By Brenda Viney, Vancouver Rose Society Member
It’s been a tough winter for our gardens…semi-hardy shrubs and plants are not looking too healthy and may have to be replaced this year…and the same goes for some roses! The only things looking really good are all the spring bulbs just coming into flower now and many of the perennials I have growing along with my roses.
I have spent the past two weekends pruning my 180 (now closer to 160) roses and am finding quite a lot of damaged and dead canes. One garden bed in my front yard in Coquitlam has 36 roses in it…24 of them are cut to within 1-2 inches from the soil. Why? Because the canes are totally dead – they are a very dark brown or even blac ... BUT, about 2 inches up from the ground I can see live green canes so I know I’m okay in most cases. However, there is the odd rose that has been cut back and there are no new shoots emerging and nothing is green – this means shovel pruning will take place in early May to get rid of the dead plants and I’ll have a chance to buy one of the newer “must have” plants as replacements. So…there is always an up side to a bad winter!
How do you tell if a cane is dead? When you cut a cane, look into the middle of the cut end – the “pith” is the soft, spongy core located in the centre of the stem. It is encircled by a ring of woody tissue and then an outside ring of bark. The pith must be a nice white colour – like the inside of an apple, to indicate good health…if it looks off-colour at all (beige or darker), then continue to cut the cane down until you see good white colour. If you’re at all in doubt, just leave the cane and you will know by the end of April or early May if the cane is still alive or not as new shoots emerge – just cut the dead part of the canes back to just above a new shoot. I look at my roses weekly right now to see how they’re coming along and if no activity is seen by the end of April or early May, that will likely indicate a dead plant and out it will go.
What do you look for in new growth? Look for little “red bumps” starting to grow from existing canes or from the 1-2 inch high pieces you have left after severe pruning. These bumps will become new canes on your plants and will start to emerge as the weather warms up…after all, roses really want to grow and have to do a lot of growing to bloom in June, their typical peak season.
What else can you do for your roses in April? Roses are really looking for heat, fertilizer and water at this time of year. Mother Nature will provide the heat and water…you just have to apply some fertilizer this month to bring them out of their long winter sleep and kick-start them into their growth spurt for the year. Any fertilizer will do – all garden centers offer a variety of organic and non-organic rose food. Simply follow instructions on the box and remember to water the ground before AND after applying the fertilizer. The best way to do this is to wait until Mother Nature brings on the rain and fertilizer in between showers – all the watering will be done for you!