When the sun came up on New Year’s Day weekend, my roses were between five and six feet tall. By sunset, I had reduced them to three-foot twigs firmly anchored in the soil of my little mountain here in San Diego County.
While I mostly focus on my organic vegetable I have to confess, I also have a very large rose garden and a lot of cymbidium orchids. I like and only grow hybrid tea roses—mostly because they are easily turned into long stemmed displays that I put on my kitchen counter or in my mother’s room. I spend much more time in my vegetable garden than I do amongst my roses, but there comes a time every year when you need to reach for your pruning shears, collapsible saw, Elmer’s glue and sturdy gloves and cut the roses back… way back.
In addition to my forged metal pruning tools, I approach my annual rose pruning with knowledge born of reading several books on how to keep my roses healthy and looking good… As well as a life-long interest in California’s missions, virtually all of which have excellent looking rose gardens. The best books I’ve seen on Roses all have been published by Sunset and the most outstanding roses I’ve seen are at the missions in Santa Barbara and San Gabriel, CA. I suppose it also helps that I went to an agricultural and technical college—Cal Poly, Pomona—which has a long history as a float operator in Pasadena’s Annual Tournament of Roses and which maintains extensive rose beds on its campus.
Cutting back rose bushes with as many as ten tight flowers always makes me a little sad. But I get over that feeling by the time the trash receptacle I tug along as I decimate the roses begins to fill. I try not to transition into a Zen-like state as I lope thick branches from my roses, and before long I’ve pruned my first column in the garden, leaving behind short healthy branches that with a little luck, will never produce growth that crosses over itself—and which remains open to many hours of sunlight in the forthcoming growing season. When it comes to pruning, my policy is one of simple wanton ruthlessness.
I’ve been disappointed with a patented pink rose I planted three years ago. So erly tomorrow morning, I’ll pull ten bucks out o my secret savings stash and cruise through a nursery looking for a pink hybrid tea to replace that non-thriving sucker.
Any branch that threatens noncompliance with my idea of what a good looking rose is instantly decapitated and its thorn-ridden branch is unceremoniously tossed into the waste tub. When I prune low enough, or feel my yearly slaughter has gotten out of hand, I yank out the Elmer’s Glue and I seal the cut.
Hey a bottle of Elmer’s is a lot less expensive than some high falutin’ tube of mystery vegetable caulk/sealing agent sold in a high end gardening catalog.
Having slashed my way through the rose garden like a crazed beaver, my five containers of pruned wood are now down on the street where it will be picked up at daybreak, Friday morning. The fruit trees below my house on the sloping lawn get a reprieve. Anyway, I pruned my two peaches way back last year , after a 200 pound Avalon crop in 2010 resulted in three broken branches.
My beloved golden apricots het hacked tomorrow morning. With a little bit of luck—and a lot of netting-- I’ll hold the birds at bay long enough to get 50 pounds of fruit from my seven trees.
A final note on my roses: I live at the interface of wild lands and mid-sized city. In the nine years I’ve lived here, I’ve watched three wild fires roar through here. If another fire comes close to my house, my chainsaw gets fired up and every rose near my house dies! Roses are extremely flammable. If you’ve ever seen a rose garden explode next to a home you understand why they are extreme fire hazards.
Besides, I can replace every rose in my garden very inexpensively. Replace my home affordably? Not so easy.
Last night, after whacking the roses, I was amuse to see two squirrels looking up at the sky through pruned sticks with a “WTF?” expression on their chubby little faces. Sorry guys, the cover you thought you had from the local hawks and other predators will come back in a few weeks. There’s always the ice plant hedge-- providing the hungry cacomistle (aka a “miners cat” or “ringtail”) isn’t hiding there.—Jim Forbes on 12/30/2011 from behind the avocado curtain in Northern San Diego County.