Spring Rose Care

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
For many Oklahoma gardeners, springtime means roses! While roses typically have the reputation of being finicky and hard to maintain, this does not have to be the case. With attention given to proper variety selection, roses can be a fine garden plant when given a reasonable amount of care.

Following are a few spring care tips for established plants gleaned from OSU Fact Sheet
HLA-6403 Roses in Oklahoma.

Pruning is regular part of rose care. The timing and level of pruning is somewhat dependent on the type of roses you are growing. For hybrid teas, an aggressive spring pruning this time of year is important. Begin by removing all canes that appear unhealthy. Continue pruning by removing additional canes to open up the canopy so adequate light and air can reach all parts of the plant. Finally, cut the remaining canes back to initiate new growth. This should leave you with 3-5 canes from 6” to 24” tall.

Landscape and heirloom (or old garden) roses can get by on less pruning. It is still important to remove any canes that appear damaged or diseased and open them up a bit by removing a few excess canes. They can also be pruned back for shaping but not to the extent of hybrid teas.

Pruning for size on spring flowering ramblers and climbers should be delayed until immediately after flowering. When pruning all roses, pay close attention to the position of the leaf bud on the remaining cane and prune so that the last remaining bud forces the plant to grow in the direction you choose. As larger roses grow, remember to anchor them to whatever structure they are growing beside as these plants lack any means to anchor themselves. A long cane left to fend for itself in our Oklahoma winds will not be happy.

For gardeners with several roses, make it a habit of sterilizing your pruning clippers before moving from one plant to the next if any disease problems are suspected. A can of Lysol works well for this, as does a dilute bleach or alcohol solution.

Roses should be fertilized for the first time around the first week of April. Premature fertilization can set the plant up for injury should we get a hard late spring freeze.

The best way to combat disease is to plant resistant plants and always water at the base of the plant instead of an over-the-top sprinkle. Wet foliage is a primary breeding ground for fungal diseases that attack roses.

Lastly, the thinking is evolving for the care of roses suffering from rose rosette virus. Even though the roses will eventually succumb to the disease, it might not be worthwhile to remove the entire plant. Symptoms include an excessive number of thorns, contorted shape and form of leaves, and more red color that usual. Remember, many roses express red color with new leaves; look for the other issues as well before thinking you have the disease.

Rose rosette virus is transmitted by a microscopic mite that can easily move from plant to plant via your gloves or pruning equipment. Carefully place a plastic bag over the afflicted area and prune it out, cutting well below the first signs of obvious damage.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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