January is prime time to plant roses

Happy New Year! This is shaping up to be the driest season ever recorded in California. Combined with mild daytime temperatures you might get restless to get out there and prune your roses, but don’t jump the gun! Nights are still quite cold and if you prune too early the cold may just kill off the tender new growth that is stimulated by pruning.

Let your roses rest a little longer and consider January your chance to plan your pruning schedule. I’m thinking we should prune the weekends immediately before and after Valentine’s Day this year. That will give us the 8 to 12 weeks necessary for the first bloom cycle, coinciding with our annual Temecula Valley Rose Society (TVRS) Rose Show which will be held on April 26.

Even if you’ve never entered roses in a show before, I encourage you to consider it this year. It’s actually a lot of fun, and if you come to TVRS member meetings in the months before the show, you will receive many helpful tips on how to prepare specimens for show.

I will provide detailed guidance on major pruning in my next column. Also, I will be giving free pruning demonstrations at Rose Haven Heritage Garden every Saturday in January and February starting at 9 a.m. at Rose Haven located at 30592 Jedediah Smith Rd. (the cross street is Cabrillo Ave.) in Temecula.

January and February are excellent months for planting roses in the Temecula Valley. 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. Most nurseries and retail suppliers also have websites where you can order roses. (Mail order plants tend to be fresher, as they come from 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, dig up any rose you want to replace. If the rose appears to be in good health, consider potting it and donating it to the Temecula Valley Rose Society for our spring sale at Rose Haven, and, if possible, label it with its varietal name.

If you have a rose to donate, contact me at [email protected] If you plan 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 you dig in your rose garden should not show standing or pooling water. If they do, you’ve got a problem that isn’t going to be solved by planting a new rose. You can try digging deeper to see if you can break through that layer in order for the water to percolate away. You can also apply a “soil buster” product available at local stores that specialize in soil conditioners. You may also apply some gypsum powder at the bottom of the hole, in hopes that it may help loosen the clay.

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 your 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. The long lasting, slow breakdown/release of the fertilizer will make nutrients available by the time the soil warms up in spring. Before you place 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, you can 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 – what you’ve provided is plenty. You will provide additional fertilizer after the first growth is 2” to 3” long.

For more ideas, visit TVRS’ Rose Haven garden at 30592 Jedediah Smith Rd. as well as TemeculaValleyRoseSociety.org. You might also want to visit our section at Meetup.com to find events of interest to you.

Spread the joy of roses!

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