By Lynn Snetsinger, Master Rosarian
Arcadia, California

The fall rose shows are just around the corner, and conventional wisdom among rose exhibitors is that by Labor Day your roses should be pruned by 1/2 to 1/3 and unproductive growth should be removed. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom does not take into account temperatures that exceed 95 degrees on many days in September. 

Suzanne Horn and I tried following this rose pruning procedure for several years with disastrous results. The rosebushes did not have enough foliage left to protect them against the blistering heat. Many of the canes were blackened completely, or suffered some degree of sunburn damage. We also discovered, to our dismay, that these damaged rose canes do not recover from the damage and will never again produce exhibition roses. They have to be removed completely, and sometimes the whole rose bush had to be discarded. Heartbreaking! So we came up with another approach, better suited to our microclimate, which I will share with you.

Hopefully you kept your rose plants well watered, and deadheaded lightly, if at all. If you did, you should have rosebushes that are tall and lush (some perhaps towering over your head) and plenty of good material to work with. What you will do is not a true pruning, but more of a deep deadheading on each rose bush.

Begin sometime around Labor Day by looking at the understructure of the rose plant. How much foliage is there at the bottom to protect the canes? You will sometimes find that even though the plant has lots of foliage at the top, it is naked at the bottom. When a rose bush is stressed by heat or disease, it will drop its lower leaves first. Do not leave naked rose plants out in the sun!

If you don't think the rose bush has enough foliage at the bottom, don't cut it at all, or cut it only very lightly. Better to lose the exhibition blooms it might put out for one season than to lose the rose bush completely. Just let it do its thing and rest up for the season. 

If the rosebush looks good from top to bottom, pick a cane that is stout enough to support an exhibition stem (one about the size of your pinky finger or bigger) and cut to that stem. Do not cut any lower than that stem. 

You also want to cut the rose stem to a bud eye that will produce a straight stem.  Some rose exhibitors suggest you cut to an eye facing the sun. I had trouble determining what direction that was. What I do is to look at the last stems that grew on the plant.  Generally speaking, the stems facing one direction will have to curve as they grow so that the blooms can face the sun, the ones on another side will grow nice and straight. You want to cut to a bud eye that faces the same direction that the straight stems face. This may mean that you break the rule that says you must cut to an outside eye (one facing away from the center). Don't worry about it. What you want for rose exhibition are straight stems, and this is how you get them.

Once you have done this, you're pretty much finished. Do not cut the rose bush any lower than necessary. If you find a stem that has already been sunburned or died, remove it, but nothing more. Do not remove foliage from the middle of the plant. Do not even remove foliage that has been damaged. If this September/October is like the last few, your plant will still need as much foliage as possible to cool and protect it from the heat. You can clean them up once the weather cools down if it bothers you.

These guidelines are for cutting hybrid tea roses, but the same principals apply for all types of roses. Use common sense and scale down the cuts you make on minis and smaller rosebushes Suzanne and I have not figured out a way to make many of our shrub roses rebloom in the fall. You might consider not cutting them at all. I'm not sure what I'll do this year!

Follow up your "deep deadhead" of your roses with an immediate application of organic fertilizer like EB Stone Rose and Flower Food. Then follow the feeding schedule we gave you earlier this year. Feed your roses every other week. Start with something high in nitrogen (10-10-10 or 15-15-15). Next feed something like Magnum Gro which is lower in nitrogen. And finish off with something that has little or no nitrogen (5 or below on the first number) but increased phosphorus and potassium. My last rose feeding is usually half strength 0-50-30 or 10-52-10. Don't feed at all for the last two weeks of the cycle while the roses bloom - hopefully, at the same time the shows start. 

Use whatever works for you to keep bugs and diseases down. You shouldn't have to worry about rust, mildew, or blackspot as long as it's hot. If it cools down, watch your "indicator plants" (the ones that get diseases first), and start spraying as soon as they show any signs of disease.

You may find that some rose bushes will suffer from the heat no matter what you do. This can't be helped. But for the most part, if you follow these procedures, you will reduce the possibility of damage and should find yourself with some really nice blooms to take to the fall shows. Good luck!

© Copyright Lynn Snetsinger, all rights reserved. 

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Sierra Madre, CA 91025

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Photos © Copyright Kitty Belendez

Updated January 9, 2016

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