Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mabon, and more about roses

If you're not a plant geek, you can scroll down to the end of the following geeking out.

Kai offered some excellent advice in comments and I wanted to respond here because there's so much wealth behind the words. She'd been told "waist high at Thanksgiving, knee high on President's Day." I couldn't have said it any better. That's perfect, better than my suggestions, which are low limits. I did give those low limits for a reason, though.  I just foolishly didn't explain, so I'm really glad Kai said something!

Waist high is too tall for most young roses (4 years or younger) and some of the modern 3' garden roses developed for today's smaller gardens. And waist high may be too low for some of those mature climbers that are practically trees now. So take a good look at the rose in question. Is it mature or is it young? Does it have long canes that could easily snap or develop severe cold damage in winter's strong storms (more on this second item later)? How is the root system? Err on the side of being conservative, while bearing the conditions of your rose and the local winter in mind.

Three cases in my garden:

'Greetings'--This is a very dense shrub rose that rapidly gained height in just a couple of years. (I highly recommend this rose, btw.) Keeping it relatively open so that air can get into the interior (which helps prevent diseases, something this rose is not prone to so it's not a big deal) can be a challenge. But more challenging is to reduce its sail area for winter. Big young rose=underdeveloped roots with lots of plant above ground to catch the wind. I thought I'd pruned it hard enough the first year, and I was wrong. It rocked back and forth so hard that it created open funnel-shaped space all the way around the stem quite far into the ground--a screwdriver could go in several inches and not touch dirt or plant. To prevent this I should have cut as many of the smallest stems as I dared, and counterintuitively, cut the stems down much lower than I would on such a large rose, and then staked the plant. Now its root system is developed enough that its highest roots won't tear and allow the rose to rock. I'll probably still stake it, though.

'Lagerfeld'--This is a lovely, very long-stemmed lavender rose. It also has relatively thin stems. Just about any length on this rose, which is five years of age now, seems to be too long. I thought I cut it back far enough last autumn and it still had lots and lots of damage on it. It recovered, but it put on a poor show this winter. This year I plan on keeping the stems pretty long--perhaps hip high--and I'm going to try to tie them together and then place some sort of insulating material around the crown. Hip high probably sounds weird--isn't that shorter than waist high and therefore not 'pretty long'? Not in this case. At waist height most roses have lots of branches. This one does not. In fact, it almost looks like it wants to be a climber. It's fragile and doesn't hold heat well at all, making it iffy for up here on the hill. Normally if a rose can't make it in our climate, I just let it go, but I love this rose so I'm willing to go the extra mile for it. Sadly, I can't recommend it in the Pac NW, because it is such a princess even in a sheltered area.

'Happy Chappy'--This is a ground cover rose, which y'all will probably say aha, rules go out the window. Well, yes and no. Think horizontal length when pruning, rather than height on the body. Distance from the crown is what you're looking at (which brings us to another thing later.) Mine is brand new, and the profile was low enough and the young branches bendy enough that I wasn't too concerned. It could hide below the worst winds in the flower bed and be squished almost flat and probably not break, even with its branches being more brittle in cold. But an exposed specimen or older specimen would need pruning just like any other rose. Also, you suddenly have a new consideration. Snow weight. Beware heavy weight on thick, old wood that's a few inches off the ground but otherwise following the ground. Snow building up along the length might cause the rose to snap in a bad place. So it might be an idea to take off more of those little branches than you normally would, or just make sure that heavy limbs are supported against the ground at enough points that you're not too worried about too much lever arm.

What's the harm, you might think, of just leaving a rose as it is and then pruning off cold damaged or broken branches later? Well, even well-pruned roses sometimes succumb to winds and cold by snapping off underground or well below the crown. I lost three roses this last winter due to snow weight--sad, but I could have lost them all if I hadn't pruned them. And cold damage isn't like frostbite on a person. I believe (I don't know for certain--I'm not a botanist) that plants have mechanisms to stay warm in winter that have to do with their sap system in the bark--the core of the plant is not like a human body keeping things warm, if that makes sense. The more stem it tries to keep warm, the less chance it'll do a good job. What I've seen is patches, seemingly at random, all over the stem from top to bottom, and there may not be a good place to trim off the cold damage. It's all damaged, though sometimes I'll see slightly less damage very near the crown. If the damage goes all the way around a stem, everything from that point up is partially girdled and the stem will die, slowly, over the course of the next few months as warm weather sets in. (Yeah, the rose gives you plenty of time to think it'll be okay--it'll even put out leaves.) If the stem is cut short, then it appears that it can use its resources over a smaller area. That's my theory, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Now, about those crowns--different areas plant their roses at different depths. Some very cold areas have to have that crown at or slightly below ground level. Here in the Pac NW, the crown can be quite high and we can even grow that extreme case, the tree rose, where the crown can be as high as shoulder high. (I bet there are even taller ones.) But the rule Kai mentioned still works. Adjust height for crown. I plant my crowns a little lower than folks down in the valley. Some are only a couple of inches above the ground, and some are at ground level due to storm damage (sometimes they come back after they break, and sometimes even as the same rose if you are fortunate and have a self-rooted rather than a grafted rose.) Adjust for height of crown. I'm guessing Kai's Nana is from the valley area, and that some of her crowns may have been as high as mid-calf.

If you want a serious education on rose pruning, wander Portland's Rose Garden later this year. You'll begin to see the rhyme and reason of rose pruning--how each rose is pruned basically the same, but with respect to its individual form. Those guys really know what they're doing. Or, at least they used to. Anyway, the roses come out looking great every year, so it's close enough for government work.

End of Plant Geeking.

It's Mabon. From now on the nights will grow longer. The weather will remain warm a for a few more weeks, but now that the heat's been turned down on Earth's stove, we'll start to gradually cool down. Around here, the first frost hits pretty close to All Hallow's Eve, so it's easy to pretend it's still summer for our purposes. But the wind is moaning tonight. Soon the Wandering will grab hold of me, just in time for a trip to the coast. We feasted quietly. This is a subdued holiday for me, one that highlights mortality and shadows, but also stars and the moon and reflection. We don't have to start enduring yet, but we have to prepare, and accept that the season of plenty will end. For those of us who've lived through the cycle many times before, we know spring will come, but we don't take for granted that we will personally see it.  

If you're one of those people like me who like to have emergency stores, now is the time to inventory and replace old stuff with new if you haven't been using it and turning it over. I don't worry too much about having enough food for the zombie apocalypse, but I'm happy to have it just in case, and besides--when we get snowed in, it really, really comes in handy.  

Blessed be.


selenew said...

Happy Mabon, Kami.

Kami said...

Happy Mabon!

Lea said...

And another Blessed Mabon for you, hon. I don't know if I'll make it to O31, but I'll be there to hug you in spirit. :)