, heirloom and unique roses that are no longer offered “in the trade”. Think about this for a minute: we have over 2000 years of rose cultivation under our belts, and thousands of exceptional cultivars selected. Yet, we’re going to leave it to some buyer at a national home improvement store, sales report in hand, to decide which ones will carry on and be offered to the next generation of gardeners. Can you say “Knock-Out”?

Madame Hardy, pictured above, will probably never make the cut at the big-box stores – but still deserves an honored place in the garden. Thus, we need a plan.

If you look back on my previous posts, or at my Youtube videos, you’ll see me giving instruction on how to take semi-hardwood cuttings. I’ll probably add another one shortly on how you can stick winter-season hardwood cuttings. I also talked to the Fraser Pacific and Vancouver Rose Societies about how we can work together to keep our best garden roses being propagated and distributed to budding gardeners.

If we’re not going to rely on the big nurseries, just how do we expect it to happen? 

And just how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do we save garden-worthy roses? One rose at a time.

This is my first offer: If you have a rare but worthwhile rose in your garden, and are willing to root some cuttings, I’ll be happy to trade you something interesting from my assortment. I’ll plant your rooted rose as a trial plant in my garden, and if I also find it worthwhile, I’ll continue to propagate it for sale. And that’s that… one more rose back “in the trade”, insofar as you can call our little farm part of the nursery trade.

And my other offer: Maybe you don’t have the time or wherewithal to root your roses, or maybe you’re too far away from the Fraser Valley to make sense of trading potted roses. Nonetheless, if you have a rare rose in your garden, and you’d like to see it back in distribution, you could send me some cuttings. I’ll happily pay the postage. On my end, I’ll stick the cuttings and see if I can get some roses rooted. In return for your efforts, upon successful rooting, I’ll send you your choice of some rooted rose liners.

So that’s my part in it… but I’m just one guy. The more gardeners we get involved in preserving roses, the better we can help each other to take control of our hobby. That’s why I’m asking you to arrange your trades of cuttings or roses on this Facebook group: Canada Rose Cuttings & Exchange.

We can share our lists: what we have, what we’re looking for. But we can also share techniques, arrange trades, discuss suppliers… anything related to the propagation and dissemination of hard-to-find roses. I hope to catch up with you there.

 

If you actually love having insects in your garden, plant these:

You’re not freaked out by “bugs” in the garden – because you know a balanced population of insects is the secret to a healthy garden.

There are all sorts of plants you can include in your garden to support the health of bees, butterflies, and other garden helpers. In general, any increase in plant diversity is helpful – but I’ve prepared a list of plants that can “fill the gaps” in feeding and supporting the beneficials. To round-out your insect-friendly garden plan, choose some from each of these 6 groups:

1) The early-season heroes, like Candytuft

Late winter and early spring can be tough times for your garden helpers. Gardeners who provide early-season blooming flowers give the good guys a head-start against the inevitable population explosion of garden pests. Candytuft (Iberis umbellata, the annual type, is pictured above) is a member of the mustard family, which also include such early-season flowers as wallflowers (Erysimum), Rock cress (Aubrieta), and Basket-of-gold (Alyssum). Supplement your early season bloomers with some of these:

  • Siberian bugloss (Brunnera)
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
  • Species roses (Rosa hugonis or Rosa spinosissima, for example)
  • Creeping phlox
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus)
  • Pigsqueak (Bergenia) and yes, I just like to say “Pigsqueak”

2) Wide-open flowers for bees, like Echinacea

Hard-working and adaptable as they are, there are some flowers that bees can’t feed on because they have too many petals or a difficult bloom form. To support these pollinators, look for wide-open and easy to access flowers, like the ones on this list:

  • Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum)
  • Single-flowering roses like ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ or ‘Ballerina’
  • Borage
  • Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus)
  • Pincushion flower (Scabiosa)

3. High-nectar plants for butterflies, like milkweed

Butterflies can feed on many of the flowers that bees are attracted to, so if you’re already planning on some bee-supporting flowers, you’re well on your way to helping butterflies too. In addition to the ones listed above, butterflies look for nectar in plants with tubular flowers, like garden sage (Salvia). Here are some other plants that butterflies frequent:

  • Butterfly bush (Buddliea)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris)
  • Root-beer plant (Agastache)
  • False-indigo (Baptisia)
  • Verbena

4) Tiny flowers for tiny insects, like Queen Anne’s Lace

Don’t forget about the little guys – the little Aphidius wasp and hoverflies that do so much to control aphids are particularly attracted the tiny flowers of members of the carrot family – but other plant from different families are equally useful. Some of the easiest and most attractive garden plants are in this group:

  • Yarrow (Achillea)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum)
  • Lobelia
  • Poached-egg plant (Limnanthes)
  • Statice (Limonium)
  • Sweet cicely (Myrrhis)

5) The designated victims, like nasturtium

The idea behind a “trap crop” is to give early pest outbreaks a place to happen in your garden – on your terms – on a plant that you’ve grown for that purpose. My roses are never the first place I notice aphids. They appear on my nasturtiums and lupins first. This gives their natural enemies a chance to build up their population and bring things into balance before the outbreak reaches my favored plants. In this way, the trap crops also become banker plants for beneficial insects. Other plants often planted as trap crops are:

  • Beans (for spider mites, aphids and thrips)
  • Eggplant (for whitefly)
  • Lupins (for aphids)
  • Shasta daisy (for thrips)
  • Dill (for aphids)

6) Winter insect habitat, like hedging cedar

Believe it or not, even the common hedging cedar can play an important role in balancing insect populations. Researchers found that conifers like spruce and cedar maintain high levels of predatory mites through the winter. Even dormant plants can be a safe haven for overwintering beneficials, so don’t be so quick to tidy up and cut down your perennials. Here are some other overwintering havens you can provide:

  • Evergreen viburnum or other broadleaf evergreens
  • Tall wild grass or ornamental grasses (unpruned)
  • A wood pile or stump or other fallen branches
  • Roses with hips left on
  • Fallen leaves (left in place in the garden)

Make small improvements, and then fill the gaps…

It’s tempting, but maybe unrealistic, to make a planting plan that covers all these functions for the entire year – and gets it right the first time. My suggestion is to start with some multi-function plants – like joe-pye weed or yarrow – and then observe to see what’s still missing. Is there a time your garden lacks flowers? Where and when are the pest outbreaks happening? With these observations, you can add plants to fill the gaps for upcoming years.

Grow roses with cuttings taken from your own yard

Hundreds, if not thousands, of garden-worthy varieties of roses are in danger of disappearing. I could give a long rant about the reasons why – but it really is as simple as this: for various reasons, even wonderful roses can fall out of fashion, sales fall below a certain level, the big nurseries can’t make money propagating them in large numbers, so they fall “out of the trade”.

Here’s where the little guys like you and me come in, and here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Collect out-of-patent and garden-worthy roses before they disappear from the nurseries
  2. Take cuttings
  3. Once rooted, sell them or give them away
  4. Accept my thanks for keeping old & uncommon roses alive and for sharing the hobby!

Of the actions listed above, numbers 1 and 4 are pretty easy… I suspect if you have any questions, it’ll be about the “taking cuttings” and the “rooting” part. Happily, there’s plenty of information out there about how to take semi-hardwood cuttings of roses (my preferred method). My part is to encourage you to get some experience doing it, and to answer any questions you may have. My own success rate varies according to how much time I have to attend to the cuttings, but I still manage to root in the range of 1000 per year on a part-time basis.

Here’s an introductory video I made on the topic:

Some people learn from watching, but I really need to emphasize that the best way to learn propagation is by throwing caution to the wind and just doing it. Get those clippers into your hands and get snipping – even if you’re not sure you’re doing it right. You’ll get a feel for it as you get experience handling the roses and cuttings.

To recap and detail the points on the video:

  • Start with clean, sharp clippers. I use a Felco, but any decent quality blades will do as long as you keep them sharp and clean.
  • Select a section of the rose’s stem – a good section has at least 3 or 4 nodes and is somewhere around 4 to 6 inches in length, the thickness of a pencil or slightly thinner. What’s a node? It’s a place where a leaf emerges from the stem. If the section doesn’t have leaves at every node, you can recognize the node by the bud – see this picture as an example:
  • It may take some practice to choose the right “firmness” or ripeness of the wood. See in the video for the way I try to bend the stem – if it bends very easily, it’s too soft. If it wont bend without feeling like it will snap, it’s too hard. If you’re not sure, just take and stick the cutting anyhow. Your success rate will tell you if you got it right.
  • Cut just below the bottom node, and just above the top node. Strip off most of the leaves. In my cuttings, I leave two leaflets on the top node and that’s all.
  • To help with your success, you can dip in a rooting hormone.
  • Stick the cutting in a sterile, well-drained potting mix. No fertilizer please. You only have to push it in by an inch or two – just enough to keep it stable and upright under the mist.
  • Yes, there are alternatives to mist. I’ve had decent success with a humidity dome or tent in the past. It depends on how many you’re doing. Let me know if you need any tips! It’s important not to keep the cuttings water-logged while they’re trying to root.
  • You’ll know your cutting is beginning to “take” if it’s forming white callus along the base of the cutting. Here’s an example:
  • Reduce the mist / humidity when the cutting “pulls back” when you gently tug upward on it. At this point, the early callus tissue have begun to form roots, as pictured here:
  • If you grow in the 9cm size pots I use, you can leave the cuttings to fully root and grow for 6 months, a year, or more before you have to do anything with it. Here’s an example of one I overwintered from last year:
  • And that’s it… you have a well-established rose, ready to go into a larger pot or to be sold, traded or given away.

“Sooner or later, every gardener comes around to roses” was a quote from Christine Allen, I think, in a book I read. The prospect of that seems pretty bleak right now… it appears that gardening trends have placed the rose, with all its associated baggage, in an unfavorable position. Those of us who have come around to the hobby, we have the great good fortune to inherit 2000+ plus years of rose varieties, passed down from ancient China and Rome and the middle-east – along with the efforts of hundreds of breeders in modern times from all around the world, including Canada. Let’s take the opportunity to gather those hybrids we like the best, and share them with each other so that if (when?) all the other gardeners “come around to roses” there’s something of this magnificent hobby left for them to enjoy.

Rose Pruning

Shocking but true – some people are intimidated by roses!

It could be the thorns. I’ll admit to having been bullied by a few roses in my time. Or maybe it’s that roses are what serious gardeners grow. When you go to Stanley Park or Queen’s Park, or even Heritage Park here in Mission, the roses have a garden all to themselves. If they’re so serious a garden plant that they need to be grown in a special place, with special methods, then what chance does a casual gardener have to succeed? Right?

And when I ask customers what they’re concerned about, that’s what I hear.

“Pffff… I’d just kill it off, ” says she.

No, you wouldn’t. Honestly. Roses are easy. And while I’m all busy debunking the mystique around roses, let me also say that the idea of a segregated rose garden is ridiculous. To treat roses as if they need some sort of special garden plot, away from all the more mundane garden plants is silly. They work better in a mixed garden – particularly at this time of year (spring) when they’re often cut back and look quite bare, it helps to have some other plants around to fill the gap.

Back to my topic now: Spring pruning. This may be the topic that frightens the newbies the most, and it shouldn’t. Here… I’ve prepared three short videos on the topic of annual pruning.

This first video is on the “Why” to prune roses. What’s the big deal about pruning?  *Spoilers* : There really is no big deal. If you neglect pruning for a year or two, the worst that will happen is your rose will get a little overgrown. If you prune a little too much or too often, it’s not really a problem for a healthy rose. The bottom line is that you can play around a bit, and not worry about the results.

So… why prune? I answer this in the video, but I don’t mind going over it in a bit more detail here. Roses are shrubs, and shrubs are the workhorses of the garden. As far as I’m concerned, if you compare shrubs to perennials and annuals, you get more value in the garden from shrubs, with way less maintenance every year.

Roses are vigorous shrubs, and require some pruning and feeding to perform really well. Left on their own, it will take a few years for a rose to become quite overgrown and leggy. Your goals for pruning are to keep the rose a good shape for your garden, to remove old, dead wood, and to encourage flowering.

Every time you cut a significant amount of wood from a rose, it sends an important signal to the entire plant. The balance between roots and shoots – what’s below ground and what’s above – needs to be maintained. Upon losing top growth, the rose will naturally work to rebalance, and in doing so, it will send up fresh vigorous new canes. These canes are the ones that support the largest flowers.

So if you want lots of big flowers, cut really low, right? Sort of. But doing so is also pretty costly to the rose. At the same time that the rose is rebalancing by throwing up new shoots, I’m told that it also allows some of its roots to die back. Smaller shrub = less roots needed, I guess. Heavier pruning means a big shock to the rose. It will respond with more flowers, which is good, but doing it too low and too often decreases the overall vigor of the shrub.

One topic that does freak people out a bit is the timing of pruning. Here’s my take on that:

Nothing too complicated there either. The only tricky point is that some roses only bloom on last year’s ripened growth, so if you prune these once-bloomers heavily in the early spring, you’ll be sacrificing some flowers.

I mention the classic benchmark shrub for spring pruning, the forsythia:

At this time of year, you’ll see the forsythia and it’s obnoxiously yellow flowers everywhere in the landscape. If you don’t happen to have one of these shrubs handy, you can benchmark with any one of the other early bloomers. I like flowering currents (Ribes spp.) better. My plum trees are blossoming up nicely now too. Basically any of the early flowering shrubs will do.

If you get there a bit late, and your roses are already beginning to leaf out, don’t worry. It’s still okay to prune. You can actually prune almost any time in the year. The only time I’m cautious is when winter is approaching – so I usually hold off any major pruning from say August onward.

Here I need to make a distinction between repeat-blooming roses and once-blooming roses. Most every rose sold in the garden centres is a repeat-blooming rose. These are the hybrid tea roses everyone is so familiar with, and the smaller cluster-flowering floribunda roses. If this is the kind of rose you’re growing, early spring is a good time to prune.

The once-blooming roses are mainly the old garden roses of Europe. The damasks, gallicas, albas and centifolias. If Josephine Bonaparte grew it, chances are that you should wait to prune until after it flowers.

Any doubts about what kind of rose you’re growing? If you have its name, do a quick search on helpmefind.com. Or e-mail me, and I’ll see if I can help.

Finally, here’s my example video for the cutting itself:

I used a vigorous little Floribunda, Copper Kettle for this video. I’ll see if I can post some other examples through the year using other varieties and classes.

My advice on the whole is this: don’t hesitate to prune. Roses are pretty vigorous, and they’ll bounce back from wherever you cut them. There are some guidelines to follow. Prune heaviest on your fastest growing hybrid teas. A little lighter on floribundas. Leave some longer canes on climbers, so that they can be secured to the supports. Wait until after flowering for once-bloomers – and then prune only for overall shape.

Even if you get it wrong one way or another, the worst that is likely to happen is that you’ll have fewer flowers for a time. If your rose dies because of pruning, I’m betting it was going to die anyhow for other reasons.