COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Buying plants now can save some green

The end of February means it is time to add some color to the yard. Garden centers and nurseries are full of potted primroses, dwarf daffodils in pots, winter-blooming heathers, hellebores and colorful pansies. If you have a window box, container or protected area to plant, then spring has sprung and it’s time to dig in.

This is also the week when you can find bare-root berry bushes, deciduous shrubs, fruit trees, roses and perennial veggies like rhubarb and asparagus to add to the landscape.

The advantage of buying bare-root plants now is they are less expensive than the same plants sold in a pot a few months later. If you plan to buy but can’t plant the new bare-root specimens then be kind and unwind the wire or plastic tie from around the neck of your new plant and let it soak overnight in a bucket of water. You should find detailed planting instructions on the plastic bag that surrounds your plant’s roots but if you buy a bare-root rose plant that comes in a cardboard box around the roots, just ignore the instructions that tell you to plant the rose, box and all. Cardboard does decay but it takes a long time. Free the rose roots from the cardboard box, soak the roots in water, then plant directly into the soil.


When do I prune my roses? Some experts say February, some March and some say don’t prune them at all! It would be nice if you all agreed. B.K., Auburn


Gardening is an art – so gardeners all have an opinion about pruning. You can prune hybrid tea roses, climbing roses and shrub roses now or wait another month or even wait until they are leafed out in April. The question of when to cut is more about convenience and the weather than any certain date. Some roses do not need much pruning but only need shaping up by shortening the longest or out of place canes. This would be the shrub roses or Flower Carpet and landscape roses. Hybrid tea roses can be pruned back hard to within 1 foot of the ground if you want large, but fewer, flowers or left taller to about 4 feet tall with more side branches if you want lanky plants with more blooms.

Here are a few more tips on the art of pruning roses:

• Use the right tool. Hand pruners are not usually large enough to handle the thick canes on old roses so bring out the pruning saw or large loppers.

• Wear thick gloves and protective clothing. Once you get jabbed by thorny rose canes you’ll want to go inside; many a rose-pruning job is left undone due to unprotected gardeners throwing in the trowel.

• First, remove the three Ds: Anything dead, diseased or damaged.

• Next, take out any branches that cross, rub or aim inward toward the center of the plant.

• Now, shorten all the canes or branches by at least one-third. This helps to stimulate the rose into making new canes and more flowers.

• Climbing rose plants are pruned differently than shrubby roses. Leave the tall canes as a framework to secure to a trellis or arbor. Then shorten all the side shoots that emerge from those canes so that they have only two buds each.

• Here’s secret way to get climbing roses to bear more blooms. Take the tip of each cane and bend it so it is arching downward, not pointing to the sky. Now you know why Victorian rose trellises were fan-shaped. Changing the direction of the rose canes forces them to send out more side shoots and it is these side shoots that bear the flowers.


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