My Pruning Diary (A) followed by a short article (J).

A. March

In March we start cutting Lilacs back that have less than 5 stems so that when they start growing they will branch closer to the ground with 5 or more stems.

We grow flowering shrubs including roses without the use of fungicidal sprays in order to produce plants for our customers that are proven disease resistant. We are also involved with trying to introduce more disease resistant versions (through sporting) of some of the more widely known disease susceptible cultivars by taking cuttings only from the healthiest plant parts. More information on growing is provided in my growing page.

March is also the time to take hardwood cuttings from plants and set up "mounds". Mounding, sometimes called Stool Layerage is an old method of propagation where you create a mound of soil around and over the plant (works for many deciduous plants). Just the previous years growth should stick up above the mound when your done.


We take softwood tip cuttings from lilacs and place them in propagation boxes with bottom heat. Lilac tip cuttings reach a point of maturity where they snap when bent (sort of the way a Jade Plant snaps when it is bent). That is the best time to take softwood tip cuttings.


In July and August I take cuttings from Mother Plants kept in pots for this purpose (Roses, Rhododendrons, Spiraea, Hibiscus and more). Cuttings are taken from the G3 roses we potted into 3 gallon that are still in stock. Pinkster Azaleas and Rosebay Rhododendrons are being purchased from a Nursery in PA that practices tissue culture of Species Azalea and Rhododendron.

Each week on Monday and Teusday I start the day taking cuttings which are placed in; large 2 mil clear plastic garbage bags and for smaller quantities; 2 gallon ziplock bags. I package them in a 17" x 17" x 17" box to be sent via priority mail with delivery confirmation to a greenhouse that roots them for return the following spring in June. Wednesday I take cuttings from roses to be placed in my own propagator boxes that root them within 6 weeks. At the end of the day I record which cuttings I have taken on one of my web pages.

I also take many cuttings all over such tender roses like 'Mutabilis' and 'Zepherine Drouhin'. I suggested the idea to Lynn MacIntosh at Curling Stone Farm (on Depot Road about a mile away from Voorheesville toward Guilderland Center) of growing 'Mutabilis' into a hanging basket (treated like an annual). Those interested in trying to winter it over would, of course, remove it from the basket to plant in a sheltered spot (sheltered from sun and wind in winter). She has obtained 25 or so plants from me to experiment with.


Each day (7 days a week) I water, fertilize and prune as I always do in summer and fall. Many of the cuttings we propagate from come from these prunings. Thursday and Friday I do all the extra chores one has to do; mulching, mowing (unless its blistering hot or raining) after the regular day of watering I have already outlined.

All pruning and disbudding is discontinued August 15 (6 weeks till frost) but regular watering continues together with a high potasium low nitrogen fertilizer (liquefied seaweed mix.

Please Note. All my roses are on their own roots. If they sucker its OK. If your rose is grafted remove suckers that come from below the graft.

E) When to prune repeat flowering roses (repeated from )

The traditional time to prune repeat flowering roses is from mid winter to early spring but remember that;

in zone 5 or less prune late,

in zone 6 or warmer one can prune earlier except in years when winters are severe.

I dont prune until after growth buds at mid stem begin to swell. Generally the idea is to prune after the risk of a serious frost is past but before your plants have put on a lot of growth that just has to be cut off.

Dead heading (removing faded flowers) on repeat blooming varieties will encourage rebloom. Not dead heading will reduce the amount of new growth and therefore the number of new buds.

On a hybrid tea, dead heading will involve cutting back to the first set of 5 leaflets that point away from the center. Steven Scaniello says to prune 'Peace' back only to the first leaf set below the faded flower.

The farther back that stems are cut the longer it will take for them to rebloom, but the larger, flowers will be.

Stephen Scaniello says in very cold winters do not cut back hybrid teas at all as it will create fresh wounds that can cause winter kill ("Roses of America", Scanniello, 93). I suspect that the problem is that people dont realise what temperature is very cold. In the Albany, NY area each spring people come shopping for roses that report they had 10% or more die. Upon questioning they admit to cutting back in early fall. Often temperatures have dropped that previous winter to around 10 below 0 F. Though a good snow cover can help protect these roses and most of them had been protected with cones, mulch or other device they had died due to pruning too late in the season.

"Roses of America" by Stephen Scanniello & Tania Bayard/Photography by Albert Squillace, The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Guide to our National Flower. A Donald Hutter Book, Henry Holt & Company, New York ISBN 0-8050-1241-9 Its available at The Guilderland Public Library in Guilderland, NY.

G) Roses have evolved just as other plant species have, to be diversely tolerant in order to survive in spite of geographical changes in temperature, moisture and fertility. It's just in the last 200 years or so that modern hybridists have altered their general survivability by breeding in favor of flower shapes and colors to the detriment of disease resistance and temperature tolerance.

A few breaders have consistently introduced disease tolerant hardy roses (sometimes only a few each year) while seeking to breed this tendency into more sumtuous plants. In recent years, in responce to a larger market for these plants they are producing whole lines of plants that are designated as "ecological roses", "sustainable roses" or "the most disease resistant rose in fifty years" when in actuality many of them are not as good as introductions of long ago.

I look for Roses that have singled themselves out for their disease resistance and cold tolerance and then look to their geneological heritage for clues that show up other roses that share these characteristics. At Azalea House Flowering Shrub Farm we put our money where our mouths are by growing the plants locally, exposed to local conditions, without spraying with fungicide.

J) Pruning Roses: Each variety neads to be pruned in its own way. Generally we prune as below (note E and F above).

An application of quality compost is best done at the time of pruning (Locally I have been using Nutrabrew or Espoma). In his book "Roses of America" Stephen Scanniello advised using manure (note at bottom-who Stephen Scanniello is) but in recent years compost has been suggested in order to prevent possible exposure to e-coli bacteria.

Hybrid teas flower best on new growth.

Generally the closer they are cut to the ground the more vigorous new growth will be and the larger the flowers.

A severe pruning down to 5 or 6 inches of the ground, as long as the bud union (in a grafted rose) is not dead, will produce new growth.

Open the center, removing all but a few of the strongest canes. These remaining canes should then be cut back to an outward facing bud.

An unpruned hybrid tea will produce growth that is too week to produce large flowers. Sooner or later it will get very large with flowers only near the top. Then it will eventually die due to overcrowded canes and a buildup of dead wood at the crown (or graft) that invite disease or insects ("Roses of America", Scanniello, 86 & 93).

To prune Hybrid Perpetuals remove a proportion of the older wood and cut back all the canes by about 2/3 during late winter while still dormant. Repeat after the first flowering.

Bourbons are pruned while still dormant at the beginning of the growing season after its several years old. Main shoots are shortened by 1/3 and all others by 2/3. As plants age remove older wood. After flowers fade laterals are cut back by 1/3 (Zepherine Drouhin).

Chinas dont nead pruning as such to promote rebloom and so we only pinch off faded flowers and remove dead wood. Severe pruning should only be attempted when the plant is dormant (Mutabilis).

Pinch off flowers on Damask roses after they have faded. Hard pruning may be done immediately after all flowering has stopped, probably late June in the Albany area, but isn't necessary except to remove dead wood (remember that on a spring blooming old rose next years flower buds are formed between the longest day of the year (locally June 20) and frost, prune too late and no flowers next spring).

Galicas can be pruned like a damask except for the removal (late June to early July locally) of one or two (no more than 20% of the upright canes) of the older canes each year which can promote the growth of new canes.

Albas are very upright and dont sucker as some other old garden roses do. Some of the older growth may be removed on mature specimens (in late June to early July locally) its best to be conservative with this removal as the best flowers apear on second year growth. Plants on their own roots may benefit from occasional hard pruning (locally in late June or early July) but flowers may be lost the following year.

'New Dawn' = In spring remove the oldest cane to the ground each year. Remove broken canes. Train any new canes horizontally. Remember that most of the flowering buds will occur on side branches. And most of the buds on side branches will occur immediately behind other flowering buds. If you deadhead by cutting back to the next outward facing branchlet with 5 leaves you will cut off most of the dormant buds that would have bloomed later in the year. Fertilize as indicated below (we sell 'New Dawn' and its children including; 'Parade' and 'White Cockade').

I (Andrew Van Cleve) grow roses and other plants retail & wholesale for profit in Albany County, NY.

I specialize in those plants that are hardy (to the indicated zone), locally disease resistant (as indicated by our testing) and rare (involves research and testing). Plants that, once established can be left to their own devices while you go on vacation.

We grow plants without pest control other than handpicking (as it is described in section K above). Plants that cant tolerate these conditions are allowed to die. We are planning to open several micro nurseries throughout the northeast (and south west) to grow plants that are hardy and locally disease resistant in those areas. Boston and Los Angeles are two areas that have been suggested.

Although my advice is sought by many on our web pages I lecture to small groups of people (usually less than 10 in a group) in continuing education programs or on Yonder Farms Garden tours.

Each plant has individual characteristics that can directly affect the liklihood of survival in your area. My experience indicates that plants that are taken as cuttings from plants already growing in your region (which is why we grow them that way), then grown locally are more likely to survive over the long term than those mail ordered from more temperate climates.

At Azalea House Flowering Shrub Farm we sell retail in one and three gallon pots between 10AM and 2PM; May 15 through July 4 or by appointment. We also sell wholesale in three and five gallon pots to local Garden Centers, Landscapers and Nurseries. We grow Native Azaleas and Rhododendrons along with Classic Roses, Old Roses and Disease Resistant Roses, Classic Lilacs, Rose of Sharon, Amelanchier canadensis; Shadblow, Calluna vulgaris; Heather, Spiraea bumalda and more (we grow without fungicide and use a combination of Permaculture, Natural, Organic and Scientific cultural methods. More information with pictures is available from my Local Garden Newsletter.

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