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Heirloom roses

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#1 Sal's slips

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 11:45 AM

I have 12 or so rose bushes that are over 50 years old.  They are really looking scraggly, way too tall and thin.    I have a couple that are at least 12 -15 feet tall.  I plan on prunning them early this spring.  How much should I leave?  What is the best time to prun?  I wondered if we get a warm spell in February or early March if that is too early.  When is the best time to prun roses?  I really would hate to lose all of these bushes since they've been here longer than me.

#2 Margaret Thele

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 04:04 AM

Warm spells in Feb - March are fine. I'm in no way a rose expert and perhaps someone else will chime in but you won't go wrong if you prune out the weakest and dead canes , up to 30% of the plant and the plant will not suffer a setback.

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#3 Janet Macunovich

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:04 PM

I agree with Margaret, and often prune climbers and shrub roses in a thaw to take out the dead and weak wood. However, it's better, we hear (that old devil, "ideally") do it RIGHT before the rose was about to begin growth.

(We keep trying to capture rose pruning in pictures: What's Coming Up 88, What's Coming Up 157, Chopping for Roses)


But whatever you do, your pruning will probably help your cause and the roses' appearance and probably NOT do any real damage even if you do something "wrong." My basis for this thinking:


Move those roses as soon as you can dig. They will probably hardly notice.  ...they're a lot tougher than we give them credit for. - Nancy Lindley*, Great Lakes Roses -


Not to say you should move them -- just saying that you can probably do whatever and not worry, given that Nancy who grew probably 100,000 roses in her career, most of them own-root "old" roses, always said 'do what you will, when, they're tough! '

This climber's big, but only about 15 years old and
we prune it pretty hard, pretty often.




Pruning roses -- when and how -- is a topic just full of conflicting expert views. Expert A says always cut this way, at this time. Expert B says no, only at this other time. Yet both Experts have live, thriving roses!


Blue arrows mark the cane I'll cut out after bloom because
it's oldest and least productive -- too straight up and down
so that it doesn't have many "breaks" on it, breaks being
the side branches that bear flowers. Red arrow is a weak
cane we'll take out. We cut both at ground level then train
in or cull out the shoots that come after our pruning.



When she was teaching at our gardening school** and moderating on that school's Forum, Nancy Lindley and I talked about conducting this experiment in one of her growing fields where we could give different pruning times a true test:

We imagined pruning one row of rose X one way, and do something different/time it differently for the next row of rose X.

Then we might see whether the advice to prune only once the weather was settled in spring, was really worth heeding. 


I've never seen repercussions on the roses we prune in winter thaws. And when we asked Niagara Falls horticulturist in charge of 150+ roses who she had for help during the rose pruning time in early April, she echoed what other harried public garden staffers have said to us, "I can't get to all of these at the ideal time! I do it when I can. Some of those over there, I didn't get to until June last year."


Yet it could be that a test like Nancy and I imagined might show that there is a 10% better growth rate, or better flowering if you do one or the other. In some cases, then, that 10% might make enough difference that we'd knock ourselves out to do the clipping at the perfect time.


Nancy and I didn't get to that test, though. Spring is the prime pruning time and so at least part of such an experiment would have to be done then. Yet spring is also a headlong rush for those of us who make a living in this field. So doing the keep-the-records science is tough, especially then.


Which is why the tenet "do it when you can" rules!


*Wish we still had Nancy Lindley here, but am also glad to say she and husband Roger retired... to Thailand! We email now and then and certainly she still remembers all those years growing acres of roses but life's a lot different there!


**We closed the school after a 12 year run, because of brick-and-mortar expense issues; GardenAtoZ.com is our school, now!

#4 Margaret Thele

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Posted 07 February 2013 - 03:22 AM

Too bad Nancy can't chime in via internet - she was such a great voice on rose questions...

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