Pruning. Prune roses when they break dormancy in late winter or early spring; in climates with cold winters, this is around the time forsythia blooms. Take out dead wood and weak growth, and then shape the plant based on its garden use. Roses used as hedges or screens can be pruned to a tall, upright form, and groundcover roses pruned to control height. Just don’t try to keep a naturally tall-growing rose short, or it will sulk. That’s why choosing roses for their size at maturity is so important.
Shaping. Throughout the growing season, you can trim garden roses lightly to keep them in shape, just like any other flowering shrub.
Feeding. Although the marketers of garden roses sometimes suggest they can get by on as little as one annual application of fertilizer, I find that they benefit from a regular feeding schedule. At pruning time in late winter, I put down a layer of compost around the roses. When the first set of tiny leaves appears, I apply an organic granular fertilizer. The brand I use has a nutrient analysis of 7-2-12. For an extra boost during the flowering season, I use a seaweed-based foliar spray every 2 to 4 weeks. It’s great for plant nutrition and a healthy immune system. In late summer when the nights turn cool, I apply 4-4-2 granular fertilizer. Discontinue feeding roses a month before the first-frost date.
Mulching. Put down an inch of organic mulch every spring. I use hardwood mulch. Don’t rake out old mulch, which will break down over time to enrich the soil. Mulch helps to keep the soil evenly moist—essential for healthy roses.
Renewing. As garden roses mature, periodically remove the oldest canes—those that are woody, barked over, and nonproductive—by cutting them to ground level at late-winter pruning time. This selective thinning will spur fresh growth.
Photo: Patrick Montero
Originally Published in Organic Gardening Magazine April/May 2013