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Taking the mystery out of summer rose pruning

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07/01/2002
Taking the mystery out of summer rose pruning

For some reason, the question of when and how to prune roses makes even staunch gardeners quaver. No wonder, since even the "experts" can't seem to agree. Part of the confusion is due to the fact that different types of roses need to be pruned differently. But in fact, there's no mystery involved. To decide when and how to prune your roses in summer, you simply need to ask yourself a few questions. Like botany's dichotomous keys for plant identification, answering these questions in an orderly way will lead you to the right outcome.

First, does the rose in question bloom only once, or does it repeat bloom? Once-blooming roses need to be pruned right after they finish flowering--late June for most of us. This is because they will use the rest of the summer to produce next year's flower buds, which will lie quiescent over the winter, waiting to burst into bloom early the following summer. If you wait until fall, winter, or early spring to prune once-flowering roses, you won't hurt the plant, but you will lose some potential flowers. Since pruning also stimulates growth, making crucial cuts right after flowering gives these roses the chance to use the rest of the summer to produce vigorous new wood early enough to allow it to harden off for winter.

Once-blooming roses include Rosa gallica cultivars, such as 'Charles de Mills' pictured in the main photo above. Also, the other classes of truly ancient roses--the albas, damasks, and centifolias, as well as many hybrid perpetuals, an occasional Bourbon, some modern shrubs, and most species roses flower but once a year. Most of these should at least have spent flower clusters removed at the second five-leaflet leaf below the blossoms. More drastic formative pruning may also be done, if you want.




Like every rose rule, this one has an exception.
Once-blooming pecies roses such as Rosa macrantha 'Waitriana', below left, and species hybrid R. carolina x R. virginiana 'Marie Graebnerie', right, produce showy red or orange hips (fruits) from their flowers.




These are at least as beautiful as their flowers, and they last a good deal longer, often persisting well through winter until taken by birds. I personally am a rose hip fanatic, and I cut them to use in indoor and outdoor arrangements throughout the fall and winter.




If you want to enjoy a spectacular show of jewel-like rose hips through the fall and winter, refrain from pruning once-flowering hip formers until late winter if at all. Stop pruning repeat-blooming hip-formers in midsummer, to allow the showy fruits to develop from late-summer flowers.


Does your rose grow and rebloom almost continuously throughout the growing season? If so, get out your pruning shears or even your hedge trimmers, which you can use to make quick work of shearing back your hyperactive shrub after its first flush of bloom. Vigorous growers and rebloomers, such as the hybrid musk shrub 'Cornelia,' pictured at right,




and the Noisette group (see the photo of 'Lamarque' below left), profit from frequent deadheading and sometimes hard summer pruning. Both the hybrid musks and the Noisettes can be cut back by as much as a third in warmer zones after their first flush of bloom is past. They will reward you with vigorous, dense growth and generous rebloom. Be sure to feed them adequately to support all this productivity.



Likewise, the hard-blooming yet underused polyantha roses, of which 'The Fairy' is the best known example, profit from frequent deadheading as well as removal of thin, spindly canes. This weak growth saps their strength from production of flowers as well as inhibiting good air circulation through the plant and thus promoting disease. Other hard-working polyanthas to look for include 'Petite Françoise', pictured below right, 'White Pet', and 'Coral Cluster'.



Is your rose a climber or rambler? The same pruning rules for once- versus repeat-flowering roses apply here. Repeat-blooming climbers, such as the extremely healthy and hardy 'Leverkusen' pictured at left, profit from prompt deadheading as well as judicious heading back and training during their summer growth spurt. Long, vigorous, vertical canes should have their tips cut off, and then be bent backward in an arc and attached to their support. Roses, like apples, are stimulated to produce flower buds on horizontally positioned wood, which brakes the flow of sap and triggers flower formation.



Rambling roses are a murkily defined but extremely useful as well as underused group of roses. Unlike climbers, which have stiff, vertical-growing canes, ramblers have vigorous, long, willowy growth which tends to either sprawl down a bank or scramble up into a tree. New shoots are continually produced from the base of the plant. Since most ramblers only bloom once, they should be pruned right after flowering. But in reality, most of them are so vigorous that you can count yourself lucky just to get the deadwood cut out of them. Some, like the apricot yellow 'Ghislaine de Felighonde' multiflora hybrid pictured below right, can be tricked into a second flowering by prompt pruning--if you can manage it.



Clear as mud? To shed more light on this thorny topic, see my new book, Growing Roses Organically, just out from Rodale Press and available both from Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble on-line.




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