Welcome to the March 2001 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see "Other resources on this site". To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only.....not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose. Thanks!
HOT NEWS! I'm sure there are many of you who are aware of Brent Dickerson's work in unravelling the complex and often misty history of the Old Roses. Well, as of March 7th, 2001, the newly updated Volumes I and II of The Old Rose Advisor are available from his publisher! The following is quoted, in slightly edited form, from the publisher's web site:
"This is the improved, enlarged Second Edition of the breakthrough classic work on reblooming old roses. It provides the most complete listing of all of the existing or otherwise important or interesting varieties of those opulent reblooming old roses. This improved edition of a modern classic will be a welcome addition to the reference collection of any lover of roses, horticulture, or horticultural history!"
Volumes are available to browse by clicking on the cover images. Thank
you, Brent, for your hard work!
Pruning the Old Garden
It is getting to be that time of year again, and we have to get out there and prune the roses. For me, however, it always seems like one of the more joyful tasks of the year, likely because it signals the oh-so-tangible arrival of SPRING!
At left: 'Erinnerung an Brod', a climber.
There are major differences in how to approach pruning of the Old Garden Roses, as opposed to Hybrid Teas and other modern shrubs. This is especially true of the once-blooming types, such as the Gallicas, Damasks, Centifolias, and Albas, to name a few. With these, the single most important thing to remember is to PRUNE AFTER THE BLOOMS HAVE FINISHED! If you remove the previous year's wood, you are removing the blooms for the spring! It is most important to know what type of rose you have, and to determine how to prune it correctly. There is nothing more sad than seeing a magnificent Gallica or Damask that has had all of its previous year's growth cut down to stumps. I see this happen, and I think of all the hundreds of blooms that the rose MIGHT have produced if it weren't for a careless pruning job. Removal of the previous year's wood means few or no blossoms!
At right: 'James Mason', a Gallica hybrid.
Another important thing I like to emphasize is that the older roses generally have their own inherent form and growth habit as they develop. Personally, I think it is VERY important to let the rose grow WITHOUT PRUNING for at least the first 2 years after planting. 3 years is even better, and it will allow you the opportunity to observe how the shrub grows before you make any decisions about how to prune it. (Naturally, you are still going to dead-head old blossoms, and remove dead or damaged wood) It is a good idea to allow the shrub to generate its natural infrastructure before you start manipulating it. It's easy to start pruning a rose when it is too young and ruin its future shape. These shrubs have been bred to mature into a pleasant shape with a minimum of interference, and it is wise to allow them to grow as they wish to best display this form.
Once Blooming varieties: The general rule is to prune these immediately after the blooms have finished for the year. In my experience it is best to dead-head the spent blooms (unless the rose naturally forms hips, in which case you may want to allow these to grow) and remove some of the oldest wood to allow the younger shoots to take over bloom production. In many cases I find that the oldest canes eventually age to the point where they produce fewer quality blooms, and I like to remove some of these on a mature shrub every once in a while. With some roses, like the Gallica 'Cardinal de Richelieu', pictured at left, the main canes tend to be productive for 3 or 4 years, and then should be removed to generate stronger growth.
Also, if you are faced with the choice of either pruning a limb, or training it horizontally instead, choose the latter option. Most of the older roses respond extrememly well to having their long canes trained horizontally, which translates into MUCH heavier bloom from that cane. Instead of having a cluster of blooms from the tip of the cane, you will get multiple clusters form at many places along the trained canes. This is something that is often done with the climbers, (both old and new) and some of the tall Hybrid Perpetuals and Bourbons. Another variation on this theme is called "pegging". In this case, you simply take the long canes and bend them down till they touch the soil, and pin them down with wire or some other pegging device. (I usually make my own by bending sections of heavy wire into a "U" shape) This style of training is done with one year old canes, before they become too inflexible to bend. As with horizontal training, the rose will produce many more blooms along the length of the canes than it would otherwise do.
Altough this is not technically a pruning tip, I suggest that you get out and clean up all of last year's leaf debris. Also, remove any of last year's foliage that might still be hanging on the plant. This helps to reduce the Mildew and Blackspot spores in the garden, and goes a long way to preventing these diseases during the coming season.
Here is a short list of suggestions for pruning specific classes of the older roses:
At right: a Damask named 'La Ville de Bruxelles'
At left: 'Gloire de Dijon', a Noisette climber.
At Right: an unnamed Gallica grown from seed.
At left: 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain', a climbing Hybrid Perpetual.
And please remember not to believe everything you hear about pruning.....there are some practices that have little or no basis in truth: you DON'T need to seal the pruning cuts with glue or sealant. We prune thousands of roses at the local rose garden and don't seal a single pruning cut, and yet we don't see any disease or insect damage resulting from our practices. There is no reason to believe that it makes the slightest bit of difference whether or not you make the pruning cut at an angle or not. They say it prevents moisture from staying on the cut surface. Well, if you think about it, those cuts stay wet whenever there is rain or dew, no matter what angle you cut at, so you can disregard that one too. A little knowledge goes a long way with pruning.....and if you are unsure about what you are doing, err on the side of NOT making the cut!
Oh, and by the way, buy yourself a good pair of Felco secateurs and good leather gloves. Updating your tetanus shot isn't a bad idea either if you haven't had one in 10 years.