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Welcome to the March 2001 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 "Other resources on this site". 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. Thanks!

HOT NEWS! The Old Rose Advisor, volume II'm sure there are many of you who are aware of Brent Dickerson's work in unravelling the complex and often misty history of the Old Roses. Well, as of March 7th, 2001, the newly updated Volumes I and II of The Old Rose Advisor are available from his publisher! The following is quoted, in slightly edited form, from the publisher's web site:The Old Rose Advisor, volume II

"This is the improved, enlarged Second Edition of the breakthrough classic work on reblooming old roses. It provides the most complete listing of all of the existing or otherwise important or interesting varieties of those opulent reblooming old roses. This improved edition of a modern classic will be a welcome addition to the reference collection of any lover of roses, horticulture, or horticultural history!"

Both Volumes are available to browse by clicking on the cover images. Thank you, Brent, for your hard work!

Pruning the Old Garden Roses
by Paul Barden

'Erinnerung an Brod'It is getting to be that time of year again, and we have to get out there and prune the roses. For me, however, it always seems like one of the more joyful tasks of the year, likely because it signals the oh-so-tangible arrival of SPRING!

At left: 'Erinnerung an Brod', a climber.

There are major differences in how to approach pruning of the Old Garden Roses, as opposed to Hybrid Teas and other modern shrubs. This is especially true of the once-blooming types, such as the Gallicas, Damasks, Centifolias, and Albas, to name a few. With these, the single most important thing to remember is to PRUNE AFTER THE BLOOMS HAVE FINISHED! If you remove the previous year's wood, you are removing the blooms for the spring! It is most important to know what type of rose you have, and to determine how to prune it correctly. There is nothing more sad than seeing a magnificent Gallica or Damask that has had all of its previous year's growth cut down to stumps. I see this happen, and I think of all the hundreds of blooms that the rose MIGHT have produced if it weren't for a careless pruning job. Removal of the previous year's wood means few or no blossoms!

'James Mason'At right: 'James Mason', a Gallica hybrid.

Another important thing I like to emphasize is that the older roses generally have their own inherent form and growth habit as they develop. Personally, I think it is VERY important to let the rose grow WITHOUT PRUNING for at least the first 2 years after planting. 3 years is even better, and it will allow you the opportunity to observe how the shrub grows before you make any decisions about how to prune it. (Naturally, you are still going to dead-head old blossoms, and remove dead or damaged wood) It is a good idea to allow the shrub to generate its natural infrastructure before you start manipulating it. It's easy to start pruning a rose when it is too young and ruin its future shape. These shrubs have been bred to mature into a pleasant shape with a minimum of interference, and it is wise to allow them to grow as they wish to best display this form.

'Cardinal de Richelieu'Once Blooming varieties: The general rule is to prune these immediately after the blooms have finished for the year. In my experience it is best to dead-head the spent blooms (unless the rose naturally forms hips, in which case you may want to allow these to grow) and remove some of the oldest wood to allow the younger shoots to take over bloom production. In many cases I find that the oldest canes eventually age to the point where they produce fewer quality blooms, and I like to remove some of these on a mature shrub every once in a while. With some roses, like the Gallica 'Cardinal de Richelieu', pictured at left, the main canes tend to be productive for 3 or 4 years, and then should be removed to generate stronger growth.

Also, if you are faced with the choice of either pruning a limb, or training it horizontally instead, choose the latter option. Most of the older roses respond extrememly well to having their long canes trained horizontally, which translates into MUCH heavier bloom from that cane. Instead of having a cluster of blooms from the tip of the cane, you will get multiple clusters form at many places along the trained canes. This is something that is often done with the climbers, (both old and new) and some of the tall Hybrid Perpetuals and Bourbons. Another variation on this theme is called "pegging". In this case, you simply take the long canes and bend them down till they touch the soil, and pin them down with wire or some other pegging device. (I usually make my own by bending sections of heavy wire into a "U" shape) This style of training is done with one year old canes, before they become too inflexible to bend. As with horizontal training, the rose will produce many more blooms along the length of the canes than it would otherwise do.

Altough this is not technically a pruning tip, I suggest that you get out and clean up all of last year's leaf debris. Also, remove any of last year's foliage that might still be hanging on the plant. This helps to reduce the Mildew and Blackspot spores in the garden, and goes a long way to preventing these diseases during the coming season.

Here is a short list of suggestions for pruning specific classes of the older roses:

Many of the Albas are tall roses that display a wonderful fountain shape as a mature shrub. It is important not to prune these until they are at LEAST 2 years old...preferably 3! Remove any dead or damaged canes as necessary, and thin the older, less productive wood once the plants have reached many years age. The shorter, shrubbier varieties like Félicité Parmentier are more upright in form, and can stand to have some of the denser inner growth thinned to improve air circulation in the shrub.

'La Ville de Bruxelles', a DamaskAt right: a Damask named 'La Ville de Bruxelles'

You may chose to either leave these largely unpruned, or cut back the lateral shoots to a few bud eyes, and shorten long new canes by 1/3. Some of the Bourbons, such as 'Charles Lawson' are once-bloomers, and it is best to remove only older, unproductive wood on these AFTER they are finished blooming. The taller Bourbons, like climbing 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' are large shrubs in habit, and need very little pruning unless they get too unruly for their location.

Treat as for Damasks, see below.

The Chinas are slow to develop to maturity, and tend to build wood gradually on the exisiting, twiggy growth. Some of the Chinas produce very slender canes that appear to be the sort of wood we might usually remove, thinking it isn't going to amount to much. Don't do it with the Chinas! Leave them alone for at least 2 or 3 years, and even then, remove only damaged or dead pieces, and dead-head the spent blossoms.

'Gloire de Dijon'(includes Ramblers) As mentioned above, if you have the option to train the long canes on a trellis or fence, rather than having to cut them back, then choose this. The long canes are going to be the basis of the climber's structure, and you will want to make good use of these to help the rose form its infrastructure. As the long canes shoot out their "laterals", these side branches can be shortened to 3 or 4 bud eyes in February, but only on the repeat blooming varieties! The true Ramblers, which are only once-bloomers, should be left unpruned as much as possible.

At left: 'Gloire de Dijon', a Noisette climber.

These are all once-bloomers, and as such, shoudl be pruned AFTER the bloom cycle is finished. These are inherently graceful shrubs with good form, and are often ruined by careless or over-zealous pruning. Removal of dead and damaged wood, along with removal of spent blooms is sufficient. As the shrub ages, twiggy growth at the center of the plant, and old unproductive wood can be removed. The long new canes can be shortened to restrict the shrub size if necessary, but only shorten by 1/3 at most, and do it after blooming.

an unnamed Gallica hybrid, grown from seedAt Right: an unnamed Gallica grown from seed.

Remove dead or damaged wood. Otherwise, these roses are best left unpruned for at least the first 3 years of their lives. At that point, you can thin some of the dense inner growth, if you really feel it is necessary. Some people choose a rather radical treatment for the Gallicas once they are welll established: every 3 years they cut the shrubs to a few inches tall right after blooming is done! This forces these shrubs, which are thicket-forming in nature, to regenerate themselves from the base up. I have yet to try this myself, but I know many accomplished gardeners who do this, with great success.

Hybrid Musks:
These are usually well-formed arching shrubs or small climbers, and benefit from being trained horizontally to maximize blooms. They are best left unpruned, except for prompt removal of spent blooms. This encourages good repeat blooming. If in doubt, leave them alone.....they know what shape they want to take!

Moss Roses:
The Mosses are almost all variations on the Centifolias. Therefore, prune only lightly, if at all. Remove any dead or damaged wood, and as the shrub ages, remove the older less productive wood. There are a few repeat-blooming varieties, which are essentially Mossy Damask Perpetuals, and these need very little done, except to dead-head the finished blooms. Avoid shortening the new, vigorous canes, as these will determine the form of the shrub.

These roses are climbers, mostly. They resent hard pruning, and will perform to their best ability if simply trained horizontally. The laterals (side shoots) can be shortened to 1/3 their length in January or February if desired. If in doubt, do nothing! Train them, don't prune! Many of these are large climbers, like 'Reve d'Or', and these make wonderful pillar roses, where they can be allowed to climb up and cascade down in a fountain-like effect.

'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain'Hybrid Perpetual:
The Hybrid Perpetuals are large, rampant roses that are ideal for training as small climbers or for pegging down. The taller ones, such as 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain' produce long canes that are best trained along a fence or on an arch. Some of the shorter, shrubbier ones, like 'Baronne Prevost' are best thinned after blooming and left to form a large shrub.

At left: 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain', a climbing Hybrid Perpetual.

I have often seen Rugosas pruned to force them into small rounded shrubs, usually to poor effect. These roses resent hard pruning, and doing so often destroys the shape of the mature plant. I advocate little or no pruning, except to remove dead or damaged wood, and to remove spent blooms on those varieties that do not set hips. One of the most spectacular roses I have ever seen was a group of 3 plants of 'Hansa' which were allowed to form 9 foot trees! They formed a beautiful canopy of growth in an umbrella shape that was breathtaking. If you could have seen these shrubs, you would understand why I say to leave them be!

Remove dead wood only!

As with the China rose, the Teas are often slow to build up growth, and are often twiggy and densely branched. It is important NOT to prune these varieties in their first 3 years, except to remove dead wood and spent blossoms. There are some climbing Teas, such as 'Sombreuil', which should be treated as the climbing Bourbons, see above.

And please remember not to believe everything you hear about pruning.....there are some practices that have little or no basis in truth: you DON'T need to seal the pruning cuts with glue or sealant. We prune thousands of roses at the local rose garden and don't seal a single pruning cut, and yet we don't see any disease or insect damage resulting from our practices. There is no reason to believe that it makes the slightest bit of difference whether or not you make the pruning cut at an angle or not. They say it prevents moisture from staying on the cut surface. Well, if you think about it, those cuts stay wet whenever there is rain or dew, no matter what angle you cut at, so you can disregard that one too. A little knowledge goes a long way with pruning.....and if you are unsure about what you are doing, err on the side of NOT making the cut!

Oh, and by the way, buy yourself a good pair of Felco secateurs and good leather gloves. Updating your tetanus shot isn't a bad idea either if you haven't had one in 10 years.

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