Don’t prune roses yet, nights still too cold

Happy New Year! This is shaping up to be the driest season ever recorded in California. That combined with the mild daytime temperatures might get a person restless to get out there and prune their roses, but they shouldn’t jump the gun! Nights are still quite cold and pruning too early can lead to the cold killing off the tender new growth that is stimulated by pruning. Let the rose bushes rest a little longer and consider January a chance to plan a pruning schedule.

My advice is to prune the weekends immediately before and after Valentine’s Day this year. In eight to 12 weeks, one can expect their first bloom cycle.

I will provide detailed guidance on this major pruning in my February column. I will be giving free pruning demonstrations at Rose Haven Heritage Garden in Temecula every Saturday in January and February starting at 9 a.m. The address is 30592 Jedediah Smith Road (cross-street is Cabrillo Avenue). Spread the word and spread the joy of roses!

January and February are excellent months for planting roses in our area. Roses planted now have mild conditions and plenty of time to establish their root systems and form relationships with soil fungi so they can become real show stoppers in the garden as early as April.

A wide selection of roses are available this month and next at home improvement centers and nurseries.

Whatever the source, roses usually come in one of three forms: “bare root,” potted, or packaged. Bare root plants are just that, usually packed in wood chips to keep the roots damp and viable. They are the slowest to thrive and it is best to get them early and planted immediately so they have the maximum amount of time to become established. Potted roses make the quickest and most successful transition to the garden.

First, one should dig up any rose they want to replace. If the rose appears to be in good health, consider potting it up and donating it to the Temecula Valley Rose Society (email me at roseguy2000@aol.com for information on doing that). If one wants to plant a new rose in place of one that did poorly, it’s a good idea to assess the spot. Does it have good drainage? Many gardens in our area have a very dense layer of clay beneath the topsoil that can prevent drainage.

Even with ample irrigation, holes dug in a rose garden should not show standing or pooling water. If they do, there is a problem that isn’t going to be solved by planting a new rose. One can try digging deeper to see if that layer can be broken through for the water to percolate away. One can also apply a “soil buster” product available at local stores that specialize in soil conditioners. Also, one can apply some gypsum powder at the bottom of the hole, in hopes that it may help loosen the clay. (In any case, it can’t hurt!)

Now, if you dig the hole deeper to improve drainage, you’ve created new challenges: loose soil reintroduced into the hole will tend to settle with each watering. Also, if the soil is high in clay, packing it down can press out air pockets and make the soil less permeable to water, oxygen, and roots. To avoid these problems, fill the hole with a good potting soil formulated for roses, and mix in some organic fertilizer that is slightly higher in phosphate into the soil.

The long-lasting, slow breakdown/release of the fertilizer will make nutrients available by the time the soil warms up in spring. Before placing the new plant into the hole, press the soil down firmly to a depth that will place the “bud union” or base of the plant 1-1/2 to 2 inches above the soil line (if the new rose is grafted, that is).

If it is a bare root rose, form a cone of new soil in the middle of the hole and spread the roots evenly over the cone.

If the rose is potted, place it, pot and all, temporarily in the hole and fill soil in around it, gently tamping the soil with your hands; then carefully lift the potted rose out of the hole, remove the pot, and insert the pot-shaped root ball back into the hole.

There is no need to apply any additional fertilizer at this time – this is plenty. It won’t be time to provide additional fertilizer until after the first growth is 2- to 3-inches long.

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