Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pruning Some of My Climbers

We have been having sunny and fairly warm days  for the past two weeks and I have been busy pruning. This is one of my favorite garden tasks, despite an aching back and a sore right hand :).

Some roses left over after pruning: Rosette Delizy, Julia Child, Benny Lopez and some late season feverfew, penstemons and rose hips

I grow a few big climbing roses that have to be closely managed in my small garden. I have to make sure they all stay within their allotted space by pruning them fairly severely every winter. By severe pruning I do not mean cutting all their canes back, but rather removing all or almost all canes that have flowered and keeping only the youngest, current year's growth which will produce the most blooms next year. Climbing roses put out long canes from the base of the plant (called basals). They are the plant's main asset. By bending them as close to horizontal as possible, secondary canes are produced on these basals (called laterals). Each lateral should end in a flower providing lots of blooms along the basal cane, like this:

Lorraine Lee cl at the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden

Below are two Austin roses, Crown Princess Margareta and Golden Celebration, which I train as climbers side by side on two small arbors.

Of the two roses, Crown Princess Margareta is much better suited to this type of training. It has short flowering laterals that tightly cover the arbor with lots of blooms.

 Golden Celebration, on the other hand, has long thinnish laterals and looks messier.

Despite these differences in growth, I use the same pruning method for both of them. I leave all current year's basal canes that have not flowered yet (there is no lateral growth on them). The youngest canes are usually the most vigorous and should provide the most flowers next year. I do not cut them back unless they outgrow their allotted space.

I cut back all fresh-looking laterals on older canes.

I remove at ground level the oldest basal canes whose laterals look tired and bloomed out:

You can estimate the age of this cane by the number of cuts on the little laterals.
 I tie in all remaining basal canes as close to horizontal as possible to induce the production of flowering laterals.

This is a more or less standard method of pruning climbing roses. However, it does not have to be rigidly adhered to all the time in all cases. Below is a picture of Colette, another climber. I grow it against a fence and as you can see, it is not overly vigorous and has not given me many basal canes. While the standard pruning approach would be to cut back all laterals, I have decided to leave some of them (specifically the two canes going left off the basal cane going to the right). There is no reason why these two canes will not produce their own flowering laterals, thus giving me more blooms. My goal here was to keep all healthy vigorous canes (basal or lateral) that grow flat against the fence.

Still, the fence looked a bit bare, so I took some long canes from Mme Isaac Pereire growing to the right of Colette, and wove them through Colette's canes. In the picture below Mme Isaac Pereire's canes are the ones with leaves still on them. Rose-growing authorities say that roses should not have crossing canes, that they should be given enough room to enjoy adequate air circulation, and so on. I have broken these rules because the most important goal for me is to create beauty in the garden, and also to have some fun. I believe that there are very few rules that are immovably cast in stone.

I have spent several winters being afraid to make a fatal pruning mistake and kill a rose. By now I have made quite a few mistakes, but all my roses survived and continue blooming and growing very satisfactorily. In fact, I am surprised by how much abuse a rose can take. The worst thing that ever happened to a rose in my garden was about a year ago last February, when a huge tree fell square on top of my Zephirine Drouhin, a beautiful bourbon rose. All of its canes were either badly damaged or broken. I had to cut them all off right at the bud union, and the rose started the growing season with no wood at all. To my amazement, it grew much more vigorously than it ever did before. It gave me so many new canes that this past week I had to subject it to the most drastic pruning ever (with the exception of last year's of course). I left eight thickest canes fanned out nicely along a fence and am very much looking forward to its spring show.

The only valuable lesson I have learned about pruning is not to be afraid. Roses are resilient. They will forgive you.

Baron Giraud de l'Ain

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my gardening friends! Thank you for your support and encouragement, ideas and tips, and for sharing your gardens with me. May the sun be warm and the rain plentiful, may your flowers bloom and your trees grow, and may your garden bring you more joy each year. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Whirlwind Tour

Thank you so much for your good wishes for my trip! I have been away rather longer than I thought. The trip to Russia was to take care of some business, and other than spending time with my family, ended up to be a fairly stressful time. So, a few days after I came back, we decided, on a whim, to go to Hawaii. We ended up on the Big Island, which is the only one in the Hawaiian archipelago with an active volcano (a big draw for my sons).

A papaya tree with huge poinsettias glowing in the background.

In less than a month, I have covered more than half the globe :).

Right now my head is a sad jumble of colorful but disjointed pictures.

An orchid tree in bloom

 We have been to a land of contrasts. Just an hour's drive from lush tropical foliage and flowers....

...took us to what I am sure Tolkien's Mordor is like: acres and acres of old lava flows with relentless trade winds howling over them.

We have seen so many things! A chameleon hiding in an orange tree...

... beautiful hibiscus everywhere....

...strange birds...

Common Myna

...and wonderful orchids happily growing outside without protection or pampering.

...banana trees....

...and South African cranes which apparently are just as happy in Hawaii...

.... wonderfully big and healthy foliage plants that I have only seen grown indoors. Now that I know how happy they can be in their native habitat I have lost all desire to grow them in my house.

We have gone whale watching on a catamaran. We saw an imposing hump of Mauna Kea, one of three volcanos on the Big Island, but no whales :(.

We walked through an amazing tropical forest with raindrops dripping gently through colorful vegetation.

We saw coffee trees on a farm and watched coffee beans extracted and processed.

We had many close encounters with geckos.

All in all, I am glad to be finally home, cooking dinners, pruning my roses, writing my blog and reading yours!