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In case you haven’t noticed, the price of roses just jumped higher and faster than the national debt. Yep, Valentine’s Day is approaching and the florists are rejoicing. Things being what they are these days though, I wonder if this ordinarily big day for them will tum out to be as profitable as usual. Maybe love will prevail.
Roses seem to keep looming up in front of me lately. My friend Tammy just painted a lovely bunch of ‘em on an oval canvas, yellow and apricot blooms; even artists get tired of the red ones after a while. Ads on the radio have been urging the early purchase of a dozen red roses for that special someone, and guess what! You get a free glass vase! Didn’t that used to be assumed? Ah well, times, they are a-changin’.
The other roses that are staring me in the face are the ones that need to be pruned soon. Somehow, gardeners need to make the connection with giving roses on Valentine’s Day and pruning them in the garden…take The Day to remind us that we need to get out in the garden soon. Thankfully, the weather is unseasonably warm right now, so get out the pruning shears and go outside. Don’t let the mid-sixties weather fool you into planting tender annuals and perennials, though; there will be more cold. Late February is for planting shrubs, trees, hardy flowers and vegetables and pruning crape myrtles, nandinas, hydrangeas and hybrid tea, floribunda, and grandiflora roses.
Good rose pruning is the art of choosing the best canes to leave, cutting them back properly and treating them so they will sprout healthy new growth. Begin by selecting three to five healthy canes which are a clean, green color (no brown or purple splotches), are one or two years old, are a least ¼ to ½ an inch in diameter, and are currently at least a foot or two in length. Once you have determined which canes to leave on the bush, remove all the other weak, diseased, damaged and older canes. If you didn’t find at least three good canes, it is better to stick with two than to leave an old or damaged cane on the bush. Even one cane can develop into an excellent plant.
Once you have thinned your rose bush down to the healthy canes, gather all your courage and cut those back. Always use sharp, knife-cut pruning shears which will not tear or crush the cane as they cut. If the canes are thick, you might consider using loppers. Deciding where to make your cuts is the most critical step here. Make all cuts about a quarter of an inch above a dormant bud. Try to choose a bud at least six to eight inches above the graft union which is facing the outside of the bush so that new branches will grow outward rather than crowd the inside. Before you cut, make sure that the remaining cane will have at least four healthy buds. Make each cut on a slant, with the high side a half inch above the bud and low side a quarter of an inch above the bud’s level on the opposite side. Always cut with the blade side of the shears next to the bud to prevent tearing. The slanted cut will shed raindrops off the cane and prevent rotting.
Finally, seal all cuts with Elmer’s Glue to prevent borers and other insects from entering the canes.
This severe pruning sends a message of “Grow!” to your plants, so it’s a good idea to fertilize them immediately after pruning, using a complete rose fertilizer. This way, they will have plenty of nutrients and disease resistance to begin the new season. And while you’re out there, check the soil around the plant to make sure that it hasn’t gotten packed up around the bottom, keeping it damp and potentially causing problems. It wouldn’t hurt to mulch your newly pruned roses with pine straw at this time, preventing weed growth which competes with the roses for water and fertilizer. Besides, we all know that mulch helps any garden plant make it through our hot, dry summers.
I don’t want to take anything away from the florists who are struggling like the rest of us right now, but you might consider giving a rose bush as a Valentine’s gift this year instead of cut stems that will be gone in a week or so. The monetary investment is less and the plant will continue to give and give for years to come. You can plant bare-root roses this month, as well as container grown ones. ‘Course, you’ve got to be willing to dig a hole in ground that’s pretty hard and prepare the soil appropriately. But hey, it’s all for love, right?