One of the more meditative chores around the garden may be that of pruning deciduous trees and shrubs. It is a time to really look at the structure of the plant and reflect on where it put on growth over the past year and how to direct that growth for the health of the plant in the coming year. It may even lead to reflection on other accomplishments and growth of a personal nature and usually isn’t a dirty or demanding activity. January is the month to accomplish this for all types of roses. Even if they’ve not completely lost their leaves, it is time to give them a rest from flowering and inspect them for disease that may have been hidden under the greenery.
General rules for pruning woody shrubs apply here. Be sure to use sharp tools and make clean cuts to avoid infections from pathogens. Remove dead or spindly branches and open the bush up to air and light. Old, unproductive canes can be cut to the ground to encourage new growth. Cut last season’s growth back by one third to one half (see specific instructions for various types to follow). Remember that the wood you leave has stored nutrients to feed the plant in its first burst of growth next spring. If too much is removed, the plant will be weakened unnecessarily. Pruning releases the remaining buds to grow in the next season, so look for those that are on the correct side of the old cane. Generally, this will be on the outside of the plant to encourage branching in that direction. Remove any suckers that have grown from below the main graft. These will be from the root stock and not only won’t produce the flowers you expected, but they will take nutrients away from the shrub. These guidelines work well for hybrid tea roses that produce single blossoms and grandifloras with a spray of flowers on tall canes. Other types will have some differences.
Floribundas also produce several flowers on each stem, but they are smaller in stature overall. They, along with polyanthas and other smaller shrub roses should only be cut back by one fourth. Little pruning may be needed if the flowers have been cut and deadheaded with long stems. To accomplish this, leave three or so buds as you would in winter pruning. This summer treatment encourages new growth and more flowers throughout the season. In winter, then, just prune for shape and openness as you would the larger varieties.
Climbing roses are another kettle of fish. Their long canes can remain healthy and productive for many years if properly trained in the first few of their life. Cut the lateral branches that have grown from the main canes back to two or three buds for short, flower-producing canes next year. If the whole plant needs renewing, cut one or two of the oldest canes to the ground each year for several years to encourage new long ones from the base. Train these by tying them to whatever support you have provided and don’t prune until they are producing good laterals (extremely vigorous canes may be shortened if they outstrip their support).
One last special case is the standard rose. These are grafted roses with a long stem supporting the flower-producing top growth. Remove any suckers or other shoots that arise from the stem and prune the top just as you normally would. Depending on their size, the top may be hybrid tea, floribunda or grandiflora on top of a three foot trunk, or smaller varieties on two foot standards. There are even miniature ones at about one and a half feet in height.
If you feel like you need some expert advice before tackling your own roses, it’s time to prune the 1,500 roses in the A. C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden in front of the Mission. Members of the Rose Society and City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department staff will be organizing this event and directing the work. It will be on Saturday, January 10 (rain date Jan. 17) beginning at 9 a.m. No experience is necessary and it is a great way to learn from the masters. Be sure to come in protective clothing and bring your gloves. Refreshments are provided. For more information, call the City Parks Department at 564-5433.