Rose Care FUNdamentals for January 2020


Happy New Year! This month I’m going to help you get ready for the major late-winter pruning that garderners should do in mid- to late-February. I’ll provide details on pruning in my February column. Gardeners are welcome to join me for an in-person rose care workshop at Rose Haven Heritage Garden, 30592 Jedediah Smith Road, in Temecula, Saturday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to noon. Bring your questions.

In this area – the corridor from Riverside to San Diego – this major annual pruning should be done around mid-February. It resets the plants’ biological clock, acting as a wake-up call to begin a new life cycle. Gardeners can expect the first flush of blooms about 10 weeks after pruning.

As much as they’d like to have blooms as soon as possible, gardeners must not jump the gun on this. Some gardeners think pruning in December or early January will give them a head start on flower production, but that’s a delusion. First, even if January brings exceptionally warm air temperatures, the soil will still be quite cold, so the roots and stems will not be “revved up” for much active growth – the head start won’t amount to much. More importantly, if early pruning is followed by a hard frost they’ll probably lose the tender young growth and have to prune again. Will the remaining canes be long enough and have enough stored energy for vigorous spring growth? Will they have enough outward-facing buds? Probably not. Simply stated, pruning too early will set back stem growth and flower production and can ruin the chances of strong, well-formed plants.

I think you’ll be able to hold off after experiencing the recent storms that brought plenty of cold rain and freezing –or near freezing – nighttime temperatures to the Temecula Valley. Next week’s weather forecast for the Temecula Valley and other inland valleys is for some rain in most areas and lows in the 30s. In the Temecula Valley, the last average frost date is March 31, so it’s probably safe pruning in mid- to late-February. Of course, it’s always a gamble. The best advice is to watch the weather.

But this month is the time get those tools ready. Gardeners need a good pair of “bypass” hand pruners that fit comfortably in their hand. “Bypass” pruners have a sharp curved cutting blade which slices through the cane and a dull curved non-cutting blade which holds the cane in place during the cut. The sharp blade “bypasses” or slides over the dull curved blade. This style is in contrast to pruners that have a sharp flat blade that comes to rest against a flat dull blade; toss those pruners out.

At minimum, also have at least one pair of sturdy loppers handy. Each size has a maximum diameter it can cut efficiently. Using pruners or loppers that are too small on a too-large cane can damage both the tool and the cane. A hand saw with a narrow blade can also be handy if the garden has some older plants with large canes that may need to be removed.

All tools should be kept clean. Rubbing alcohol and cotton balls are ideal for cleaning cutting blades, before and during the job. This treatment helps prevent disease transmission from plant to plant and it can be used it as first aid on any personal cuts, scratches and punctures too. On that note, a good pair of leather gloves is necessary with long sleeves or separate pair of sleeves to protect the gardener’s arms.

Before starting the job, apply a little light oil, such as 3-in-1 oil, to each tool’s moving parts and make sure they operate without resistance. Sharpen each blade with a small diamond file, which is available at garden centers, trying as much as possible to match the original bevel of the blade. While actually pruning, swipe the file over the blade a few times every 100 cuts or so to keep it sharp. If a gardener notices that their pruners are crushing the stems or leaving a tail, it’s past time to sharpen them. To minimize damage to the cane, keep this rule in mind: The sharp blade should always face the part of the plant that will be left. This position will minimize the crushing of the cane or stem as it will be the part that is discarded. This rule also works for preparing stems for arranging or putting into a vase.

January and February are excellent months for planting new roses in the valley. Still, gardeners can usually wait until March to plant and still expect the roots to form relationships with beneficial soil fungi and become showstoppers as early as May, well ahead of the summer heat. Potted rose bushes will be optimal for late plantings.

For now, be thinking about adding one or two new roses to the garden in spring. Roses offered for sale are rated by quality. I recommend buying only No. 1 roses – they are the surest guarantee of success, with all horticultural methods employed to provide satisfaction – don’t waste time and money on anything lower. Higher quality plants have a higher chance of success, require less effort and acclimate faster. Also, the cost of any rose is a very small fraction of what a gardener will eventually invest in that plant over the years in water, fertilizer, pest control and effort, so why not start with a first-quality plant?

Roses may arrive as “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 slower to thrive, and it is best to get them early and planted immediately so they have the maximum amount of time to become established. When planting a bare root rose, be sure to soak its roots in water for 24 hours, then plant promptly. Packaged roses are the slowest to thrive as they have been drastically root pruned to fit into the plastic sleeves. Potted roses make the quickest and most successful transition to the garden, but they also tend to be more expensive and not as plentiful in selection, but as I said, the initial cost will pale against what is put into the plant in the years to come.

Rose plants are beginning to be stocked at nurseries and retailers now. There might be some good values from many sources: local nurseries and reputable online retailers who specialize in roses. New stock will begin appearing in nurseries this month, and online suppliers usually ship in mid-January. But be sure to shop early for the best selection – and if possible, be sure to consult the “American Rose Society Buyer’s Guide,” which gardeners will receive with their annual ARS membership or renewal. I received my ARS 2020 Rose Annual edition a month or two ago, and in my opinion it is one of the best issues published so far. It is full of rose information and tips and new varieties to try.

As I said earlier, I will provide guidance on that all-important annual pruning in the February column. Also, check local newspapers and nursery websites for schedules of hands-on pruning classes at different locations, and the TVRS Rose Society will have hands-on pruning demonstrations Jan. 25, at Rose Haven Heritage Garden, 30592 Jedediah Smith Road, in Temecula. Bring clean, sharp, bypass pruners in good working condition, and be prepared to learn and to lend a hand pruning under experienced direction. It will be a great opportunity to get questions answered, hone skills and boost confidence.

Visit for information on future programs and events in the garden. And spread the joy of roses!