Pruning and Fertilizing Your Roses

Article written by Lynn, our Master Rosarian. 

Well, it appears that spring finally found its way to the Spokane area. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for it. Of course there is a lot of work to be done now that the snow has disappeared, but that is what spring is all about.

The Roger Lambelin Rose
The Roger Lambelin Rose

If you have any questions about that work, just come to our meetings. We would love to discuss any issues you may have. There are always people there who have dealt with various gardening and rose problems or just general spring matters, and you may have something new to us that we would like to hear.

The rule of thumb, not set in stone, is to prune when the forsythia blooms, or the dandelions if you have been blessed with some. That’s not to say you can’t wait longer if the weather doesn’t suit, but that is a general guideline. Since the forsythia is in full bloom in Spokane, you are okay to begin pruning.

One of the questions that always comes up at pruning clinics is “Can you kill your rose by pruning it wrong?” The only way you can do this is if you either “shovel prune,” translated “dig it out,” or if you cut back BELOW a bud graft on the grafted roses.

That said, don’t worry. Even if you cut out something you wanted to keep or cut to a wrong bud eye, you won’t kill your rose. They are quite capable of straightening out any of your mistakes. It may take a few months to have them back to looking their best, but in the meantime they will grow very well in spite of our efforts.

A Pretty Red Rose: Dr. Huey

Dr HueySpokane is known for the lovely dark red roses of spring, i.e. ‘Dr. Huey.’ That is because this is the rootstock used frequently on grafted roses. If the named rose is either weak or not protected properly, it dies or freezes, but the rootstock survives, and if there is a bud eye left on the rootstock when they are grafting the named rose onto it, it may grow, giving you the ‘Dr. Huey’ rose in place of what you purchased.

Unfortunately, ‘Dr. Huey’ blooms only once and then sends out very long, thorny canes for the rest of the summer. If this is your problem, it is best to dig it out and start over. Own root roses do not do this, as they are not grafted onto any other rootstock. What you see is what you get. Spokanites who have not been rose society members or gotten information elsewhere do not know this and naively continue to think their rose is the original.

How to Prune Your Rose

Pruning is done by cutting about a quarter inch above a bud eye at a slant of around 45 degrees. You don’t need to be precise, as roses are not going to measure the angle, but cutting too close to the bud eye may cause it to be damaged and therefore not begin to grow, leaving a stump which will die back to the next bud eye.

You don’t want to cut way above the bud eye, either, as that leaves an unsightly stump, but again, if you happen to cut wrong, you can correct it. Generally speaking, you should look for a bud eye that is directed outward to give the rose bush a more open center for air circulation, but one person at the pruning clinic asked about a rose that wants to grow more horizontally, and in that case, if it isn’t a ground cover rose, you can prune to an inward facing bud eye.

Correct pruning of your stems

See how easy that is? It’s all in getting out your pruning hardware, putting on the gloves and going at it! Experience is your best teacher, and for the timid, come to the meeting and express your concerns. Go for the pruning cut on the right, and your rose bush will love you for it.

After you prune it is good to use a fungicide on your plants to protect from blackspot and powdery mildew. Over the years we learn that powdery mildew can be more easily cured, but blackspot can trouble you throughout the year, as it is more difficult to eliminate. If you prefer the organic method you can try GreenCure® which is a sodium bicarbonate product. If you have had problems with blackspot in the past try Spectracide Immunox Multi Purpose Fungicide Spray

Concentrate might be what you want to try. It has to be applied every two weeks, but it won’t wash off, and after the weather warms up and your roses are looking healthy you can probably eliminate the spraying, as we are fortunate in the Spokane area not to be plagued with high humidity and abundant rainfall. But having said that, blackspot is better prevented than trying to control it. Check with your local garden store for products that will help with that.

Fertilizing Your Roses

Fertilizer of the organic kind can be applied any time of the year, but it is best to wait for new growth to get well underway which shows you the soil temperature is right for accepting the nutrients in granular fertilizer. My fellow editor and friend, Rich Baer, said in the Portland Rose Chatter bulletin of April 2019:

I have seen suggestions that it is a good idea to fertilize when the pruning is finished, but again it is not something that I would recommend. If you are going to use strictly organic fertilizer, it is fine to apply it at any time of the year. It will remain dormant in or on the soil until the soil temperature exceeds 50 degrees when the soil bacteria will begin to digest the organic fertilizer and release the fertilizer elements into the soil for use by the plants.

By the time the soil reaches 50 degrees, the roses will be growing vigorously and will be able to use the nutrients released from the organic fertilizer. If, however, you are using a fertilizer like the Portland Rose Society’s 15-10-10, I would suggest that you wait until about the middle of April before any applications are made. The chemical fertilizer will dissolve whenever water is present in the soil.

If there are rains, the ingredients in the fertilizer will move down into the soil into and beyond the root zone. If the plant is not actively growing at that time the elements will be lost to the groundwater and will provide nothing positive to your roses. So, wait for that first application. Your soil will have plenty of available nutrients for the new rose growth without you worrying that they will develop deficiency symptoms.

Portland’s weather is not as severe; in fact, Rich starts pruning in February, maybe earlier, so you can just add a month onto his advice and wait until probably mid-May when our soil temperatures are 50 degrees. And while I don’t have access to the label, I would assume Portland’s fertilizer has some micronutrients as well.

Still, a good granular fertilizer will get your roses off to a good start.

And here is another idea for you if you can spare the time. A number of years ago we had a member, Irene, who lived in the Hillyard area. I visited her at least once at her home, and she told me something she always did. She froze her banana peels and then in the spring, thawed them out and made a slurry with them in her blender and poured this around her rose bushes.

Why do we eat bananas? A good source of potassium. This slurry is organic, so we are just adding one more organics to the soil. So it was very interesting to me when I was reading through the Philadelphia Rose Society April 2019 newsletter, edited by Bill Kozemchak, to find an article written by Carla Zambelli about that very thing:

“The formula for the smoothie is: I collect a bag of banana peels and keep them sealed in a plastic bag in my freezer until I use them. Then I rough chop the peels and toss into the blender with whatever spent coffee grounds I have on hand and a couple of cups or so of very warm tap water. (I never drink flavored coffee and I would never recommend using artificially flavored coffee grounds. I don’t know how the artificial flavor chemicals would affect the plants.) The consistency of this smoothie for rose bushes should be on the thick side, but pourable. I don’t take my blender outside I pour the goop into a plastic pitcher.

I then go around to each bush and dig a few ounces in around the base of each bush. I have a standard sized blender and only a few rose bushes right now, so one batch of rose smoothie is all I need every time I do this. I used to dig the peels in around the base of each bush, but given the critter population living with woods and farmers’ fields I have developed the rose smoothie which I dig in around the base with a small spade I use to transplant seedlings.

“I will feed my roses this concoction every two weeks until Labor Day. Sometimes I am not so religious about this as I have a large garden, but I try my best.”

I always throw the coffee grounds out on my vegetable garden rather than just disposing of them, so using them on your roses would be okay as well.

According to Google, who knows everything, banana peels contain phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper, and each cubic yard of coffee grounds (that’s a lot of coffee grounds!!) provides 10 pounds of nitrogen (0.09% available). And if you don’t want to put the coffee grounds on your rose beds, you can add them to the compost pile, providing bacteria the energy they need to turn organic matter into compost.

This is a busy time of year, for sure. If you have placed an order for new roses, either at Northland Rosarium or from somewhere else shipping barefoot roses, you probably have already received those.

This week has done a lot toward getting the soil ready to receive the rose bushes. Be careful about falling for good prices on packaged roses, as there is no telling how long they have been sitting in a warm place without water. For every story about that little miniature they got at a grocery store that grew like crazy you will hear many more about poor growth habits or early demise.

Just be careful!

Lynn

Damage from Rose Girdlers

Resurrecting this 2014 article…

Last fall (2013) we got hit by some suspicious bulges on a couple of our roses. Our Eddie’s Jewel, completely unaffected by our winters, was hit rather hard by these things. The entire cane above the bulge typically dies. I didn’t see any of these on any of our mini rose, nor on any of the “old garden” roses. It turns out that we were zapped by Rose Girdlers, a type of beetle (actually the larva.)

A friend of Lynn’s sent the following: “the damage appears to be that of the rose rose girdler, a buprestid beetle that girdles the canes right under the bark. The tell tell sign is the swollen areas and the girdling inside the stems. The larvae are very distinctive. They are usually flattened dorso-ventrally and the thoracic area is flattened and enlarged. Overall, the larvae look like a car key.

“Unfortunately, these beetles are hard to control. Protective insecticides would need to be applied when infestations are really bad. Some of the insecticides with a long residual action have been taken off the market so there isn’t anything good out there that I would recommend anymore.”

So I did a little googling of the buprestid beetle and found a few things. Most of them seem to attack trees, but the method is the same. The adult bores a small hole, lays an egg, and the emerging larva eats away at the soft, yummy tissue under the bark. The rose reacts by swelling st the point of injury, but that doesn’t seem to do much.

The adults seem to be harmless, other than drilling holes where they are not at all wanted.

Here’s some info that I found on these things:

  • Various pics of the larva. I didn’t see any of these in any of the cuts I made, just the damage left by them.
  • This PDF has a lot of info on wood boring beetles in general, including some idea on controlling them.
  • Bug of the Week has some nice info on these guys, as well.

Pics of the Damage

I don’t have any pics (yet) of either the adults or the larva. Hopefully our cold winter killed them off. Most of them anyway.

Click them images for a larger view. All of the pics below were from one plant, though several others were also affected. Sometimes they seem to attack a joint (where it branches off) and sometimes mid-cane.

Rose girdler damage
Rose girdler damage

Note the ring bulge and the tiny hole in the pic below. Is that the entry point? Where the egg was laid?

Rose Girdler entry point?
Rose Girdler entry point?

My poor rose…

Rose Girdler damage
Rose Girdler damage

And some tracks…

Rose girdler tracks
Rose girdler tracks

Bringing Your Roses to the Rose Show

Resurrecting an old post, with some good info:

I’d bring roses to the show, but….

Yes, you’re not the first person to say that, so hopefully some tips for deciding which roses you want to bring and how to cut and prepare them will convince you that this year is the time you will actually do it. (Go here for the Rose Show info.)

Autumn Splendor Mini Rose

Always make sure your rose bushes are well hydrated. Water, as my mentor Sylvia McCracken would say, is the most important fertilizer you can give your roses. Dry soil stresses the plant, making it more susceptible to disease and insects and it also leaves the bush without the substance, the leaves aren’t healthy and vigorous in appearance.

As you wander through your rose garden you notice that you have a rose that is starting to open up. Buds do not bring awards at a show, but sometimes we get early roses – at least that is true for your editor. Normally I am fortunate if I can get miniature roses ready for the 4th Saturday of June, but with our show this year a week earlier I am seeing more color than I had imagined possible.

Okay, you see the rose. For hybrid tea “one-per-stem” blooms you don’t want any sidebuds. If you were not watching for this and see some side growth but think the bloom is worth showing, try snapping if off with a sideways pull. Or after you have cut the bloom, using a razor blade or very sharp knife you can carefully cut out the side growth so it doesn’t leave a stub.

That is not to say I haven’t seen roses shown in national shows with stubs sometimes ¼ to ½ inch long, but that is not what you want to have.

Amadeus, Large Flowered Climbing Rose
Amadeus, Large Flowered Climber

Removing those side buds when they are just forming helps to keep the main rose standing straight, but right now we are more concerned with just getting you past the fear of bringing roses to the show.

The ideal time for cutting blooms is early morning or early evening when the rose has a lot of moisture, but roses do not always reach their ideal cutting stage at these times.

If a bloom is ready in the middle of the day, go ahead and cut it. Just bring it into the cool house right away. One never knows what will become of that rose as it develops.

What you are looking for is a rose where the sepals have come down and the bloom is starting to open. For roses with a lot of petals you can wait for it to open up more, but with a rose with, say, 25 petals or so, that one will continue to open and be a fully open bloom before it ever hits the show table.

Even then, all is not lost, as we have classes for fully open blooms. To be classified that way you need to see the stamens. When any stamens are visible, that eliminates the rose from the exhibition form Class 20. Practice this during the summer, and you will soon see how rapidly the different roses open up.

Apricot Twist Miniature Rose

As you cut each bloom, place the blooms in a bucket of warm water that you carry out to the garden with you. Do not cram too many in the bucket at one time as you may tear some of the foliage. Cut enough stem length to allow for cutting off another half inch or so when you are conditioning the roses.

Another thing I like to do is make some strips of paper on which I can write the name of the rose. Especially with mini roses, it’s amazing how much alike they can look when you have a container of them. Wrap the paper strip around the neck of the rose and affix it with a pin or tape. Be sure, however, to remove it after you have recorded all the pertinent information on the entry tag. Judges don’t like it left on, believe me!!

For miniatures, if you have an old shoebox, you can make holes in the top and insert orchid tubes. Fill them with water and use freezer tape strips for recording the names of the roses right where they sit. Next year you just pull the tape off and start with fresh recording material.

Graham Thomas, a David Austin Rose

So, you ask, what if I see a rose on Wednesday that is opening, and I know it will be fully open by Saturday? (Besides, the rain may ruin the bloom if it is opening well!) If you have room in the refrigerator, this can be done. If the refrigerator is self-defrosting, as most modern ones are, this process will suck moisture out of the bloom, so it is a good idea to protect the bloom.

To keep it from being mashed and misshapen, cut open the side of a Styrofoam cup, and into the bottom of it to allow for the rose stem, slide this around the bloom and then slip a plastic bag over the top and secure it under the cup. Keep the stem in a container of water and make room for the rose so it won’t be bent down. If this means you have to remove some food to take out a shelf, so be it!

To be honest, I rarely do this, because while we have a refrigerator in the shop that is not self defrosting, I have seen it freeze the blooms for me, and that is quite discouraging, believe me! Some roses don’t like being refrigerated. Often red roses will turn bluish, but you will soon learn with some practice.

What does it mean to condition the rose?

Madame Alfred Carrière Rose
Madame Alfred Carrière Rose

First of all, dirty leaves or bits of willow cotton on the leaves will not be well received by the judges. They may also comment if a leaf is torn. Sometimes removing a leaf, if it doesn’t affect the symmetry of the exhibit, is actually better, but lay your hand over the offending leaf and see what the specimen looks like without it. To be or not to be, that is the question! The same thing will apply to outer petals on the bloom later as you enter your rose in the show. More on that later.

After you have cleaned the leaves of a specimen, cut that half inch of the stem off under water, and place it in a second container that is filled with warm water. I like to use a tall container so I can submerge all the leaves and right up close to the bloom. When you have finished conditioning all your roses, place the container in a cool, dark place and allow them to soak up the water and ‘harden off.’ If you have cut these blooms a couple of days before the show or more, you may want to refrigerate them to keep them from continuing to open, but if it is just the day before, leave the container in this cool, dark place until you are ready to transport them to the show. Some Flora-Life in the water is good for the conditioning period, too.

Okay. It’s show day. What do I do now?

Morden Sunrise, of the Canadian Series of Roses
Morden Sunrise, of the Canadian Series of Roses

Rose show schedules were sent out to all the email members earlier. (We will also have some available at the show.) This will help you understand the show a little better. When I first became a member, not only was showing roses scary, but we had color class shows, so you had to know the color class, the name of the rose, the type of rose, all that good stuff. Now all you have to do is know the name and class of the rose, which isn’t difficult.

Look over the schedule. Class 20 is for hybrid tea exhibition form blooms, meaning one bloom to a stem at the perfect stage. That is generally considered ½ to ¾ open, depending on the number of petals. As I say, you don’t want to have stamens showing, but you want the rose to be opening.

Picture a triangle. You want the rose a little tighter than that, or by show time it will be past that stage, as the rose will continue to open as the room warms up, but this is what the judges look for in form. When you look down on the rose from the top you don’t want to see a confused or double center. Often just working with the rose with a small artist brush you can move the petals around where they are supposed to be. That’s perfectly okay to do.

The Roger Lambelin Rose
The Roger Lambelin Rose

Okay. This is your first time at a rose show, and I remember being very nervous, but have no fear. There is any number of people there willing and able to advise you. This is a fun hobby, and while we all want to win, if we see a good rose, we want to see it exhibited in the best way possible, so don’t hesitate to ask for help when you arrive at the show.

A good example was Sue Wilmoth’s Mini American Box last year. She had some absolutely stunning ‘Biola Centennial’ roses and didn’t know what to do with all of them, so we suggested using some of them in Class 45, which is a geometric pattern. Wow! So look again at the schedule and see what the challenge classes require.

Getting Them There

"Cat Tales" Winner of the Mini Keepsake Award
“Cat Tales” Winner of the Mini Keepsake Award

Transporting roses to the show is easy when you are entering a local show, because you don’t have to worry about coolers and orchid tubes and the like. You just need to be sure you have a way to keep your container upright, and. It is best to drain away a lot of the water, too, so you don’t have more outside the container than in as you travel.

You will probably find that some of the classes you planned for certain roses no longer fit. Maybe the rose opened too quickly. Well, enter it in the fully open class. Maybe you have more than one of a particular variety. That’s where the challenge classes rescue you.

The Velvet Touch Picture Frame Challenge requires one exhibition form bloom and one leaf set. So even if you have a gorgeous rose but find the stem is too short or the leaves don’t look good, try that class. There are also classes for both large and mini roses in a bowl (Classes 15 and 48).

As you place the rose in the vase, take the time to gently dry the leaves and make sure they are clean. Did you know if you use just your fingers and rub the leaves it gives them a shine. Again, it’s that little extra that makes the difference in the eyes of the judges. Don’t rub on any oils, though. That disqualifies the exhibit!

Fill out the entry tag, being sure to fold it so your name is hidden. Secure it to your entry with a rubber band that is provided by the rose society. Place it in the proper class on the show tables, and then go test something Ruth’s Catering has to offer.

That will settle your nerves until judging is over and – hey, what’s that? An award?? Guaranteed, next year it will be much easier, but one thing is sure: You can’t win if you don’t enter, so make this year the year you try.

Yes, there are probably things I failed to mention here, but you can be sure there will be an answer by a fellow exhibitor at the rose show.

Come on in and we’ll be happy to help. -Lynn

Links to more info:

What is This Rose?

Resurrected from 2013…

This is a small rose in our garden, and I do mean small. So what is this rose? It survived the winter in a large pot. It might get a bit bigger than this, but not much. Cute little thing, isn’t it?

It might hit 9″ under the right conditions. This one’s a bit … short of that.

Cute little flowers, interesting texture. Note the aphid on the right flower.

If you gotta know you can check our facebook page.

Really Big Ants – Modoc Carpenter Ants

Resurrecting an old post, from 2013 …

So we’ve been seeing some really big ants wandering about. Turns out that these are Modoc Carpenter Ants and they look a lot like this guy, except that they’re about 3/4″ long. They’re pretty distinctive, just from the size. If you see really big ants wandering about, it’s them. We’ve seen at least a couple inside the house, and several, including flyers, outside.

Our Senske guy told us about the ants.  Apparently a lot of them came in on the big winds we had a few days ago and they’re all over the place. Here’s the winged form, which had the misfortune to connect with the stuff that Senske sprayed around the house (for pest control.) It’s about the size of a dime, maybe 3/4″ long if hale and hearty.

These guys like to nest in wood. They have a primary nest, usually near a moist area, and then some to many satellite nests in the area. Your wood frame house can be host to such a nest. They don’t eat the wood, but the do tunnel through it and that includes through the wood structure of the house.  What do they eat?  It isn’t wood or your socks, it’s small bugs, spiders, millipedes, aphid sap, pet food, and various other items.)

They also like wood piles, dead tress, stumps, probably live trees that have frost damage, and so on. As you might guess, having wood piles next to the house isn’t such a hot idea.

The will eventually build big colonies, but they do not do it quickly. So if you see them about you have time to decide if you have an issue or if they’re just scouts looking for some lunch for the colony. The links below will answer any other questions about these guys.

Here’s some additional info: