Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's February and Time to Prune Roses

'Joseph's Coat' rose

Ask rosarians around here and you will find out that February is the month to prune roses. Exactly when in February is a matter of opinion. Some people do their pruning around the first of the month. Others wait for Valentine's Day or Presidents Day. Others won't touch their roses until the last days of the month.

Why does it matter? Pruning stimulates growth. Plants respond to being cut back by releasing growth hormones and new shoots follow soon after. This new growth is tender and very susceptible to cold damage. A late, hard freeze will kill the new growth and possibly the entire plant. Therefore, you want to hold off until you are reasonably sure the danger of a freeze is past.

Beyond the question of when to prune roses, there's the question of how. The answer is complicated because there are several different types of roses and they are pruned in different ways. Hybrid tea roses are cut back to about 18", shrub roses are pruned to shape them and climbers are pruned primarily to train them onto a structure. Rejuvenating old roses requires yet another technique. As always, I refer you to the book, Pruning and Training, for specific directions.

If you live in the Seattle area and want hands-on instruction, consider attending Plant Amnesty's rose pruning class on February 13. The cost is a reasonable $15 for non-members (less for Plant Amnesty members and horticulture students). You'll learn the proper way to prune your roses and have a chance to ask questions before trying this at home.

Keep in mind that rose pruning varies considerably from region to region. What works in the unique climate of the Northwest is not applicable to other parts of the country (or world for that matter). If you live outside the Puget Sound region, check with your local horticulture professionals for advice.