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Garden Help Desk: How do I know it is time to prune my roses?

By USU Extension - | Nov 5, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Tall roses can bend and break under snow. They don't need a complete pruning but cutting them back in late fall to about 4 feet tall can reduce the chances of that happening.

Am I supposed to prune my roses now?

Annual pruning for rose bushes should happen in the early spring. It’s not unusual for some rose canes to die over the winter if the weather is harsh. If you prune your roses back and thin out the shrub to just a few canes, you run the risk of pruning out some of the canes that would have survived the winter while keeping a cane or two that may die.

One thing you can do now is cut back tall rose canes to about 4-5 feet tall so that canes don’t get bent and broken if we get snow this winter. Some of my rose canes were 8-9 feet tall this year and I’ve cut everything back to about 4 feet. Early next spring I’ll cut them back to 18-24 inches tall and prune out all but the sturdiest four or five canes.

HOW TO HUG A TREE: PART 2 — plant it right

I’ve received two emails today asking if it’s too late to plant trees that were purchased recently but haven’t made it into the ground yet. It’s not too late for most of us. Fall is a great time to plant trees, and for most trees, it’s better to get them planted now instead of trying to hold them over until spring. But it’s also important to plant those trees the right way.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

This tree was planted too deeply in its container and would have had a short, unhealthy life if it had been planted that way. Removing some soil from the top of the root ball exposed the rest of the trunk and true top of the root ball.

Give your trees a good start with a nice, wide planting — at least twice as wide as the root ball (wider is even better). Don’t make the hole very deep at first; you’ll need to measure the root ball to know how deep your hole should be.

Trees that are planted too deeply have a shorter lifespan. Make sure the planting hole is no deeper that the actual root ball. Many trees in containers are replanted into larger containers a few times in the nursery, and they can end up planted too deeply. Put your tree next to the planting hole and carefully remove the container. Protect the root ball from breakage while you do this. Cut or loosen any circling roots. Brush some soil away from the top of the container until you expose the root flare on the trunk- the wider area where you see the first real roots growing. That is the true top of the root ball, and you’ll measure from there to know how deep your hole should be. The top of the root ball, the trunk-root flare, should be at the soil line when you finish planting. If you’ve made the hole too deep, backfill a bit, water in the soil and wait for it to settle. Then measure your hole again. You don’t want the soil to settle after planting, leaving your tree planted too deeply after all.

Once your tree is in the planting hole, walk all the way around the tree to make sure it’s standing straight and in the best position for its location.

Your tree needs to send its root out into the landscape, so don’t confuse it by mixing compost, potting mix, or other soil amendments into the soil you’ll be putting back into the hole. Just put back the same soil you took out of the ground. Mixing in amendments will create a “potted” plant in your landscape, discouraging roots from moving beyond the planting hole.

Your tree needs to concentrate on root growth at first, so don’t use any fertilizer at planting time. Your tree also doesn’t need any root stimulator, vitamins, or special elixirs, either. Research has shown that these things don’t provide any real benefit, so save your money.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Squeezing a root ball into a tight planting hole puts a tree at a real disadvantage. Several trees were planted this way in this landscape and all the trees were dead within a few years.

Water well when you’ve backfilled about halfway to help the soil settle and to remove air pockets. Then backfill the rest of the way and water deeply again.

Cover the planting area with an organic mulch like shredded bark or bark nuggets. This will reduce moisture loss and slow down the freezing of the soil while still allowing air (oxygen) to make its way down to the roots.

If you’re planting a balled & burlapped tree, you’ll have an extra step to take care of if you want a healthy, long-lived tree. You’ll need to remove as much of the wire basket and cage as you can. Here are two tips for making that job easier for you and safer for the tree. First, make the planting hole extra wide so that you have more room to work around the hole. Next, if possible, carefully tip the tree toward one side and remove the bottom of the basket and burlap. Then you can stand the tree and move it into the planting hole. Once the tree is in the hole you can begin to cut away the sides of the basket and burlap wrap. Your wider planting hole will make this easier. The wire baskets used for trees can be very sturdy, so you’ll need something stronger than pruners to cut through the wire.

A new tree needs a planting hole that's at least twice as wide, but no deeper than its root ball to get off to a healthy start.


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