Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Above, Rosa 'Harison's Yellow', grown from a cutting in a container. It's living happily on the 18th floor rooftop garden I tend for my condo building of 100 apartments, New York City. All other rose images in this article are from 'my' same garden. I don't own it but I volunteer to do all the work, from planning, planting, pruning, feeding and deadheading, so I think I've earned the right to call it mine.Calling all Rose Growers.
The forsythia is in full bloom; it’s time to prune and fertilize your roses before they break dormancy. Frost and cold spells vary from year to year so gardening by calendar date is questionable. Farmers and old-time gardeners have learned to watch signals from common trees, shrubs and perennials for planting and pruning clues.

Phenology is the study of these pairings, which of course differ in warmer climates. When forsythia blooms here in the north, it’s time to prune the roses, also time to plant peas if you’re a mind to. Wait to plant potatoes till the first dandelion flowers: beets, carrots, lettuce, and spinach, as lilac comes into first leaf. It’s a fascinating way of observing natural cycles.

Noticing the forsythia yellowing up in the park I ran to break out my favorite rose pruner, a long handled Fiskars Easy Reach pruner that allows me to cut without getting attacked by the dense branches. First stop is a heritage rose ‘Harison’s Yellow’ (aka ‘Harrison’s Yellow’), which blooms for three weeks starting in early May. It remains happily in its container the rest of the year displaying fine foliage. It needs no special care or spraying, just organic rose fertilizer now and then when I think of it throughout the growing season, and of course regular watering. NO insect or disease has ever appeared in its five years in my roof garden.

I prune out dead wood, and shape the shrub by cutting way back on those canes that arch out low into the garden playing space. I don’t want any parent complaining that darling Jimmy has gotten scratched when he grabbed the thorns. I cut tips of other branches to stimulate growth.

Escaping?Below, climber 'New Dawn' trying to escape the confines of the high fence. I leave most of these canes to be enjoyed by eyes looking out from other windows.
She Knows Roses
Pat Shanley, President of the Manhattan Rose Society, and a Consulting Rosarian for the Society offers this advice: “Pruning early allows you an unobstructed view of the entire bush. ….By removing the smallest and weakest growth you allow the plant to send its energy and nutrients to only the strong, healthy canes and emerging buds. It’s a straight forward procedure and once you get over the initial shock of it…. you will be well on your way to a happy, healthy, abundantly blooming rose garden.”My roses happily winter-over in their containers with no special protection, here 'America'.
If one variety can't make it through our blustery climate, I shovel prune, dig it out, toss away, and find one that will.

Pat continues, "Your first order of business is to remove all dead, diseased and damaged wood. Next you need to open the center of the bush to promote good air circulation and reduce the likelihood of fungus diseases and insect infestations. This involves removing the twiggy growth and crossing canes.” On my windy 18th floor roof top air is always moving, even on a calm day, reducing the possibility of the dreaded black spot.

Cut canes on a 45degree angle ¼ inch above an outward facing leaf bump. Different sorts of roses have slightly different needs, so for complete information consult a rose book.
Below, I allow clematis and 'Knock Out' tm to tangle up in one 24" wooden box for an informal look, and snip stems only when they threaten to engulf each other.


Ellen Zachos said...

Thanks so much, OE! You know I'm no rose expert, but I have a few on one of my client's terraces and I'm never sure when to prune. Now I know...this afternoon!

SaraGardens said...

Thanks for this - I'd really better stop dither about which peas to grow now! And it's the perfect nudge to remind my husband to prune 'his' rose, which is way too big for 'our' garden (no, I didn't mean that - it's MY garden... sorry, hon).

Ellen Spector Platt said...

SaraGardens, Any apple tress near you in Brooklyn? Plant corn when the blossoms fall. esp

SaraGardens said...

Mostly crabs here, including one right next door. Thanks for that tip - for now, I'll stick with CSA/Greenmarket corn... no room! (But maybe someday.)

Frank said...

I just pruned way hard my hedge rose, it grows and grows. My wife said it was too big and she is right. But my question is: what do you do with all your thorny, bag ripping clippings?

Ellen Spector Platt said...

NY City Garden, I have no tricks for handling canes, just comfortable leather gloves. If I'm not feeling too lazy, I cut the canes in small pieces, but usually I just let 'er rip.

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