By Linda Peacock, Master Gardener, SCMG
Spring is here! Once the Forsythia blooms it is safe to uncover and prune your roses. It may still be a little chilly, but they are ready to start work on supplying you with glorious blooms for the rest of the season. Give them a little love now and the rewards will be huge!
My first Spring job this year was to plant a few bareroot roses that I had purchased.
Where to Plant your Roses: Considering where to place your rose is important. Roses need 6-8 hours of direct sun to thrive. They do not like wet feet so good drainage is key. They need good air circulation but hate too much wind. If they are planted in a grouping they will attract pests more easily. Tuck them in anywhere they love being with other plants. Choose a spot where you can enjoy their blooms and their fragrance!
The secret to growing roses successfully in our zone is to plant them deep! I can’t stress this enough, if you do this one thing it will simplify your rose growing more than any other job you do. Tags that roses come with and many resources tell you to plant them with the bud union above the ground to promote more blooms – and that is right – as long as you live south of us. If we do that here, we need to spend time going to great lengths to protect them every winter or it will cause our roses to become expensive annuals. I plant mine with the bud union 4-6 inches below the soil level depending on where they are going in the garden. I plant them 6” deep if I know they will not get much snow cover to insulate them. There are many hardy Canadian-bred roses available that are successful in our climate. I recommend that you choose them whenever you can, they need to be planted deep as well.
Prune off any dead or broken roots and trim the rest a bit to promote new growth. The hole needs to be a good size to accommodate the roots easily without bending them to make them fit. I fill the hole with water and let it soak in, then I form a mound in the soil at the bottom of the hole to set the rose on and have the roots rest comfortably around it. Fill in the hole, tamp the soil down firmly around it (being careful not to damage canes or roots) and water well again. This spring is quite dry so be sure to water the newly planted rose well until it is established. Even when it is established it will need 1-2 gallons once a week – more if it is very hot and dry. Water at ground level to avoid wetting the foliage.
Depending on the amount of canes on the rose there may not be much sticking out at this point. That is okay it is safe and snug in its new home and will bloom shortly. I will prune off the tops of the canes of the rose above to promote new growth. More on pruning in a bit. Do not fertilize until after they have their first bloom this year. Next year when it is established you can fertilize earlier. Fertilizing established roses can be done when spring clean-up is completed. No matter what kind you use make sure you water it in well to avoid burning the growing roots. Fertilizer should be applied again just before peak bloom usually early June and for the last time mid-July.
Uncovering and Pruning: I use compost to hill up my roses in the fall, now is the time to remove it gently. You can apply compost or mulch after the ground warms up. Avoid covering the crown of the plant dampness on the canes will promote fungal diseases.
Pruning is important each spring to promote new growth for this season. Do not be afraid to give them all a good pruning. Remove any canes that are damaged, too small to hold a bloom, crossing over other canes or overly large. It should be in a nice open vase shape. Use clean, sharp pruners and be sure to cut back to live wood (showing white pith). Each cut should be at a 45°angle facing away from an outward-facing bud. This will promote growth out and away from the centre of the plant. Most roses are safe to prune to about 5 canes with 5 buds on each cane. Many shrub roses do not need much pruning, if needed remove 1/3 canes to the ground. Below is a rose before and after pruning.
During the rest of the season pruning can be done to encourage continuous bloom as you deadhead your roses. Whether you are removing a faded bloom or cutting one for inside enjoyment, cup the bloom in your palm and prune the stem to just above an outward facing true leaflet leaf, one with 5-7 leaves on it.
Usually at this time of year I apply dormant oil spray to rose canes, fruit trees and the soil around them. It is a mix of horticultural oil and lime sulphur. It kills overwintering insect pests and fungal problems. It is typically applied when the plant is dormant. It is tricky to get the perfect time for application here. The weather should be above 0°C to allow oil to dry and not freeze and have no rain for 24 hours. And the buds can not be showing any pink on them yet. This year, with the warmth we had earlier it has forced the buds to “leaf out” making it too late for me to apply it. If you have some apply it to the soil around the roses even if you are not able to apply directly to the plants.
Epsom salts can be added to the soil around each rose and worked in lightly with your fingers. This will promote strong foliar growth and keep your foliage dark green.
That is all you need to do to get your roses ready for the season ahead. If they are planted deep and receive a good pruning and a few quick additives each Spring they will thrive for you.