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Welcome to the January 2005 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.

by Jeri Jennings

Or, How I Learned To Stop Pruning And Love The Rose

Through January, and into February, rosarians across California are on the march.

Bearing an awesome arsenal of very sharp instruments, and suitably instructed by experienced rosarians, this army of pruners advances upon their roses, bent upon the removal of something between a third and a half of the growth each rose has achieved in the past year. We are assured that this is necessary. Every publication trumpets the charge. Every Consulting Rosarian issues the drill:


Why Do We Prune?

We prune our roses because we are told we should. Because our mothers did. And their fathers did. And, if we have paid attention to the lessons offered at pruning demonstrations, we know that the properly-pruned rose will carry no cane smaller in diameter than a pencil. It will be denuded of all foliage. No bud or bloom will brighten those shortened, naked canes.

We "KNOW"that:

1. Pruning is done for disease-control, and pest-control. We must remove from the plant its burden of disease-prone senile foliage and overly dense growth. We prune to improve air flow through the plant, and reduce insect and fungal problems.

2. Roses MUST go dormant. Here, in "La La Land," (Southern California) dormancy doesn't happen, so we prune to force the roses into a "false dormancy." The well-pruned rose, we are assured, will then REST, Damnit! (Whether it wants to or not.)

3. Hard pruning will "encourage" the plant to produce long stems, suitable for exhibition. (But, DO you exhibit regularly?)

We've been told these things so often that we "know" them to be true. Most of the pruning "rules," though, were made for the average Hybrid Tea. They work well for most (not all!) Hybrid Teas. With moderation, they work well for most modern Floribundas, and even most modern Miniatures. They do not necessarily work well for all of the "Other" sorts of roses.

But What If We Aren't Growing Hybrid Teas?

AH! There's the rub! Many of us are growing "Other" roses. And most of us grow roses for our gardens, rather than for the exhibition table.

In my Camarillo garden, Tea Roses are the most numerous class, closely followed by Noisettes, Tea-Noisettes, Chinas, and Polyanthas. The balance of my roses are an eclectic mix, of which less than a handful are Hybrid Teas. Clay and I have learned by trial and error that what's sauce for the Hybrid Tea "goose" is NOT sauce for our China "ganders."

In a recent discussion of pruning, Kim Rupert remarked that, when dormant, the hardy, once-blooming Northern European Roses store energy in their root systems. These roses rebound well from hard pruning. Coming out of dormancy, they draw on energy stored in the root system to produce vigorous growth and bloom. But those roses " the northern once-bloomers " are rare in our Southern gardens.

In our climate, the evergreen roses of Asian origin are the stars! No dormancy for THEM! Programmed by nature to bloom year 'round, and egged on by our mild Southern California climate, they grow and bloom continuously. Foliage is grown and discarded through the year. At "pruning time," much of it is new and fresh. Such roses, Kim noted, store their energy, available for continuous use, in their CANES.

These roses, and their closest kin, build growth slowly over several years. Their canes are slender. Interwoven, twiggy, branching growth is normal. Hard pruning removes this slowly-achieved growth, and takes with it the nutrients that were stored there. With that energy lost, they respond to Hybrid-Tea-style pruning by "sulking." Successive years of such hard pruning can eventually stunt, or even kill the plant that is so-abused.

What's In YOUR Garden?

It's tempting to say: "Prune China Roses like THIS." "Prune Tea Roses like THIS." But the pedigrees of most roses are too complex for a blanket approach. Few of my roses would qualify as "pure" China. ('Old Blush,' 'Chi Long Han Zhu' and probably 'The China From Adina' fit that bill.) More roses than not have a touch of Northern genes somewhere in their pedigree. So there's where it gets . . . tricky.

Once, we grew 'Brandy' -- a lovely Hybrid Tea, of very mixed pedigree. Every year, we pruned it. Every year, there was less return growth. Plant isn't putting out new canes? "Prune harder!" we were told. "FORCE it to put out new basal canes." But no new canes emerged. At last, the poor sad thing just died.

Much later, I mentioned the death to Tom Carruth, who said:: "You didn't prune it hard, did you? 'Brandy' won't tolerate hard pruning."

*SIGH* Lesson learned.

And the lesson is: Don't say: "Prune Hybrid Teas like THIS, and Tea Roses like THIS, and Hybrid Perpetuals like THIS."

Instead, prune each rose according to its needs. Each rose in your garden is different. Learn the individual needs of your plants, and treat them accordingly.

One rose, faced with fewer hours of daylight and cooler temperatures, has ceased to bloom. Its leaves have blown away on the East Wind. It's not dormant, and will never be dormant in this climate. But it has paused. It is ready for pruning.

Another rose, in the same garden, under the same conditions, remains foliaged and blooming. It's a silly Tea, or a China, or one of their descendants, greeting winter with flowers. It doesn't want to go to sleep. It isn't GOING to go to sleep. Pruning such roses only stimulates an attempt to replace through new growth the energy stolen from the plant.

MOST Tea Roses, and all true Chinas, need only the gentlest touch of the pruning shears. Remove dead canes, certainly! But pause before you cut. Be sure that cane is really dead! Verify that the plant's newest growth isn't emerging from that gray cane. (Teas and Chinas can fool you that way. ) The pruning needs of our Noisettes seem to us to lean toward the China side of their heredity. For the most part we treat Polyanthas as we treat Chinas. But each of them is an individual.

Hybrid Perpetuals, and some of the Bourbons, represent a greater blending of European and Asian genes, so they offer a greater challenge. Observation tells us which of these roses pauses for a winter rest - and which, China-like, plough ahead with repeated bursts of bloom. Their heredity probably demands a pruning. But make it, for the most part, a light pruning. Remove dead and damaged growth. Eliminate canes that cross and interfere with others. Air flow probably matters more to these roses than it does to the Tea, and twiggy growth can be removed from most.

In the end, each cultivar is an individual. The wise gardener will tailor the pruning to the plant, rather than the class of the plant. (Had I learned that lesson earlier, 'Brandy' might still be in my garden.)

For pruning details, visit the Pruning pages on the Gold Coast HRG Web Site, at:

And, PLEASE! Join us at the Stagecoach Inn Heritage Rose Garden on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2005! for an up-close, personal, and practical demonstration of pruning techniques.

© Jeri Jennings, Dec. 2004. Please do not reprint without permission of author.


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