By the time September rolls around, most of the rose shrubs in Tucson are looking a bit tired and overgrown. But don’t despair, another flush of big, beautiful blooms and lush green growth is right around the corner! With a little bit of maintenance right now, in early September, your roses will be the envy of your neighbors through fall!
Fall pruning is much less extensive than the heavy pruning and leaf stripping that we typically do in January or February. In September, our goal is merely to refresh our rose shrubs by removing spent flowers and smaller stems that won’t support new growth and blooms. So, get your bypass pruners ready, but plan to remove only about 25% of the shrub’s growth.
Handy tip: leave your pruned leaves and stems on the ground as you work rather than bagging them as you make your cuts. That way, you can easily keep track of how much greenery you’ve removed.
First Things to Remove: Before you begin, take a good look at your shrub to see if there are any obvious problems. Branches that look diseased or damaged can be removed. Also keep an eye out for branches with leaves that look notably different from the rest of the shrub. There’s a good chance that an odd-looking branch is growing from rootstock below the graft, and it should be completely removed.
Shaping and Moderate Pruning: You may have heard that you should prune back to the first leaf that has 5 leaflets, and this is a great rule of thumb to follow. The first leaf with 5 leaflets is usually located at a sturdier place on the stem that is able to support new growth and heavy flowers. However, you don’t have to follow this rule every single time you make a cut. If the stem is large enough to support the weight of new growth and flowers, then you don’t have to count every leaflet.
For a nice, shapely shrub, it’s more important to pay attention to where new branches will grow. Dormant buds are located where each leaf attaches to the stem, and new growth will sprout from the dormant bud that is just below the pruning cut. If the bud faces the inside of the shrub, then the new stem will grow in that direction. Choose pruning points above buds that face the outside of the shrub for an open form that allows more air flow and light penetration into the center.
Extra tips: If borers are a problem in your yard, treat cuts on stems larger than a pencil with a bit of wood glue to keep the critters from burrowing into these easy entry points. Clean up the stem and leaf litter to reduce the risk of harboring critters or disease. It’s also a good idea to give your shrub a dose of fertilizer to support healthy new growth and encourage blooms. All purpose fertilizer or any formula developed specifically for roses will do just fine.