In Southern California, we are fortunate to have two major bloom cycles, one in April and the other in late October, with several smaller bloom cycles in between. Some of our roses, such as the fast-repeating Silverado, can even produce up to six bloom cycles with constant dead-heading of the spent blooms.
Pruning roses is not an exact science. Especially late-summer pruning when the exhibitor wants to hit the target for specific fall rose shows. There are just too many variables, like weather, rose variety, and how far down the cane you cut.
Winter pruning is much easier to time to hit peak bloom for the spring shows. You could prune your roses any time between December 15th and February 15th, and most of your roses will cooperate by being in full bloom around April 15th, just in time for all the spring rose shows.
Summer pruning is another matter. Because early fall weather can be so unpredictable, timing of the fall peak bloom can be a real guessing game.
Why Prune Roses For Fall Bloom?
The idea is to have your roses hit their peak bloom for the October rose shows. Usually, our rose bushes have become leggy, overgrown, and far too bushy throughout the summer, resulting in tiny blooms on short stems. Some of our rose bushes have developed hips (sometimes this is intentional, and other times from lack of deadheading the spent blooms). So, cutting back our rose bushes in late summer will encourage new long stems with bigger blooms. Even if you have no intentions of exhibiting, pruning for fall bloom will reward you with a bountiful garden display of gorgeous long-stemmed blooms. Imagine being able to cut huge bouquets of lovely roses for your home, church, or office right on up through Christmas. You would probably not be able to do this if you don't lightly prune your roses in late summer.
Exactly When Do I Prune?
In Southern California, end of August through mid-September is a good time to prune our roses in preparation for the spectacular fall bloom cycle and October rose shows. In Santa Clarita, we want to make sure our roses will be in peak bloom for our own show which is now being held the first Saturday in November. Believe it or not, some of us will still have a few blooms left the first week of November when the last show of the season is held in Palm Springs. Even if we only have one bucketful of roses, it is a nice drive out to the desert where we can relax over breakfast with our friends after the rose show.
So, we could choose to spread out the timing of our rose pruning during the end of August through Labor Day. I do not recommend pruning only half of a rose bush one week, and then finishing the next week, because so many rose varieties will not begin their cycles until pruning is complete. This is what is referred to as being a "cropper," meaning the rose will produce all its blooms at once, and not spread over several weeks. Serious exhibitors will grow several bushes of a variety, and then prune a different bush on three successive weeks to ensure having blooms throughout the fall show season. The larger varieties such as hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas, have an average bloom cycle of 42 to 54 days. Miniature roses generally have a shorter bloom cycle, around 35 to 42 days. Usually, single-petalled roses have a faster repeat cycle. For example, 'Playboy' and 'Playgirl' are always the first floribundas to bloom, since they repeat in about 35 days, whereas the floribundas 'Sexy Rexy' and 'Europeana' take about 54 to 60 days to repeat.
You should also become familiar with the wide-ranging blooming cycles of your different rose varieties. 'Kardinal' is usually one of the first roses to bloom, while 'Moonstone', 'Louise Estes' and 'Signature', and most heavily-petalled roses, bloom later.
How Do I Prune For Fall?
First, make sure your pruning shears are sharp and clean. Depending on how many roses you have, you may need a touch-up sharpening when half of your roses are pruned.
Then, lightly prune each rose bush about one third to one half, depending on the age of each bush, keeping in mind that the farther down you cut each cane the longer it will take the bush to bloom. New bushes planted this year should only be deadheaded, not pruned this fall.
For miniature roses, the job will be quick and easy by using scissor action hedge trimmers. Again, trim off only about 1/3 of each plant.
Next, clean out all twiggy growth that might interfere with the bigger rose canes. DO NOT strip off all the leaves like you would do for winter pruning.
Climbers, old garden roses, and large shrubs should only be lightly deadheaded. Some climbers and old garden roses will not repeat bloom in the fall no matter what you do.
Clean up all fallen leaves, and cut off any dead canes that might be on your rose bushes. It is especially important to begin your "second spring" with a clean garden, as there may be fungus spores and insect eggs on the fallen leaves.
Apply mulch around each rose. I prefer Gromulch made by Kellogg's. For our 350 roses we buy a pallet of Gromulch at Home Depot, and apply a big shovelful around each plant. Buying Gromulch in bulk is about half the price of buying it in bags.
Right after pruning, feed your roses with organic fish emulsion and Epsom salts (one tablespoon each, per gallon of water) to get things going. A couple weeks later I like to give the roses a shot of SuperThrive, and then as it gets closer to the show date, I will feed weekly with Grow-More 10-52-10 alternated with fish emulsion, and then an application of zinc and iron chelates three weeks before the expected peak blooming.
Keep your roses thoroughly watered and the foliage washed with a Water Wand for the next several weeks to avoid mildew and spider mites.
As the weather begins to cool down, usually right after Labor Day, spraying roses for mildew and aphids will again become necessary. Depending on your microclimate, you may need to spray weekly with fungicide to prevent mildew. Insecticides should be used on an as-needed basis.
So, plan now to get your roses in shape for the magnificent October and November bloom cycle. It does take a little bit of planning and work, but you will be glad you did. This extra effort just might win you a trophy.
Reprinted from "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor. This article is a 1999 ARS Award of Merit winner.
© Copyright 1999-2011 Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.