17 January 2020
Winter rose pruning
With the start of the new year, I find myself reflecting on the
previous ten and wondering, with eager anticipation, what the new
decade will reveal.
Within the fabulous world of horticulture a span of ten years can be incredibly diverse and the passage of time ebbs and flows with the passing of the seasons. Gardeners can witness and enjoy so many wonderful changes within the garden where flora and fauna intertwine and weave their magic.
Much can be gained by observing, enjoying and sharing the journey of the garden with others. In essence gardening can be a fabulous learning experience that can enrich one's soul for a lifetime.
No doubt, that the elements and the occasional pests and diseases can be challenging. However, in the grand scheme of things it's just nature reminding us who is the boss. As my lovely Grandma used to say, "Be patient Dean, it will all come out in the wash."
So here I am, once again embarking on a new year of gardening, fully immersed in the garden at Allt y bela....I would not have imagined this journey ten years ago!
January is always a busy month in the garden and I have been making best use of the mild weather at Allt y Bela to undertake pruning work on our rose and fruit collection.
Having previously lived in Berkshire for 10 years, I can confirm South Wales is without question, wet, wild and stunningly beautiful. The pruning work over the last couple of weeks has been rather damp, but very productive and enjoyable.
The weather may have been wet, but a brief moment this week
between menacing clouds and heavy rain, followed by a band of
crystal light as the rain passed overhead, gave me my first Allt y
bela rainbow. Alas, after much searching there was no pot of gold
underneath the Fagus.
Many of the roses at Allt y bela are grown on hazel domes to create informal structures within the borders. These domes complement and mirror the topiary. Our rose domes are constructed using hazel stems coppiced from the surrounding woodland which is rich in renewable material.
You need a good sharp pocket saw and a keen eye to select just the right stems. I have used birch stems previously, and they work equally well for dome supports. Birch is also excellent for staking herbaceous perennials. The stems have side branches which are flat by nature and they have a delicate appearance once they have been woven together to form a support. Whatever you have to hand, natural supports are a preferable approach and can be recycled without harm to the environment.
At Allt y bela I have selected hazel stems which are long and
naturally curved; the stems should ideally be no thicker than 2-3
cm at the base and thin and wispy at the top. This size
provides the best flexibility and the wispy top is pliable and easy
Staking is all about providing support to the rose (climber or rambler), without the structure becoming the dominant feature. In summer the rose should be full of flower, and the staking invisible to the eye.
Step by Step - Rose dome construction
* Cut a point on each of the hazel stems
this makes it easier to insert into the soil.
* If the soil is firm, you can make a hole in the soil using a wooden stake or metal bar.
* Carefully flex the hazel stem across your knee or shoulder, this will encourage the woody fibres within the stem to stretch helping it to become more pliable.
* Push the pointed hazel stem into the soil so that it is on a slight angle beyond vertical with the curve of the hazel bending inwards.
* Push the stem into the soil as far as it will go, until it feels secure.
* Repeat this process 4 - 6 times to form a circle around the rose plant.
* Once the stems are in place, bend the stems to shape to form a dome 120cm - 150cm high (The domes we build at Allt y bela are approximately 120 cm in diameter.)
* Weave the hazel stems together in pairs using string or rubber tie to secure them into place until you achieve a dome.
Rose pruning (climber or rambler)
January is an ideal time to prune rose climbers and ramblers, particularly if the weather is relatively mild. Avoid pruning on cold icy days, it's not much fun and it can be damaging to the rose stems and your spirit.
Roses respond favourably to a constant process of renewal,
pruning helps to encourage growth and vigour. It also helps to
build a strong framework and encourages lateral stems to grow,
which ultimately produce beautiful flowers.
I always find it useful to review the rose plant for a few minutes prior to pruning. Look at each of the main rose stems carefully to determine what wood is old. If you have an abundance of old and new wood, you can remove a few of the old stems completely to ground level.
Pruning tip: when removing thicker rose stems always use a pair of sharp loppers or a pocket saw. Prune back the stems cleanly and tightly so that the base of the rose plant looks neat and you then avoid leaving unsightly stubs, which could potentially rot and weaken the rose.
If there are not many new stems, retain the old stems and prune these back to the strongest lateral.
Make sure your chosen secateurs are sharp and clean before you start. This makes pruning far more enjoyable and comfortable to complete, and you can be assured of clean, precise and satisfying pruning cuts.
Don't be daunted by rose pruning, take your time pruning each main stem carefully. Remove any dead or diseased wood and old foliage. The lateral growths (thinner stems growing from the main stem) can be pruned to 2 - 3 buds.
Cultivation tip: Removing the old foliage off the rose stems and collecting it from around the base of the rose helps to reduce the risk of potential diseases.
Pruning cuts should be made 5mm above the rose bud at a slight
angle. This may seem a bit prescriptive, but this is the optimum
technique that helps avoid damage to the dormant bud and will help
reduce future die back.
And now for the best bit, tying in and training.........
Once pruning has been completed, you can begin weaving the rose stems onto your newly constructed hazel dome.
Before you start weaving, look carefully at how the rose stems naturally cross or lie around the hazel dome. You can then determine an order of tying in, which will give you the best coverage and aesthetic.
Pick up each rose stem and bend it around the framework of the hazel dome, tying it in as you go. Try and cross the stems over each other to form a simple basket weave.
You may find that you have too many rose stems to accommodate onto the hazel dome. If this is the case, aim for light and airy; you may have to remove a couple of rose stems at the base so that the dome does not become too congested.
I have noted over the years that light penetration and good air circulation is key and will make for a very contented rose plant.
Flowering tip: Bending the rose stems slows down the sap flow in the rose stem and encourages flowering laterals to develop.
Once weaving/tying in has been completed, stand back with a cuppa and admire your rose dome creation, think of long summer days, beautiful rose blooms and heavenly perfume.
During the summer months, revisit the rose support and tie in any newly developing long rose stems.
It is best to do this job in summer because the new rose stems are soft and pliable and easy to bend into place. These new rose stems are also valuable potential new wood for the following season's pruning work.
Dead heading is a useful weekly task to encourage repeat flowering on climbers.
Rather than dead heading with secateurs, I use the snapping off technique whereby you snap off the rose bloom just below the short section of stem and the first pair of leaves.
If you look carefully below the rose bloom you will see a small swollen section which is called the abscission layer. This is the place on the rose plant where the old rose bloom would fall off naturally, given time, and away from eager secateurs.
In January 2021 you can prune your roses while they are still secured on the old hazel rose dome. Once pruning has been completed, remove the entire rose from the old dome and construct a new hazel dome. The newly pruned rose can easily be tied onto the new support.
You can apply the same techniques to climbing and rambling roses located on walls or fences by bending and tying in the pruned main stems onto horizontal support wires.
Roses, in general, enjoy a dressing of blood fish and bone in early spring, lightly cultivated into the soil around the base of the plant. This can be followed by a dressing of mulch which helps to retain moisture and keeps the roots cool.
Like all new gardening experiences, I am on a learning curve, exploring the intricacies of the garden and how the plants grow and respond to care at Allt y bela.
Every garden is unique, and over time you build up an intricate knowledge, which becomes a subconscious companion guiding you through the seasons……Whatever happens, it will all come out in the wash!
Words and photographs: Dean Peckett
If you would like to learn more about how to observe and work with the changing of the seasons, Dean is running a seasonal gardening course at Allt y bela, starting in March.