Valentine’s Day Reminds Us It’s Time to Prune Those Rose Bushes

Ms. Grow-It-All

Q: My rose bushes are quite overgrown and bedraggled. How and when is the best way to prune them?
A: The best time to prune roses in our area, which is USDA Zone 8b, is mid to late February. Spring comes early here — if you welcome the seasons using a standard calendar — and our dormant plants start waking up weeks before the snow melts in northern regions. Pruning triggers new growth, so time your cuts to take advantage of the local change of seasons.
The easiest way to remember when to prune roses in Northwest Florida is to think about the connection between roses and romance, and what a boon St. Valentine’s
Day is for florists.
To get the job done with minimal injury to you or the rose bushes, you’ll need a few standard tools. First, make sure you have a thick, sturdy pair of gloves to protect
your hands and arms. Thorns are the bush’s natural protection, and they do their job really well. Gloves are available that are made specifically for handling roses, but a set of heavy fireplace gloves works well, too. Just make sure they cover your forearms. If you’re pruning on one of those beautiful warm February days, resist the temptation to wear short sleeves.
You’ll need a hand-pruner to cut most stalks, called canes, as well as long-handled loppers for cutting the larger, thicker ones. Most cutting tools are either bypass, which means one blade crosses over or “bypasses”
the other to make the cut, or anvil, in which the two blades meet to make the cut. Bypass cutters tend to make cleaner cuts than anvil cutters, but either will work.
Make sure your cutting tools are sharp; otherwise, you’ll tear the canes instead of cutting them, which not only looks ratty but also invites pests and disease. If you don’t have sharpening tools, or the inclination
to tackle the job, many garden centers offer tool-sharpening services for a nominal fee.
In addition, you’ll need a bucket with a 5 to 10 percent bleach solution — bleach and water — so you can dip your pruning tool into the bucket after every cut. Using 5 or 10 percent bleach is a matter of preference:
Because roses tend to be susceptible to fungus, I tend to use the stronger solution
to make sure I’m not spreading spores or other disease that might be on the canes.
Remove spent canes all the way back to the ground, cutting first the dead and damaged
ones and then any that are crossing and rubbing. The spots where two canes rub create ideal places for disease to gain entry. Make sure you remove the dead and damaged canes from the middle of the plant, as well as the outside, because this will allow more sunlight to reach the middle of the bush and improve air circulation.
Try to remove no more than one-third of the canes in any one year.
Once you have removed the dead and damaged canes, you can start to shape the overall plant. Cut back the healthy canes to the height you prefer but no lower than 18 inches, and prune to achieve the shape you desire — round, vase-like, whatever. Throughout the year, you can do minor touch-up pruning to keep the bush in shape and healthy, but save any major whacking for the next February.

» Anytime, plant cool-season vegetables such as lettuce and
other salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets,
onions, spinach, collards, turnips, kale, carrots and radishes.
» Plant potatoes in mid-February.
» Prune roses in February.
» Prune dormant trees
such as crape myrtles.
» Plant fruit trees.
» Get soil tested for spring planting beds; amend as test indicates.

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