AROUND THE GARDEN
Game of Thorns
By Chris Cohan
Pullquote: Prune and fight off the Night King of Fungus and other deadly opponents.
Pruning roses can be as intimidating as defending the Wall against the Others. Unlike maintaining a vigil against pending trouble, pruning roses is actually enjoyable and good for the plants. It is very hard to kill a rose with bad pruning. It is better to make a good effort at pruning roses, even if you make a few mistakes, than to let them grow rampant.
So, why prune roses? To encourage new growth and bloom by removing dead wood. This will shape the plant, improve air circulation, and reduce disease from pests and unsightly black spot, the dreaded Night King of fungus.
Whether preparing for battle against an otherworldly enemy or pruning thorny roses, be prepared. These are your tools: bypass pruners, long-handled loppers, thick gloves. You can usually tell a passionate rose gardener by their battle-scarred arms. As during the Middle Ages, a little blood-letting now and then is good for purifying the system.
Let’s keep it simple. Use clean, sharp tools. Look at the overall shape and health of the plant. Then start pruning from the base of the plant and work your way up. Prune to open the center of the plant to light and air circulation. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above a bud that is facing out. Make clean, not ragged cuts. Sharpen your clippers often to ensure clean cuts and reduce strain on your hands and arms.
Remove all broken, dead, dying, or diseased wood. Also, cut out branches that look dry, shriveled, or black. Cut back until you observe healthy wood. Remove weak branches and any thinner than a pencil. If cane borers are a problem, seal the cuts with white Elmer’s glue.
Timing is important. You want to prune before rosebuds break. What if you have — or make — an excuse for not pruning right away? Well, we will just have to give you credit for participation. But this is the last time! I mean really, what if you arrived late to your watch to hold the Wall? Chances are it would be your last. It’s time to curb bad habits.
Modern Ever-Blooming Roses and Floribunda bloom best on the current season’s growth. Prune hard to 1/2 to 2/3 the plant’s height in spring. Leave three to five healthy canes evenly spaced around the plant. Cut them at various lengths from 18 to 24 inches, to encourage continuous blooming.
Hybrid Teas and Grandiflora bloom on new wood and should be pruned in early spring. Create an open vase shape with the remaining canes by removing the center stems and any branches crossing inwards. Reduce length of remaining stems by about half or down to 18 to 24 inches. You can allow older, stronger stems to be a bit longer than the new growth. During blooming season, deadhead blooms to a strong node. Rip out all suckers.
Ramblers bloom on old wood. Judiciously spring prune to eliminate winter damage, dead wood, and to shape and size. They bloom only once, so prune right after flowering, all the way back to 6 inches — truly. No worries, ramblers are the White Walkers of the rose kingdom. They will quickly regrow delivering loads of flowers the next year.
Modern Shrub roses, like Knockouts, are repeat bloomers. Leave them unpruned to increase vigor for the first two years and then use the one-third method. Each year remove one-third of the oldest canes along with dead, diseased, or dying canes.
Climbers may repeat bloom. Prune like ramblers now. Then prune again, after flowering, to shape and keep their size in check. It’s never easy but remove old and weakening long canes as needed. This will promote new and vigorous climbing canes.
Bourbons and Portlands repeat bloom on both new and old wood. Remove dead and punky wood now. After first bloom, hard prune and shape.
Then there are Alba, Centifolia, Damasks, Gallica, and Mosses, which bloom only once on old wood. Minimal pruning is required after bloom.
The rose garden is cleared of the dead and discarded. Like the Night’s Watch, a hardened gardener with embedded thorns and throbbing hands knows he has temporarily stayed the on-going battle. He has survived to fight and see another day’s bloom.