The dead of winter can often leave you wondering just what to do out there in your backyard garden. Trees are bare, many of your favorite plants have gone dormant, and the atmosphere resembles a barren wasteland. Fortunately, there are a bevy of activities to keep your gardening skills in shape during the break between blooms.

Many gardeners in the Bay Area have adorned their gardens with a variety of different rose types — floribunda, hybrid-tea, David Austen, the list goes on and on. Now is the prime time to prune your roses and maximize their “flower power” for the upcoming season. The number one mistake gardeners make when pruning roses is a reluctance to remove enough of the plant. Go to the “dark side” and get serious about removal! It’s far better to cut your roses back hard. Doing so will leave you with a smaller, but much more full and attractive shrub in the spring. Brevior est melius (shorter is better).

The key is to clean out the middle of the shrub, then prune the remaining canes back to an outward-facing dormant bud (the dormant buds can be found around the horizontal lines that appear in an alternating pattern on the canes). The cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle sloping upwards toward the bud. Dead branches should be removed and “suckers,” or shoots sprouting from the rootstock, taken off, as well.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. Your roses can take it. Be decisive. If you’re still feeling shy and would like to practice on someone else’s roses first, you are always welcome to join us at 9am each Wednesday at The Gardens at Heather Farm to hone your skills. We have a well-trained crew of rosarians, and you’re bound to learn a thing or two while working away!

Brian Larsen
GHF Garden Manager