Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Good Time for the Roses


February is often blessed with drier weather and clear sunny days as the days get longer, and although we nearly always get a covering of snow, it is very refreshing to find a good gardening task to keep you active and enjoying a bit of fresh air. We seem to be back into mild winters so roses will take advantage of this and will want to start growing, so do not delay the essential task of pruning. Once this is completed we can do our soil cultivations, feeding, planting and replacements and tying in climbers to their supports.
If you go by the book you should not prune during frosty weather, but if you don’t have a book don’t worry about a wee bit of frost or a covering of snow. The roses will be fine and clearing out the old wood, removing weak growth and trimming over vigorous shoots will keep the bushes healthy. Rose pruning on a frozen soil was always an easy task as the soil never got muddy or damaged and I’ve never seen any ill effects on my bushes.


Floribunda, hybrid tea, patio roses and other types of a similar nature all get the same treatment. Start by removing any dead wood and weak non flowering shoots. Then try to cut back any older shoots if they have a younger shoot growing up from the base which can be retained to replace it.
If the bush is vigorous and has a lot of stems thin some of these out especially in the centre to allow air to circulate freely when it is in full leaf. Finally cut back all remaining shoots to an outward pointing bud taking off about one third of the shoot. This is a generalisation as all varieties have slightly differing growth patterns, but the principles are good for most bush types.
Shrub roses are different and do not need intensive pruning as they are usually planted where they have plenty of room to grow, so just cut off straggly shoots to keep the bush tidy, otherwise let it grow as it wishes.
Ramblers are often trained along fences or up walls. They flower on long shoots produced the previous year. After flowering these shoots are removed right back to the base and the new young non flowering shoots are tied in as they produce the following years flowers.
Climbers are pruned the same way as bush roses, but are allowed to form a semi permanent framework against a wall or fence. This framework continually has older wood removed to allow younger shoots to replace them but over several years.


There are always new varieties to try out and nowadays with precious little chemicals available to the amateur to control diseases many of our previous great varieties are not worth trying as they are too prone to blackspot, mildew and rust. I have thrown out many of my favourites such as Golden Showers, L D Braithwaite and Blue Moon as blackspot virtually wiped them out. Rose growers say we should spray every two weeks throughout the growing season, but we do not have access to the same chemicals as commercial growers, then what if we are on holiday, or suffer wet summers where the spray just gets washed off by the next shower before it has a chance to work.
There are many varieties with strong healthy foliage, so grow these and forget the others. Roses with strong colours are back in fashion so let us hope the breeders are giving us healthy new rose varieties.
If you are replacing roses from an existing border you need to remove the old soil and put in fresh soil to prevent rose sickness. Always cultivate deep and add compost or manure to the ground before planting.

Cultivation and Feeding

After pruning give a dressing of fertiliser then add a heavy mulch of compost to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. Worms will slowly incorporate this into the soil where it will break down and improve the soil fertility. Roses have a lot of feeding roots near the surface so I prefer not to cultivate existing beds other than for weeding.

Plant of the week.  Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

By tradition it is the snowdrops that let you know winter is ending and spring is just around the corner. However we can no longer use them as our guide. Last year’s winter was so long and cold that snowdrops didn’t flower till mid February, while this year it has been so mild that they started to flower in December, but it is still really fantastic to see the first garden flowers appear.
A few years ago I wanted to paint them as they stretched above a carpet of snow into the sunshine. I have a large drift of snowdrops planted among my red stemmed cornus. I needed to take a photo looking up into the flowers, so had to lie on a sheet of cardboard over the snow with the camera at ground level to get the perfect picture.
Neighbours thought I had gone loopy, but my photos resulted in some excellent paintings.
Snowdrops enjoy growing in a woodland setting with moist soil rich in humus, but need good drainage. They will grow in sun or shade and are easy to propagate by splitting up overcrowded clumps and replanting into drifts just after flowering.
The best local places to see them are at Cambo Estate, Kingsbarns in Fife, and Gagie House at Duntrune just north of Dundee.


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