March Rose Growing Notes

by Marty Reich, Master Rosarian, Editor of the Rose Leaf

Pruning is on all rosarian minds right now. Should I or shouldn’t I, that is the question? These mild winters are confusing to both roses and rosarians. We used to say prune when the forsythia blooms, but there are newer varieties of forsythia which bloom perhaps too early. In the last Rose Leaf I talked about pruning Austins and climbers in February. I just pruned some shrubs as well. Last year I pruned my HTs and Fls March 16-18, did some touch-up pruning April 28 and the garden was in full bloom (climbers and all) May 14. That is a general plan for me again this year.

Yes, there are leaves out already and yes many of them will be cut off. They will come back. Realize that pruning is very important–do it even if you are not exactly sure what you are doing. Dr. Prabhu said people stress too much over it. As always, I caution you to prune your minis and minifloras whether you think they need it or not. They will become spindly during the season and not perform well if left untouched.

Buy good pruning tools: Felco #2 pruners are preferred by many people–even though they are expensive, they last forever and you can buy replacement blades if needed.

I love my Fiskar loppers, light as a feather, they come in several lengths. Get a pruning saw for big canes and Bionic gloves from are fabulous.

Clean your pruners between roses with rubbing alcohol, particularly if you have any disease in your garden. Put Elmer’s wood glue on cut canes to keep out borers who lay their eggs in them. Be sure you buy glue that says “non-toxic” and is not water-soluble. Dr. Windham says do not kill the borers, large bee-looking critters, because they are important pollinators. Just discourage them from laying eggs in your rose canes.

Photo courtesy of
Even if the weather is warm right now, do not, I repeat do not, take the mulch off. We could still have bad weather for several weeks and the late freezes are usually more damaging than the real winter ones. When pruning, you will need to pull the mulch back carefully, watching for new canes (basal breaks) coming out from the bud union because they break easily. Once you are finished, put the mulch back on leaving it loose enough that the basal breaks can get thru it. If you pack it back on, they may grow horizontally until they can get out and that ruins the shape of the bush.

For hands-on experience with a Consulting Rosarian, be sure to attend one of our Pruning Workshops.