Summer roses need grooming

“The roses you lifted to your lips ... lucky roses!”

— Charlie Chaplin

The quest for perfect roses in your garden begins with the major rose pruning events during the summer: flower cutting, deadheading, grooming and disbudding.

Cutting flowers is probably the most enjoyable summer pruning job. After all, many of us grow roses so they may be appreciated indoors. Those flowers that don’t make it indoors should be deadheaded. Remove flowers as soon as they have faded and the petals are about to fall. It prompts the rose toward developing additional flowers, instead of ripening seeds.

Catharine asked last weekend, “Where should you make the cut when you remove flowers?”

I replied that rose leaves are compound, meaning they are composed of leaflets, and there is always an odd number of leaflets to one leaf. The general rule is to cut just above an outward facing leaf with five leaflets.

Cut higher at a three-leaf set and the subsequent growth will be weaker and produce smaller flowers; if you cut lower at a seven-leaf set, you’ll be removing a lot of stem.

Cutting at the proper five-leaflet site will be about halfway down the flower stem. At this point the rose will have the optimum strength to develop its best flower and remain bushy. Take the opportunity to remove unwanted growth from dieback (stems which die in a downward direction from improper pruning) and blind growth (stems which continue to develop without producing buds).

Many rosarians recommend grooming on a constant basis during summer pruning. “Grooming” consists of removing all yellow leaves and spindly growth from a rose. Clean up any fallen flower petals and foliage from the ground to minimize future insect and disease problems.

Disbudding is the way to develop full sized flowers, one to a stem, from roses that usually flower in clusters. Many of the grandiflora and hybrid teas produce large flowers in such tight clusters, causing none to open properly. This can be avoided by removing side buds from the dominant, central bud.

I spent a portion of the holiday grooming and spraying the roses in our garden, discouraged a bit by the insistent munching of leaves by worms, and the never-ending powdery mildew. Then I made my way to Graham Thomas, his blooms a pale yellow and full of sweet promise. I couldn’t wait to share them with Catharine and Buster. See you next time.

 STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award winning writer Catharine Cooper, and four dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to

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