We have just one month left of cooler weather, so just one month left to prune the deciduous trees and bushes in our gardens. As you might have noticed, roses are not always deciduous in our climate. The short, mild winters we often experience don't allow enough time for roses to lose their leaves, stop producing new growth and buds, and to fully enter dormancy. Even the hard freezes that we experienced in early December weren't long enough and cold enough to brown the leaves and kill the buds on every rose bush.
One trick to getting our roses to go dormant is to strip all the leaves and cut off all new buds and growth at Thanksgiving time. The stripping acts like a kick start for dormancy so that the roses are fully dormant when we prune them a few weeks later. If you haven't yet stripped your rose leaves, do it now. At the same time do a little pre-pruning and cut out any canes that cross into the interior and weak or spindly growth. Pre-pruning makes the job of hard pruning in January go a lot faster.
Ortho's "All About Roses" has great illustrations of right and wrong rose pruning techniques for every type of rose (tea, floribunda, grandiflora, climber, etc.). Take it into the garden with you as you prune to use as a visual aid. Some of the information in the book will differ from practices we follow in our climate. For instance, we prune our rose bush canes to about 12 to 18 inches high, taller than in colder areas. We also need to lower our high soil pH; roses do best in slightly acid soil and our soil and water are highly alkaline. A spray mixture of lime sulfur and horticultural oil (Lily Miller's Poly Sul is one brand) applied to drench the bare pruned canes and the soil around the roses will lower soil pH; the sulfur does that and it kills fungal spores and the horticultural oil will smother overwintering insect eggs.
Good pruning tools will make the job much easier. Some of the newer pruning shears and loppers have power gears or rotating handles that make for much smoother action. Nice for arthritic hands in cold weather. Use bypass hand pruners to cut branches and canes up to 1/2 inch, small bypass loppers to cut wood up to 11/2 inches and large bypass loppers to cut larger canes. Keep blades sharp as you prune by swiping the cutting edge with a honing block or sharpening tool.
Local nurseries offer rose pruning classes and on Jan. 11 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., the Fresno County Master Gardeners are offering a hands-on rose pruning class taught by Janet Adams. The fee is $15. Go to the Fresno County Master Gardeners' website (www.ucanr.edu/sites/mgfresno) for information on pre-registration and payment.