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Make the cut

The right way to prune roses

Rose pruning not only encourages the production of plenty of strong, healthy new stems and lots of beautiful flowers but it also helps to minimise the risk of disease as well as to create a well-formed plant of open growth and handsome proportions.

How to prune?

This is perhaps the thorniest question. While a certain amount depends on the type of rose, a great way to start is by following the simple rule of the three Ds, which means using a sharp, clean secateurs or loppers to remove any dead, diseased or dying wood.

So any branches that are black/grey/dark brown/obviously discoloured and brittle, or any that show signs of injury/chafing or callousing as these, much like a cut on your finger, could potentially allow disease to infect your rose plants.

For the same reason remove any branches that are crossing/rubbing up against one another as well as any obviously spindly or weak branches.

It’s also important to remove any suckers that may have appeared at the base of grafted rose plants. Slim, pliable, and typically very thorny, these branches grow from the vigorous wild rootstock (the bit of the rose plant below ground) on to which many modern types of roses (the bit above ground) are grafted. Left to their own devices these fast-growing rogue stems will eventually take over, resulting in a rose plant utterly unlike the ‘top’ variety you originally chose for its showy flowers or its attractive repeat-flowering habit.

But don’t try cutting suckers away. Instead you need to gently dig down to expose the spot where they are growing from the rootstock, then pull them cleanly away. But bear in mind that while suckers are a common problem with grafted rose plants, they are a natural part of the growth habit of many species of roses (for example, the popular hedging rose Rosa rugosa) and don’t need to be removed.

Next question is how much healthy growth to prune away, a decision so intimidating to a certain sort of apprehensive gardener that they can be tempted to cast away their secateurs and run for the hills.

It’s almost impossible to kill a healthy rose bush through poor pruning. Instead the worst that you’re likely to do is to temporarily disfigure it until it grows back. Some kinds of roses benefit from a moderately hard late-winter/early-spring routine maintenance pruning, some prefer a lighter trim while others prefer to be left alone at this time of year.

The age of your rose plant is also relevant to the kind of pruning you should give it. Young plants need what’s called formative pruning (to shape them) while older plants need routine maintenance pruning unless they’re really old and neglected, in which case they will need to be pruned pretty hard to lick them back into shape.

To minimise the risk of diseased pruning or old rose leaves infecting healthy young growth on your rose plants, it’s best to collect and bag them rather than placing them on your compost heap.

For the same reason clear away any weeds or fallen leaves from the base of the plants before finishing off with a soil and health-enriching mulch of well-rotted manure or organic matter, making sure that it doesn’t make direct contact with the stems.

irishtimes.com


 

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