Keeping your roses healthy with these pruning and fertilizing tips

1. If you haven’t fertilized your roses, do so now. Loren Zeldin fertilizes his roses every March with a slow-release product that keeps his plants blooming until the fall. However, he is rethinking that strategy due to the scorching summers that we have lately experienced. “On hot days, flowers wilt by two o’clock in the afternoon,” he explains, “so it may not make much sense to keep them blooming at maximum capacity through the summer months. I like to keep my roses on the plants, but will cut them in the morning for vase arrangements since that will spare them from wilting the same day.” If you use a conventional fertilizer, Zeldin says you will have to reapply it every four to five weeks to keep your roses blooming up to their potential.

2. When it comes to pruning roses during the growing season, Zeldin is not obsessed with it. Yes, he deadheads his roses and cuts them back to a bud that will grow into a flowering stem but is not fanatical about cutting back to a five-leaflet leaf as is generally advised. He also notes that the first five-leaflet leaf down the stem may be flimsy and so cutting back further down may be necessary. Zeldin is more concerned about blind shoots. Blind shoots are shoots that grow without any flower buds forming. Such shoots should be cut back by half to a five-leaflet leaf and new growth that subsequently forms will bear flowers. The causes for blind shoot growth are not well known although fluctuations in temperature and water availability have been implicated in their development.

3. Utilize your abutilon, otherwise known as flowering maple or Chinese lantern, as a vine. Zeldin has a Tiger Eye abutilon several decades old that has vined 20 feet up into a Japanese maple tree (Acer palmatum). Tiger Eye has yellow flowers with a bloodshot look on account of being highlighted with deep red venation. This abutilon flowers year around and, like all cultivars, is not at all water needy. Watering it now, for instance, when the soil is still full of moisture from winter rain, could lead to its demise. There are hundreds of abutilon cultivars yet only a few are commonly available in the nursery trade. Victor Reiter is a noteworthy selection whose soft orange lanterns expand to three inches, while Moonchimes has two-inch lemon yellow blooms.

4. Ants bring sucking insects onto your plants. Ants are a double menace since they also fight off beneficial insect pest predators that would otherwise devour aphids, scales, mealybugs and thrips. Keep ants away by taking an old silk stocking and slathering petroleum jelly or Tanglefoot, a product made specifically for stopping ants dead in their tracks, and tie it around the plant a few inches above the ground. However, you will need to replace the silk stocking from time to time as the dead ants will eventually make a bridge over the sticky substance and this will allow their cousins to cross over and work their way up into the plant.

5. Before embarking on a weed removal project, soak the soil the night before. Weeds are more easily removed when the ground is wet. The classic garden hoe has a Ten Commandments-shaped blade attached to a wooden handle while a scuffle or hula hoe has a trapezoidal blade that moves back and forth to remove weeds just below the soil surface. These hoes are best used in somewhat loose soil. Where soil is extremely hard, pushing a shovel blade under weeds may be the easiest way to remove them. Keep in mind, however, that perennial weeds with deep roots will return unless their root is thoroughly removed or new growth of such weeds – sometimes over a few years – is immediately removed at the soil level as soon as it appears.

Please write to me at where your questions, comments, and plant photos are always welcome.

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