Get bundled up to go outside because winter starts the time to plant and winter-prune roses! While this may seem like a thankless job in the cold and wet, the wise gardener finds inspiration in knowing that a job well-done now will reward later, and the rewards in spring will be strong, lush growth and rose blooms in abundance.
When planting, there’s only one chance to do it right so take some time to carefully examine the soil and make it “perfect”. Roses prefer a deep, heavy clay loam that drains well but that can be maintained constantly moist. While roses will tolerate most any soil except pure sands, it’s definitely best to attempt to create this heavier soil type.
In heavy clay soils add sand, pumice or river gravel and mix this with well rotted manure or compost and a handful of slake lime. To very sandy soils remove the sand from the hole to at least 30cm to 60cm and replace it with well aged manure or compost which can be mixed with a loamy top soil.
A handful of blood and bone and/or commercial rose food can be worked into the soil in the hole at the same time. Some rose varieties are so hardy that they will survive almost anywhere, even in partial shade.
However, if the gardener wants quality plants that are relatively free from disease, choose a very sunny spot with good air circulation. Many roses, especially hybrid Teas, resent crowding. Give them at least 1 metre between bush types and l.5 metre to 2 metres between vigorous varieties, standards and weepers.
While smaller groundcovers, perennials and bulbs can be planted between roses, they resent anything tall encroaching on their space. For this reason, and because of their special soil and spraying requirements it’s often best to make a special bed for roses if the highest quality blooms and plant health are desired.
This often makes cultivation easier as well. Roses are largely surface feeders so deep cultivation with a hoe should be avoided. Often better results come with the use of a garden fork, trowel or mulch.
When planting a new bush make the planting hole wide enough to be able to comfortably spread out the roots. Container grown plants can be simply slipped from their bags or pots and planted as is if not pot-bound.
On bare root plants rest the roots on a small cone or mound of earth in the centre of the hole and fill in around the roots. The graft should end up being planted slightly below the final soil level. Once filled in, firm down the soil, water in well and keep moist. Prune back to 2 - 3 strong eyes per cane to induce vigorous growth.
On established bushes let their character dictate their pruning. Vigorous hybrid Tea roses can keep 6-8 eyes per cane, sometimes more, while weaker varieties can handle no more than 3 without stress.
Prune each cane to within 1/4 in. above the eye. Remember that the top eye will usually generate the strongest new growth which will develop in the direction that eye is pointing.
At the same time, feed with rose food, compost or manure spread around the bush. Winter prune now through early August for a spring show to warm your heart!
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