Roses will forgive your pruning errors

“My evil genius Procrastination has whispered me to tarry ’til a more convenient season.”

— Mary Todd Lincoln

One of the thornier issues gardeners must deal with each year is when to prune the roses. Pruning is completed in concert with location and temperature, and new growth is stimulated by warmer weather, bringing the promise of new foliage and beautiful flowers. For those of us who live in Laguna, roses should be pruned any time from now to the end of February.

Armed with Felco secateurs (or another pair of sharp hand shears) and goatskin gloves, this annual ritual will transform a crown of thorns into a crown of rose petals. Roses are one of the most forgiving plants and will endure a beginner’s uncertain cuts. Over time, gardeners develop pruning skills and discover it is difficult to prune a rose incorrectly.

We prune for the health of the rose. Selected pruning shapes the bush into an attractive form and prepares the rose for the anticipated blooming that follows quickly. Hybrid teas and floribundas are the most popular of roses and don’t require heavy pruning in Laguna. Keep in mind that about a third of the plant will be trimmed. The first step is to remove any dead wood. Next, cut out all weak stems and growth that are growing toward the center of the rose. The ideal structure is an open bush, with five to 10 remaining canes growing in an outward direction.

Sealing major cuts with pruning paint, nail polish or white glue can prevent insects and diseases from entering the plant and loss of vital sap. Any cut more than a half-inch in diameter should be sealed.

In practice, your cut should be above a bud eye, the site where new growth appears, which is pointing upward and outward. The cut should be made a quarter-inch above the eye and angled at 45 degrees down and away. The new stem will then grow outward. If you can’t find a bud eye, follow the strategy of cutting the cane back about one third.

Climbers require different pruning. Many of them will flower only on second year laterals. If these canes are removed, there will be no flowers that year. I follow the philosophy of stripping all the leaves and pruning back only growth that has extended beyond intended confines. Of course, any damaged or dead canes should be removed.

Many of us put off all that can be put off, but to only keep up with yesterday. Don’t put off pruning your roses, volunteering for community service, or reminding your family that they are special.

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

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