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Minter: Get your roses in shape for the season

The warm weather we experienced recently was helpful in pushing along new growth to help us determine the viability of each shrub, writes master gardener Brian Minter.

Winter was not kind to our roses and unfortunately many traditional budded varieties may not have survived. Those in containers and tree-form roses were particularly vulnerable.

The warm weather we experienced recently was helpful in pushing along new growth to help us determine the viability of each shrub. If you have any growth occurring above the bud union, it’s a great sign of life so now is the time to prune back any of the dead wood.

When pruning traditional hybrid teas and floribundas, it's important to prune them back reasonably hard to control the shape and renew the plant.

When you do cut back, try to bring stems down to about 10–12 inches (25–30 cm) above the bud union to force new growth on lower, more compact, viable plants. Always make your fresh cut just above an outward growing bud, on a 45-degree downward angle to prevent water from seeping into the top of the stem.

If there is no sign of new growth yet wait for a few weeks of warm weather to see if anything will sprout above the bud union. Growth from below the union is coming from the understock and is not viable. After a few weeks if you see no new growth, the plant is likely essentially dead and can be taken out.

Shrub roses are not usually grafted but rather grown on their own roots. As a rule, this makes them much hardier and new growth can even come up out of the ground around the base of the plant and still be viable. These roses can now be pruned back reasonably hard now for a much fuller, bushier rose to enjoy by summer.

Based on their hardiness and great disease resistance, shrub roses of all types are becoming more popular today. Brands like the “Knock Out” series, which are the No. 1 seller in North America, the “Easy Elegance” and the new “True Bloom” series are all excellent varieties for today’s gardens. They are easy to care for and provide continuous colour all season.

It’s a great time to add well-rotted manures and other organic matter, like Sea Soil, around their bases now, and work well into the soil. This will not only provide good natural nutrient but hold precious moisture once we get into the warmer weather and our inevitable summer water restrictions.

Once the new growth begins in earnest, feed all your roses with a good quality rose food like GardenPRO 8-14-12 or even the slow-release GardenPRO 14-14-14, which dissolves for extended nutrient release over a three- to four-month time period.

Roses provide so much beauty, fragrance and colour to our gardens from late spring to early fall that they are always a welcome addition to your garden. Now is a great time to get them into shape for the new season or plant some of the many new varieties for years of summer of enjoyment.