December CR Report

by Cher Frechette

Well, winter weather finally arrived just around Thanksgiving with 3-4 days of freezing night temperatures in the mid to high twenties. Up until then, the roses probably thought it was spring with the rains and warm temperatures in October, so there were lots of blooms right into late November. Actually though, the recent cold weather and frosts were really a good thing as they edged the roses towards dormancy. As much as you might want the roses to keep producing blooms right up until winter pruning, they really do need to go dormant and rest for a while so that they are energized for a nice, big spring bloom. And, forcing dormancy in our Mediterranean climate is just not that easy. So, hooray for the frost!


Right now we should basically be involved in two processes – trying to encourage dormancy and general cleanup. We should not be encouraging any new growth on the rose bushes. Typically we have stopped our monthly fertilizing in September so as not to encourage new tender growth, which will be killed by frost. Also, we should not deadhead low as we do in the summer months. By “low”, I mean the practice of cutting off old blooms down to the first leave with 5 leaflets or lower, which encourages a new shoot and new bloom. If you still want to deadhead now, just snap or cut off old blooms right under the bloom. This will usually not encourage new growth. An alternative is to tidy up old, unsightly blooms by removing the petals and leaving the hips. This latter process will also help to encourage dormancy. Cleaning up fallen leaves, petals, and blooms on the ground around the roses is also a good thing to do at this point as any fungal diseases on the leaves will overwinter and will start up on new leaves produced in the spring. Old blooms which may have fallen on the ground may harbor bad insect larva, like those of the rose circulio. Discard the diseased leaves and fallen blooms, don’t compost them.


If your rose bushes are just not going dormant, you can always pull off all of the leaves. The plant won’t be able to photosynthesize the sun and will become dormant. Of course, this may be too much work for all but the rose obsessed, like me. Nevertheless, you should at least pull off any leaves that are showing signs of bad fungal infestation. It is never good to have diseased leaves hanging around during the winter.


One last thing. You may hear some people say that they prune their rose bushes down in the late fall to tidy them up for the winter. This is not correct. When you prune roses, you are telling them that you want them to start growing. Not what we want right now. There is one exception – if some of your taller roses have extraneous, long canes higher than the rest of the canes, you can prune them high to be around the same height as the other canes. This is because canes that flare up high above the plant can get whipped about by the winter winds and rainstorms. This can damage canes and the pulling can sometimes actually dislodge the roots of the bush.


Finally, once you have gotten your rose garden ready for winter, it’s a wonderful time to sit back and peruse those rose catalogs and Internet sites for exciting new roses! Assess which roses in your garden have not performed well for you or have been really prone to disease, and think about shovel pruning them. You can spend the winter dreamily thinking about beautiful replacement roses. Relax and take some time off from your garden. The work of pruning will be upon you sooner than you think!

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