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How to ensure a rosy outlook in your spring garden

Prune your roses now for great blooms in the spring.
Prune your roses now for great blooms in the spring. UC REGENTS

Q: My roses are looking sickly. Is there anything special I should do for them this time of year?

— Chelle Mueller, San Luis Obispo

A: Many Central Coast gardeners look upon winter as a time to take a break from gardening, choosing to spend the colder, shorter days inside with a fire and a good book.

There are some chores, however, that cannot wait for spring. For example, a few hours on a dry January day spent tending roses might determine the success of the rose garden for the upcoming year.

A crucial part of rose care is proper pruning. In most of our area, this can be done in January, although in areas that tend to freeze, you can wait until after the last chance of frost.

Pruning accomplishes several things: dead and diseased tissue is removed from the plant, the plant is “opened up” to allow light and air circulation, flower production is stimulated, and the plant can be shaped symmetrically.

This potentially intimidating chore can be approached with a good attitude and good equipment. Though a rose may be unlikely to die if not pruned well, it may just be less attractive for a year. Clean, sharp pruning shears are essential. Dull instruments make sloppy cuts that can provide entry to disease. A thick, long pair of gloves is essential!

Pruning techniques vary with type of rose. Hybrid tea, the most common rose around this area, should be cut back to three to five stocky canes 10 to 12 inches long. Canes are left longer on floribundas and many other types. Some rules apply to all types:

1. Remove every remaining leaf after the bush is pruned

2. Make clean, angled cuts about a quarter inch above a bud that is facing the direction you want the new cane to grow.

3. Remove all discolored, unhealthy looking wood.

4. Remove all suckers and any canes that cross or rub.

Once the roses have been pruned to your satisfaction, rake the area well and remove all leaves and other waste. Apply a layer of fresh mulch. Now you can go back inside to your book with the knowledge that you have given your roses a great start on the new year.

For more information on rose pruning call the Master

Gardeners, and watch for the schedule of classes on pruning and other topics to be held in our demonstration garden.