Time to prune

  • Curtis Short prunes a Hot Cocoa rose bush in Windsor, on Thursday, December 27, 2012.
    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The rose revolution began in 1995.

German rose breeder Noack Rosen introduced the first flower carpet roses to the market, groundcover "wonder roses" bred to produce up to 2,000 flowers per season and marketed as drought-tolerant and carefree.

The pretty roses began popping out of formal gardens and private yards and into public landscapes. But these forgiving roses, planted to dress up drab places like gas stations, banks, supermarkets and even freeways, often go untended. They might look okay from a distance driving by, giving home gardeners the false impression that roses don't need to be pruned after all, says Curtis Short, a Santa Rosa licensed landscape contractor and aesthetic pruner. But they do, and January is the time.

"While the roses along Highway 101 may look great from a distance at freeway speeds," said Short, "they probably would appear quite uruly by our back door."

Pruning your roses, whatever they they may be, will not only produce tidier plants, but will stimulate new, stronger, better-flowering growth and eliminate the nasty old stuff that harbors pests and diseases, he said.

Before Valentine's Day

So put on a long-sleeved shirt and gloves and grab some sharp pruning shears and make a date with your roses. The Sonoma County Master Gardeners recommended doing it by Valentine's Day. If you prune later than that, you risk knocking off new shoots.

"I love people to get out there and tackle their roses rather than letting them go because they feel like it's too complicated to do," says Short. "All roses are very forgiving about pruning."

When pruning large rose bushes, your objective is to take out old, weak and sick canes. Cut them cleanly at the base, then shorten the remaining stems by removing at least the top third of the plant, says Short.

"You might want to leave more if you have a floribunda or old rose variety," he said. "But with vigorously growing hybrid teas (the most common bush roses), you can cut the height down by half or more."

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