Pruning Bush or Dwarf Roses – And now to the pruning of roses that are not newly planted. I warn those who are not interested that it is a complex subject, but if it is any inducement to the reader to read on, I will be as brief as possible, if only for my own sake, for the printer is clamoring for “copy,” and, alas! How, and where shall I begin? What does the amateur first want to know when he is told how to do anything in the garden? Why does he want to know when to do it?
The best time to prune all roses that are commonly grown as bushes is, in the southern and south midland counties, the third week in March. An exception is made in the case of Tea roses, the pruning of which is deferred until the first week in April. But nowadays, Hybrid Teas and true Teas are so much mixed up that even the rose expert-and by this I mean the professional who grows nothing else but roses-even he is not sure to which class some of them belong.
As proof of this I could mention several roses that are classed in one catalog as Teas, and in another as Hybrid Teas. I say this because the true Teas are not so hardy as the crossbred or Hybrid Teas, and while one may not prune the true Teas until April, the others are pruned in March. But perhaps this is a futile point and not worth laboring.
In the northern and north midland counties roses are pruned a fortnight later. In the descriptive lists given at the end of this chapter will be found the names of numerous roses for the amateur, and in many cases, particulars of the required pruning are given, so that here I need not enter into details of the varied pruning suited to different sorts. This knowledge, indeed, is only to be acquired by a wide experience among the different classes of roses, so I shall confine myself, to an explanation of the principles and practice of rose pruning generally.
Let us first consider bush or dwarf roses; those most commonly grown in this form are Hybrid Perpetuals, Hybrid Teas, and Teas. It is among these classes that the amateur will find the best roses for garden display and for cutting. Apart from a knowledge of the characteristics of each variety, which I cannot here attempt to convey, the pruner should first acquaint himself with the habit and manner of growth of each sort.
Some grow much more strongly than others; some grow erect; others are inclined to spread, and so on. Such an acquaintance will give the reader a clue as to whether he must shorten the shoots a little or much. In any case, the first care is to cut out all growths that are soft and bend easily to the touch; these are quite useless. Then, all thin and weak shoots that obviously can never bear a decent bloom are to be cut out, and those that have grown towards the center of the plant are either cut out or shortened to a bud that points in an outward direction.
If they can be spared, they are cut away altogether. The experienced rose grower aims at keeping the center of his plants open, and this is accomplished by cutting every growth to a bud that points away from the center. This is quite one of the most important items the pruner has to bear in mind, and makes all the difference between good and bad pruning.
Then comes the great question of, How long shall we leave each growth? It is much more easily asked than it is satisfactorily answered. Something depends upon the -aims of the grower. If he likes to have a tidy rose garden with each shoot more or less in its proper place and to have. fewer blooms of good quality rather than many blooms of fair quality, then all growths of, say, the thickness of a lead pencil or the little finger, are cut to within 3 or 4 buds of the base.
If quantity rather than quality is the end in view, then such growths may be left 6 or 8 buds long. In plain words and figures, I cannot get nearer to a precise explanation of my point; in fact, I feel I am rather foolish to attempt so much. But having done it and having no eraser at hand, I will let it go, trusting to the intelligence of the reader to make up for what I am lacking in clear description.
Growths that are not so thick as a lead pencil are cut back to within two buds of their base. In this case, it does not matter whether you want many or few flowers, for you may think yourself lucky to get any at all! If you are fortunate enough, by good cultivation, to get growths on the roses to which the pencil standard does not apply then, if you cannot by the law of averages judge how long to leave them, I advise that you call in the nearest qualified gardener to help you out of the difficulty.
These remarks apply to the Hybrid Perpetual and the Hybrid Tea roses. The pruning of the Teas is so simple as scarcely to need doing at all. Not to continue in a paradoxical strain, they are generally so well pruned by the winter that the gardener’s knife is scarcely required. The stronger shoots are cut to within four buds of the base, and the weaker growths to within two buds.
If as many blooms as possible are wanted without regard to size and form, then the strongest may be left two or three buds longer. But I would strongly advise the amateur who values the expressed admiration of his friends and really wishes to see his roses at their best, to prune hard rather than leave the shoots too long. It is certainly a case of ” spare the knife and spoil the rose ” so far as most of the roses commonly grown are concerned.
Light pruning, as a rule, lays the foundation of a rose that is bare at the base and full of weak, spindling growths at the top. It certainly does so if the grower does not prune hard the first year or two. All things considered, I shall pose as an advocate of hard pruning, for I have found that the average rose lives longer and gives more blooms worth having than a rose that is lightly pruned.
H. H. Thomas