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By Frank Brines
American Rose Society Master Consulting Rosarian 

Time frames for winter rose case


Last updated 1/11/2018 at 10:29pm

Pruning in mid-January at the earliest to mid-February usually strikes a balance between potential frost damage and time to get two or three good bloom cycles in before the brutal summer.

There is no specific timeline for winter rose care, but there are general time frames. For our area, spring pruning should be completed around mid-February. I will provide details on that in my February column.

This major pruning removes canes and branches that are dead or diseased, are in contact with other branches or that pass through the interior of the plant. It also brings the plant down to three to five major canes, each about 18 inches tall. I prefer knee high or 24 inches. It also redirects growth to new "basal" canes and outward-facing buds on strong existing canes. When done properly, this major pruning produces a strong, well-formed plant that optimizes flower production.

Many gardeners mistakenly think that doing their "spring" pruning in December or early January will give them a head start on flower production, but this is a delusion. First, consider that 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 – your head start won't amount to much. And more importantly, if early pruning is followed by a hard frost, you will 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 you have enough outward-facing buds? Probably not. Simply stated, pruning too early will set back stem growth and flower production and can ruin your chances of strong, well-formed plants.

So before you pick up those pruners and launch out into the chilly January air, contemplate the odds of another frost or freeze. The frost dates for the Temecula Valley are mid-November through late March, but we can get damaging frost as late as April. Time your pruning more closely to when the soil begins to warm, the temperatures moderate and the threat of frost is likely past.

Pruning in mid-January at the earliest to mid-February usually strikes a balance between potential frost damage and time to get two or three good bloom cycles in before the brutal summer. New growth will usually appear two to three weeks after the spring pruning and new blooms eight to 12 weeks from pruning – if a cold spell doesn't interrupt.

January and February are excellent months for planting new roses in the Temecula Valley and environs; let's be optimistic that the weather for the next few weeks will be relatively dry and warm so planting will be easier. Still, one 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 heat of summer. Potted rose bushes will be optimal for these late plantings.

Start thinking, for now, about adding one or two new roses to your garden in spring. Roses offered for sale are rated by quality. You want 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 you 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 come to you 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 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, 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 you put into the plant in the years to come.

There are 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. Does that tell you anything? But be sure to shop early for the best selection – and if you have access to it, be sure to consult the American Rose Society Buyer's Guide, which members receive with their annual ARS membership or renewal. I received my ARS 2018 Rose Annual edition a month or two ago, and in my opinion it is one of the best – if not the best – issues published. It is full of rose care information and tips and new varieties one might desire to secure.

I will provide more 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 check the TVRS Rose Society website for their pruning schedule at Rose Haven Heritage Garden, 30592 Jedediah Smith Road in Temecula. Please bring clean, sharp, bypass pruners in good working condition and be prepared to learn and to lend a hand pruning under experienced direction; this pruning class will be a great opportunity to get questions answered, hone skills and boost confidence.

I would like to add to the many comments I have received that there is no specific date on which all rose care is done. There are many elements that more or less determine the proper timing. Weather is the primary element, as it involves not only air temperature but ground temperature as well. I offer what is a generalization of timing for rose care. Unlike holidays, we can't fool Mother Nature and make a specific date on which things in the garden are to be done.

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


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