Tag: pruning

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.




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:

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.

Overwintering perennials

Even if you only know me casually, you’ve probably caught on that I’m a bit of a plant geek… I mean, more than just the roses, tomatoes and squash. In fact, my real expertise (at my day job) is regarding perennials. I’ve learned a lot there about how to grow each crop to finish for sales in the spring, but the trickiest growing is on those crops I have to tend through the winter.

I made a quick video about it:

When it really comes down to it, the tricks to successfully overwintering any hardy plant in a container are pretty similar:

  • Start with clean plants – remove dead and diseased foliage early to avoid later problems
  • Protect them from cold winds that would dry their tissues
  • Shelter from the coldest temperatures. For some of the less hardy plants, this may mean heating – but for many perennials in the mild winter climate of the Fraser Valley, this just means a layer of protection (snow, crop cover, or an unheated greenhouse)
  • Try not to let your greenhouse heat up during sunny days
  • Provide decent air circulation
  • Don’t keep the plants wet all the time, but do water ahead of the coldest weather to prevent desiccation
  • Even if you start with clean plants, do inspect them frequently for any signs of disease or rot. As foliage dies down, in most cases, it’s advantageous to trim it away from the plant

And because this is a website about roses, I’ll add this: while I don’t recommend much winter pruning for roses in the landscape, I perform a moderate pruning on the container roses in my greenhouses. Where they have a little protection, they tolerate the winter pruning fairly well – I combine the pruning with stripping off the old foliage. This sanitation protects from winter rot, but also gives new foliage in the spring a fresh start, with no old leaves to carry over black spot or powdery mildew.

And here I am, enjoying a sunny January day in our garden! The days have been getting longer since December 21 – but I recently heard a climatologist quote a different measure: the dead of winter, which sounds more ominous than the way he explained it. The dead of winter, measured by local weather history, is the point in the year when your area has the very lowest average temperature. Every day after that is statistically more likely to be warm. I can buy into that! Here in the Fraser Valley, it’s around January 4th.

So we’re over the hump. As a rule of thumb for me, I begin seeing my greenhouse plants wake up around Valentine’s day. There’s still a lot of winter that can happen in a month, but it’s nice to have the finish line in sight.


Spring tidy and fertilizing

In the succession of flowering times for garden shrubs, the Forsythia comes early, and perhaps because it’s such a bright (or even objectionable, depending on who you ask) shade of yellow, rose growers use it as a reminder to get out there and prune their roses. If you lack a Forsythia, you definitely use the more attractive red-flowering currant here in the Lower Mainland, and it wouldn’t much change your timing. I snapped a picture of my inherited Forsythia this week… and as you can see, I’ll never miss pruning time:

The red/pink flowers in the foreground are quince (Cydonia), another shrub you could use to get nearly the same timing – it’s probably a week behind in my garden.

The reason many rose gardeners wait until this part of spring is that it coincides with roses being ready to break dormancy. By this time, winter kill on the canes (evidenced by black tissue higher up the extremities of your roses) will be apparent, and you will probably be able to see some of the buds swelling.

How to prune them? It depends on the rose, and it depends on what you want. This is your first chance of the season to influence your rose. Cutting harder usually means that the rose will respond with a number of strong shoots from the base, and will result in more flowers this season. A lighter prune allows the rose to grow and harden more canes, and if done properly, will allow some varieties of roses to form into a better garden shrub over the long term.

You can try to use this spring pruning and fertilizing to keep your roses a preferred size in your garden, but your influence is limited. I’ll put it this way: you’ll never make a small rose grow like a large rose by fertilizing, and you’ll never make a large rose grow like a small rose with pruning.

No matter your goals, it’s good to cut out dead, diseased and congested growth. And because roses are heavy feeders, they’ll respond well to a top dress of fertilizer or compost. A moderate amount of pruning and fertilizing will always leave your roses better off, and so I don’t get too hung up on the details… not even which other plants are blooming at the time!