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Roses - Pruning

( Originally Published 1914 )



PRUNING is one of the most important parts of rose culture; just as it is most necessary to prepare the ground properly and to plant intelligently, so also should one be certain to prune systematically. The whole growth of the plant is changed by the manner of its pruning.

Under climbing varieties rules for their proper pruning have been given, and in this chapter will be taken up the pruning of all the roses contained in the lists. It is an easy matter when the theory of it is understood. Perhaps the simplest and clearest illustration which could be given would be to suppose a rose cane has fifteen buds or eyes on ;it; from these buds or eyes spring the shoots which afterward become the flower stalks of the plant. Now, if this were not pruned at all but the entire cane left, the sustenance received from the roots would be divided into fifteen parts. As a matter of fact the greatest amount would go to the end or top of the cane and to those buds nearest the top, for in all plant life it is more difficult to get the sap to break the buds nearest the base, especially if there is too great a distance from that base to the top of the lateral, limb, or cane.

Roses will differ in growth and the strongest growers will naturally throw out more buds on any given length of cane than the weaker. In addition to this, plants of low, spreading growth, whose canes grow more or less parallel to the ground, do not send their sap as quickly to the ends of the growth as do plants whose canes are more upright. For this reason different varieties require somewhat different pruning, and in the lists are given the number of eyes or buds to which each variety should be cut back, provided, of course, the wood has not been winter killed below the point indicated. Returning to the theory of the sap and the illustration of the cane with fifteen buds : Cut off, say, ten of these buds from the cane and the five remaining will receive just so much more sap and there will be that much more chance of the lowest buds breaking and sending out their shoots. If the cane were not cut, the greater part of the sap would go to the few top buds and the lower buds would be late in growing, some possibly not breaking at all. Nature prunes the weaker varieties by killing back a portion of their wood, thus causing them to throw up strong new canes.

It will readily be understood that the larger the cane and the hardier and more vigorous the plant, the more buds could be left with still a chance for their breaking; conversely, the weaker the variety and the smaller the cane, the less sap would be contained therein and the fewer buds would break and grow shoots in any given length of cane. This is the main theory of pruning Hybrid Tea roses, provided that it is reasonable quality, and not quantity without much quality, that one wants.

The average rose plant in its second year should give from fifteen to fifty blooms, according to the variety, if it is cut back on this principle. Shy bloomers will not give fifteen flowers and the greater number of these will be borne in the spring.

Usually a good bloomer will have three or four flowering periods, the most profuse being in the spring and early fall.

In counting blooms only those with fair stems are considered and the usual amount of disbudding done, the rule being to count every bloom with a stem of six inches or over.

If more blooms of poorer quality are desired, do not prune the roses as far back as suggested below, but they will require a certain amount of thinning after the growing season starts, so that the various shoots do not crowd each other too much; all but the strongest varieties of roses which are so pruned should be staked, i.e., fastened to a stake driven firmly into the ground. In so pruning and staking do not use wire but tie the bushes to the stakes with soft woollen string. This latter course of pruning is usually carried out with roses of the bedding type, on which the blooms are seldom fine enough for cutting; but so treated, the plants form a mass of color and are used for this reason for garden decoration.

Where high pruning is used it must. be understood that with such treatment the stems will gradually become shorter and weaker, and the individual blooms less beautiful than where the plant is cut back by the ordinary method, but there will be a greater number of blooms. In the illustration of Daily Mail pruned high and low, the growth on the plant pruned high was the result of hard cutting back the previous season. If the high pruning is carried out a second year there will not be new strong growths such as those obtained by the low pruning.

The best and usually accepted way of pruning roses for cutting is to prune for the finest blooms. As a general working rule prune the strongest varieties to five buds or eyes, about six to ten inches, on the main strong canes, the small weaker canes being cut to three or four eyes, about six inches.

A plant can always be made to grow in any given direction by cutting to a bud which leads in that direction; e.g., in order to spread the plant, if the fifth eye is on the inside of plant, cut to the eye above if it is a large cane, for the eye above is on the outside of the plant; or if the wood is somewhat smaller and weaker cut to the outside eye below. In this way the plant will be spread out and the shoots will not all crowd together on the inside, as would be the case in cutting to inside eyes. With weaker varieties cut to three and four eyes on the stronger-growing canes, and to two and three eyes on the very weak ones. Each of these buds left on the cane should throw up flower stalks.

In addition to this main theory, there are one or two other points which it is necessary to consider in pruning plants. They should not be too much crowded and the best way to prevent this is by cutting out the weakest growths. At first it may be somewhat difficult for one to be sure which canes should be removed, but by watching the plants after growth is started this will soon be understood. An absolute rule cannot be given for the number of canes to be left, but there must not be too much crowding, particularly in the center of the plant. All dead wood should also be removed. This can be easily detected and it should be cut back to the live wood, care being taken not to injure the bark of the latter and to make a clean, sharp amputation.

Where there is any doubt it is easy to cut high, and later prune low if the buds do not push properly.

The rule has sometimes been given to cut away everything until the pith shows white. The method quoted is preferable, as it is often difficult to judge the condition of the pith and it is easy to prune low later, no harm being done by leaving the cane longer; this is equally true of climbers.

Quite a number of varieties have the unfortunate habit of throwing out one or perhaps two very large growths on one side of the plant, the opposite side being correspondingly immature and weak. In such cases, in order to balance the plant, particularly for succeeding years, cut back the one or two large growths very "wickedly, " one or two eyes being the proper distance. Cut out all but the best of the remaining weaker stems, and after growth has commenced do not allow the stalks on the strong canes to get beyond control. This treatment will serve to equalize the growths on such plants.

In England, where the cold does not kill back the canes so far, the Hybrid Teas are pruned to a greater number of eyes. Pemberton, for example, advises leaving Caroline Testout from two to three feet, but in our climate this rose would be killed back to a foot or less and in the north to an even greater degree.

Pruning is usually done after the main body of frost has left the ground. Where frost does not occur pruning should be done at the season of the year when the buds commence to break; even in climates where there is no frost, roses will have a dormant season, and just before the buds begin to break will be the proper time to prune in these localities. Usually in such climates the dormant season of the rose is the time during which it does not get any water, that is, during the dry season. With the return of the rams the dormant plant commences further growth. This refers, of course, to climates in which there is practically no winter, i.e., no frost.

In the spring pruning it will sometimes be found that canes of the weaker varieties have died back after a very severe winter to a smaller number of buds than above noted or given in the lists, though these exceptions should be rare. If the wood has died back to any extent it will be necessary to prune to the first good bud or eye below the winter-killed portion without reference to the number of buds, even if the cane is shorter than that left by the usual system. This information is a general working rule. There are some few varieties which, on account of their peculiar growth, should receive special treatment, and to cover this point thoroughly the number of eyes to which each should be pruned is given in the lists, the number referring to the strongest canes; on the weaker ones, of course, cut to a less number of eyes.

In order that the rules for pruning may be more thoroughly understood the system is illustrated in Figs. 29 and 30 herewith given. The first is a Hybrid Tea rose which was not pruned in the spring but was allowed to develop. The second is the same plant properly pruned.

Fig. 29 shows the plant photographed after it was taken from the ground. On stem "A," in particular, it will be noted that none of the lower buds have pushed but that the top buds are well developed. This carries out exactly the theory that on a long, weak stem the sap will go to the top buds. To properly prune this weakest stem it should be cut off to two buds as is shown in Fig. 30. On stem "B," which is somewhat stronger, it will be seen that the lower buds have pushed, owing to some extent to the fact that this stem is not so long. Fig. 30 shows that stem "B" is pruned to the third bud, which is on the outside. The first bud is dormant and does not show clearly in the illustration. Cane "C" on Fig. 29 should be pruned in exactly the same way, cut to the third bud on the outside, and this is done in Fig. 30. Cane "D" in Fig. 29 is undoubtedly the one which should be removed, as it crowds the center of the plant, and in Fig. 30 this stem has been cut out. Note how much more space is left for the balance of the growth, particularly for the strong lowest shoot of "E." "E" in Fig. 29 should be cut to the fourth bud on the outside, and this is shown in Fig. 30. "F" is undoubtedly the strongest cane and on its whole length the young shoots have started vigorous spring growth. Cut "F" to five eyes as in Fig. 30. Had this plant (Fig. 29) been pruned in the early spring the dormant buds on "A" and the lower buds on "B" and "C" would have been forced into growth, but as the stems were left long, the sap went to the top of these weaker-growing canes. If cane "F" had been somewhat larger, and "B," "C," and "E" had been as small as or smaller canes than "A, " the plant would have been too one-sided and it would have been necessary to have cut "F" back, certainly to the third bud, which is on the outside, possibly to its lower bud to equalize the growth; but in this instance the three remaining canes in the center, "B," "C," and "E," are nearly as large as "F," and the cane "A" by being cut back to its second eye should 'throw out strong growths, as the two buds remaining will secure all of the sap of this stalk.

These instructions are given for general work to secure the greatest number of fine blooms. Naturally, if a person wishes exhibition blooms, and is willing to be satisfied with only a few of these, after growth has started and the shoots have broken, he should again go carefully over his plants and cut out all weak growths, keeping only the most promising shoots of the most vigorous canes. It will generally be necessary, in order to secure this result, to cut back to two shoots, but with a particularly vigorous and promising growth leave more, in which case, however, cut off the weaker growths below—in other words, following out the first theory, the fewer buds the more sap to each.

The English custom for exhibition varieties, as a general rule, is to wait until the flowers have been formed and then to cut out such growths as are not required, mainly because they are not promising, and to allow all the vitality contained in the sap to go to the blooms which are left. Such blooms, receiving all the nourishment, tend to be larger and more perfect than the average flowers. However, they do not surpass the average bloom recommended to any marked degree, and they cut down the number of flowers so greatly that they are not worth the sacrifice they entail except for exhibition purposes.

The bush should be carefully and thoroughly pruned according to the rules given above, an additional and very necessary point being that the cut ought to be made not less than one-quarter of an inch above the bud and not more than one-half of an inch from it. The cut should not be straight across, that is, parallel with the ground, but should be slanting. This will keep the water from rotting out the wood too quickly before the bud starts and the shoots are established. The-cut should be clean. An ordinary pair of gardening pruning shears is the best implement for this work. These shears must be kept sharp, otherwise they leave rough edges and bruise the bark, which then will not heal.

The most comfortable way in which to prune is to have a heavy square of carpet placed on the ground on which one may either sit or kneel. It is impossible to do any great amount of pruning unless some such method is used; to keep the dampness from coming through the carpet should be doubled over at least once. Persons having trouble with their eyes should be very careful to use their glasses in this work, as more minute attention is required than one would think. The foregoing suggestions apply mainly to a large amount of pruning, but even where the plants are few it would perhaps be best to employ this method, as the operation would certainly be much more comfortable. In all pruning a pair of heavy gloves will be found a necessary protection.

In the autumn the only pruning necessary is to cut down the bushes so that the fibrous feeding roots will not be broken by the thrashing about of the tops in the heavy winter winds. It is quite easy to cut down to an approximate height until the early spring pruning, and when the plants have done blooming and the frost has set in severely cut to an approximate height of one foot and a half, except in strongest growing kinds and climbers. Do not cut to less. The buds liable to break are upper buds, and if forced in a warm, late autumn or early spring, after breaking they will certainly winter kill. If left short there are not enough buds remaining below to carry out the scheme of pruning; if left longer, no harm is done.

Under pruning it is well to include the cutting of the bloom. This is a part of rose culture which is usually neither considered nor understood. It is not easy to regulate by actual rule but if the principle is understood the proper cutting of roses is a very easy matter. In this, as in spring pruning, the method to be employed depends entirely upon what is desired. Cutting off the blooms insures more. If they are not cut new growth will not start so quickly. For this reason it is advisable to pinch off any blooms which may have been left on the plants. This should be particularly noted with all bedding varieties which are kept for garden decoration and are not usually cut. If a stem is left and the seed pod forms it takes the greater part of the nourishment on any shoot, the sap going to the top as has been previously noted. Nature thus provides for the greatest amount of sustenance going to the seed pod. By autumn, if blooms are not cut but pinched, the plant is more bushy and has perhaps somewhat better foliage. In the cutting of the stems be careful to leave enough buds below the cut on the shoot to provide other shoots, which will later in the season give more blooms. On the stronger varieties in the June blooming season, on a Hybrid Tea rose or a rose which is expected to bloom again, leave enough buds to give shoots for summer and for autumn bloom. Therefore, in such cuttings leave never less than two buds at the base of the shoot, and with very strong varieties three buds, always seeing that the bud is a strong one. If a long stem is left on the plant more flowers will be produced but they will not be on such stalwart stems, nor will they produce as fine blooms. If cutting from a Hybrid Perpetual, or from a rose from which no more bloom is expected, to cut to one bud will be sufficient. In this cutting of blooms, the same as in pruning, follow the well-known theory that on a weak growth you can cut farther back than on a strong growth. If, however, the plant is uneven in growth, care must be used to aid the spring pruning of such a plant by following out the work already started and cutting back harder on the stronger side.

Approximately on an average growth leave, as above stated, two buds on the constantly blooming varieties. In late fall cutting it will be unnecessary to leave any buds below the cut as there will be no more bloom after frost. In the weak kinds, the frail, drooping stems are not needed on the bloom, but they should not remain on the plant; therefore cut harder on the weak growths and afterwards reduce the length of the stem. Unless the plant is hybridized or the seed is desired, the seed pods or heps are not needed, and if twice a week all old blooms are cut from the plants, the beds will be in better order and more flowers will be secured thereafter.

Spring pruning as given here applies to roses after the first year. For the first year they should all be cut back to three eyes on good wood and one eye on weak wood. This gives the young, unestablished roots less work to do and provides more time for them to prepare for the following year.

In pruning varieties not mentioned in the lists the main work to be done is always to cut out all the dead wood. This, of course, also applies to the lists.

Rugosas, Austrian Briars, Chinas and Bourbons require practically no pruning excepting the removal of dead wood and necessary thinning to prevent crowding. If pruned severely it tends to the development of wood instead of flowers, especially in the Austrian Briar.

To again enumerate the main points in this chap-ter: Prune when the new growth can be plainly noted; for medium fine blooms prune the strong varieties on the strongest canes to five and six eyes; weaker canes, to a smaller number. On the weaker varieties prune to three and four eyes on the strong canes; two and three eyes on the weaker ones. If the bushes are desired for garden decoration, do not prune quite so far down the canes; for a few exhibition blooms, cut harder, and, later in the season, thin out unnecessary and unpromising growths. For all plants cut out dead wood. In cutting roses during the spring and summer never leave less than two eyes on any cane. This gives summer and autumn blooms. On the very strongest varieties cut to three eyes—always cut to a strong eye. Be sure that the cut is a clean one and slanting, and from one-quarter to one-half an inch above the bud. Always cut to outside buds, except where special direction of the growth is needed.

In all pruning remember the working rule and so accomplish the purpose; the fewer buds the more sap they will receive, and the more buds the smaller amount of sap each one will get, and also that the buds near the base may not break.



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