PRUNING - We want to accomplish 2 things at least in this last week of February (and into the first weeks of March, if needed. We want to get rid of any dead, diseased, or damaged canes and we want to open up the center of the bush for air movement.
In addition, this is the time to shape the plants to keep them inside the area in which we want them to grow. Since rose canes are soft in the center, it's very important to use sharp pruners, so you don't crush them, which starts disease.
Usually cuts should be made about 3/8 inch above a 'leaf scar' that faces outward. Make sure that your cut has been made where the cane has healthy wood. If the pith in the center of the cane is at all brown, keep cutting until you find pith that looks like the inside of a good apple.
CLEANUP - Just after the pruning, and before the bushes have sprouted, remove the winter mulch from the bud-union, use the dormant spray, and weed. Handling these little chores now prevents breaking off those new shoots that will come soon.
FERTILIZING - Alfalfa, in pellets or meal, contains a valuable growth hormone and makes an excellent feeding supplement. Use about 2 cups per plant worked lightly into the soil in mid-March.
WATER - This is by far the most important part of rose growing success. If your soil drains well, you won't have to worry about over-watering.
FERTILIZE - Use a commercial fertilizer with a balance of the 3 main ingredients & a bit of the trace elements & minerals. Always water well before & after an application of a granular fertilizer. Apply about 3/4 cup of the granular per full-sized bush monthly from April to August. Avoid fertilizers with high nitrogen after mid-September to slow the leaf & cane growth heading into the Fall.
DEADHEADING - Pruning occurs in the summer, as you 'deadhead' spent blooms. Make your cut just above a 5-leaflet leaf that is on the outside of the cane. Go down far enough on the stem so that the cane will be strong enough to support vigorous new growth.
WATER - just keep an eye on things if we get another dry spell - not likely, but be ready.
WEED & CLEAN UP - Double check that the weeding is finished as we leave the beds for the winter. If you have gotten this chore done, good for you. If not, get this one done "soon."
FERTILIZER - NOT needed at this time of year. Boosting the plant is counterproductive now.
LIME - NOW before the winter rains come & before you put down your layer of protective mulch.
MULCH - begins with a good organic mix. Some folks use the regular Tagro for this purpose. If you do this, be sure that the Tagro you get isn't too 'slimy.' Other possibilities are Cedar Grove Compost, Prep, and the old favorites cow or horse manure. You may be able to find an old favorite, mushroom compost too, but be sure it has the quality you will be paying for.
SPRAY for FUNGAL DISEASES - Last project of the year. In December, you can use a dormant type spray to kill off disease that may linger through the winter during dormancy.
PREPARE for NEW ROSES - If you will be planting a new rose where an old one was set, remove the old soil down to 16 inches & replenish with fresh, energetic soil - including the compost and nutrients you would always use in an established rose bed. Roses are heavy feeders, so including a fresh supply of organics, lime, & super phosphate will give them a great start in their new home.
PAY YOURSELF BACK - by picking some new roses to purchase in February of the next year.
When we talk about winter protection, we have 2 main things in mind: protecting our bushes from the cold & protecting them from physical damage.
COLD PROTECTION - The usual advice is unless you live in a cold spot or at a higher elevation, you need only protect your most tender varieties. Teas, some yellows, & Queen Charlotte may well need help in any garden. But, as we've seen over the last 3 years, we'll all be mulching our gardens. Create a mound over the bud-union about 6 inches deep using whatever mulch you've put on the rose beds already. The key thing is that the mulch not be something that gets water-logged so we reduce the environment conducive to canker formation.
PHYSICAL PROTECTION - One of our standard suggestions in to cut back individual bushes (NOT CLIMBERS) by about one-third. At the same time you can get rid of dead & damaged canes. This will eliminate a good deal of the foliage that remains on the bush. This helps immediately to keep them from being 'rocked' loose in the ground by our strong fall & winter winds. There is still controversy about whether to remove all leaves at this time, but most of us remove all the leaves to reduce fungal hosting till the weather gets below 35 degrees.
Another step is to loosely tie each bush together with soft twine to keep any cane that gets burdened with snow from snapping off at the bud union. For the same purpose we can make sure that our climbers are well-tied to their support structures. Again, use soft twine to make sure that the tie doesn't damage the outer bark of the cane. You also may be surprised to find some new long canes. Train them now while they're still supple.
Now, find those sunny days among the nasty ones to get out & handle these chores, and your roses will reward you all next summer with more & larger blooms.