The year has just begun and pruning time for the Temecula Valley is nearly over. With the late frost we get, we have until the end of February. The main reason we prune is to reset the plants’ biological clock.
To do the job right one needs to have a range of pruner sizes handy. Each size has a limit to the diameter thickness for which it is most efficiently used; using too small a pruner on too large a cane can damage both. At minimum, have a pair of loppers and a standard-sized pair of hand pruners. If you have some older plants with large canes that may need to be removed, a saw is a handy tool to have.
All pruners should be kept clean, sharp, and in good repair. Rubbing alcohol is ideal for cleaning pruners, before and during the job. It also helps prevent transmitting diseases from plant to plant and you can use it as first aid for punctures and scratches to your skin. A good pair of leather gloves is necessary worn with long sleeves or a separate pair of sleeves to protect your arms.
Before starting the job, lubricate the moving parts with a little light oil (such as 3-in-1 oil), and make sure they operate without resistance. Sharpen each blade with a small diamond file (available at garden centers), trying as much as possible to match the original bevel of the blade. Every 100 cuts or so, swipe the file over the blade a few times to keep it sharp. If you notice that the pruners are crushing the stems and/or leaving a tail, it’s past time to sharpen.
Now, decide what style of pruning you feel comfortable with (Figure 1). I find this works well with the way buds are distributed along the cane. Buds are found in the “axel” where a leaf meets the cane; leaves spiral around the cane at about 1.5” intervals. This places outward-facing buds about 4” apart. If I prune lightly to moderately, and if frost damages the tender young growth, then I know I can still re-prune to the next bud down.
Attempt to leave a domed top to the degree possible so the plant will bush out in a pleasing, balanced manner.
Take a look at your pruners and notice that they have a sharp cutting blade (which slices through the cane), and a dull curved non-cutting blade (which holds the cane in place during the cut). These are called bypass pruners, the only type recommended.
Position your pruners so the non-cutting blade is in contact with the portion of the cane that will be removed, and the cutting blade is on the side of the cut that will remain on the plant (Figure 2). Also, always prune above an outward facing bud with an angled cut (Figure 3).
A word of caution when pruning: look for small nests of hummingbirds, as this is the nesting period for two varieties in our area. Also, if you discover praying mantis egg cases on any branches you remove, find a place to put them where they will be undisturbed and hatch out so you can benefit from the offspring.
Be sure to dispose of all cut off material into your green waste bin and put it on the street. Clean the ground thoroughly of all rose debris. Apply a dormant spray to the plants and the soil surface to ward off diseases. Then add 2” to 4” of composted mulch to cover the entire garden area.
Be sure to visit Rose Haven, located at 30592 Jedediah Smith Road, as well as www.TemeculaValleyRoseSociety.org. Spread the word and spread the joy of roses!