Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

January is time to prepare for pruning

Frank Brines

ARS Master Rosarian

Happy New Year – let's hope for ideal rose growing weather for 2023. We finally got a December with the needed winter chill to help rose have a dormancy period.

This month I'm going to help you get ready for the major late winter pruning you should do in late January to late February. (I'll provide details on pruning in my February column.) To get you started before that, plan to attend the Temecula Valley Rose Society's pruning demonstration Saturday, Jan. 21, 10 a.m. to noon at Rose Haven Heritage Garden (30592 Jedediah Smith Road in Temecula, just a few blocks north off of Temecula Parkway).

Participants should bring clean, sharp, bypass pruners in good working condition, and be prepared to learn and to lend a hand pruning under experienced direction. This will be a great opportunity to get your questions answered, hone your skills, and boost your confidence. You may also wish to check local newspapers and nursery websites for additional hands-on pruning classes.

Be patient about getting the itch to start pruning your rose bushes. As much as you'd like to have blooms as soon as possible, don't jump the gun! Some gardeners think pruning in December or early January will give them a head start on flower production, but that's risky. 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 – your head start won’t amount to much.

Second, and more importantly, if early pruning is followed by a hard frost, you'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 you have enough outward-facing buds? Probably not. Simply stated, pruning too early will set back stem growth and flower production and ruin your 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 near freezing night-time temperatures to the Temecula Valley! This week's weather forecast for the Temecula Valley (and other inland valleys) for the next two weeks is for chances of rain in most areas and lows in the low to mid 40s with an occasional high 30s.

In the Temecula Valley, the last average frost date is March 31, so you're probably safe pruning any time in February. Of course, it's always a gamble. The best advice is to watch the weather!

Late-winter pruning resets the plants' biological clock, acting as a wake-up call to begin a new life cycle. You can expect the first flush of blooms about 10 weeks after pruning.

But this month, get your tools ready! You need a good pair of sharp “bypass” hand pruners that fit comfortably in your 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 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 you have some older plants with large canes that may need to be removed. A “keyhole” saw works well for this.

Clean your tools – and keep them clean! Rubbing alcohol and cotton balls are ideal for cleaning cutting blades, before, during and after the job. This helps prevent disease transmission from plant to plant and you can use it as first aid on your own cuts, scratches, and punctures! (On that note, a good pair of leather gloves are necessary with long sleeves or separate pair of sleeves to protect our arms.)

If a major cleaning is needed, use WD40 and 0000 steel wool; if necessary, disassemble and soak for 15–30 minutes, wipe clean and reassemble. Lubricate your tools with a light oil such as 3-in-1.

Be prepared for the after pruning task by buying copper fungicide dormant spray now. Dormant spraying roses will help ward off rust and mildew from roses in the coming season. December and January are the best times of the year to apply dormant sprays.

January and February are excellent months for planting new roses which are in garden centers now. There are many sources: local nurseries (Armstrong and Walter Anderson) 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 your American Rose Society Buyer’s Guide (which you will receive with your annual ARS membership or renewal). 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 summer heat. Potted rose bushes are best for these late plantings.

Roses offered for sale are rated by quality. You want only #1 roses – they are the surest guarantee of success, with all horticultural methods employed to provide satisfaction – don't waste your 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 "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 slow to thrive and it's best to get them early and plant immediately so they have the maximum amount of time to become established. (When you acquire 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, and I've detected that many nurseries will pot up bare root plants immediately upon arrival to stores so inspect those selections. But as I said, the initial cost will pale against what you put into the plant in the years to come.

So, spend this month getting ready for “The Big Prune” and I will provide guidance on that all-important annual task in the February column.

Visit for information on future programs and events in the garden.


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