Sunday, April 10, 2011

Audacious deadheading

In my small garden I believe the days of timid (and quick & easy) snapping of spent blooms are in the past. Yesterday I took pruners in hand and set out to limit at least some of the expansionism of my rose bushes in the front garden. Turns out most of them were full of thrips so the timing was good, and now there are no flowers left, except for 'Le Vesuve'.  In the process I discovered a very cool thing about polyanthas.

I have always struggled with how to deadhead these cluster-blooming polyanthas (I'm not sure but modern floribundas might work the same way), not wanting to remove any growth or future blooming from my young plants that I desperately wanted to be bigger - soon. I have two 'Clotilde Soupert's, 'Lauren', 'Softee', 'Anda', 'Cal Poly', 'Etoile de Mai' and 'Sweet Chariot'. Most of the time their clusters have two main stems, one coming off at an angle with a small leaf at the base.  Sometimes I would just grab the cluster as though I was shaking hands with it and pull it through, stripping off the flowers, and sometimes I would cut the cluster stem but never far enough to remove the unsightly leftover stems or ugly naked clusters, fearing budeyes were there. Yesterday I found that these plants are amazingly consistent. Looking back along the cane from the cluster or from the occasional single blooms, past the small leaf at the base of the angled bloom stem, the next leaf always had a leaf bud sprouting from the budeye. That's where I cut. Sometimes that second leaf was a pretty long distance from the cluster, but I cut there anyway, knowing that any extra cane I left would simply die and turn brown and ugly.
Beautiful rose bush: 'Clotilde Soupert', bred in 1889 in Luxembourg by Soupert & Notting

The result of my audacious deadheading was a beautifully shaped bush ('Clotilde Soupert' is the prettiest evergreen plant I know) with no ugly pedicels sticking up (left behind after snapping off only the flower) and no naked clusters waiting to turn brown, AND by removing at least 8" of growth I believe I went a long way toward keeping them a manageable size for my increasingly packed garden. Of course, the negative side of this practice is the time and effort it demands. Oh, well, no such thing as a free lunch - even in rose gardens.

'Mme Abel Chatenay', always so beautiful, was not this spring. Her flowers were fringed in brown and didn't last long at all. The problem? Her first attack of thrips. So disgusting. So all of her flowers and buds are gone, too, in an effort to rid the garden of these teensy beasties. You can spot the infested buds by the brown stains on the unfurled petals. She's getting pretty big, too, so it was an opportunity to downsize and shape her up just a bit.

Since they are smallish plants, my three 'Hermosa' bushes are planted closely in a triangle for maximum impact. I've been deadheading them this way since last year since reading that being part Bourbon they benefit from this trimming and will be bushier and less spindly. Some of the plants did not end up as a 'pretty bush' like CS did, since they had already become a little spindly, but I have the hope of pretty bushes when they fill out after this more intensive nipping. Like pruning azaleas after spring bloom, they respond with new growth and more leaves. Even though these were also showing new growth at the budeyes, sometimes I went past the first one, trying to make them a little more compact and symmetrical.
The three 'Hermosa' bushes with the bright green leaves are at the back along the sidewalk and driveway. This is in August, 2009, and I was struggling to keep leaves on my bushes without much success. It turned out the problem was lack of water. I was watering by hand every other day after work. Now I have a micro system that runs every morning for 30 minutes and uses less water. The twiggy thing under the tire is one of the 'Clotilde Soupert's, really suffering. A 'Red Ruffle' azalea is in the middle, and 'Souv de Francois Gaulain' is at the bottom.

Same camera position today, a year and a half later. You can't see the azalea, but it's still there. SdFG with the blue-green leaves is at the bottom, taking up much more space. Hopefully, you can see the 'Hermosa's sticking up at the top, and CS minus all her flowers is to the right of the tire. 'Lauren' and 'Sweet Chariot' are in pots at the bottom corners.

In getting rid of the infecting flowers and buds I've read that we're supposed to put them in a sealed bag and throw them away with the trash because they fly and will move on to destroy other flowers. When I had removed them before, that was what I did. However, this time I had a very large reusable 'debris bag' made of tarp material that was full of trimmings of all sorts that I would normally dump at the curb for the garden waste truck. (No, I could not drag two bags behind me in the baking sun. I'm not that organized and don't think that far ahead - maybe next time. Having one bag with me at the start was unusually well planned for me.)

So...what could I do with these awful bugs? I found some old ant & roach spray in the garage (we have tubes-in-the-walls pest control, so we no longer have to spray for the nasties.) I sprayed the contents a lot and folded the top down and stood my handy pick-ax on it. Handy? I failed to put it away when I dug the driveway bed. I'm so terrible, but it worked out well this time, except that I stubbed my bare toe on the blade the other day. Ouch!! I might give the bag another dose of roach spray before I put the contents out at the curb next week. Surely they will have died cooped up in that bag with those poison fumes, don't you think? OK, let's not be dumb. I googled and found that Permethrin kills thrips. I'll go read the Raid can........YES, it has it!!

To sum up, knowing where to cut my rose bushes is a huge relief and makes my new, more demanding task simpler at least. Probably doing a bush or two in an evening won't be too difficult, especially since it's only once every six to eight weeks, and while I'm at it, it will be exhilarating realizing that I know better now what I'm doing with these roses. Little by little, they say. Fortunately, old garden roses don't care too much if their gardener is less than brilliant.
The garden centerpiece, 'Le Vesuve'. Perhaps you remember him after pruning. Well, he is again bulging at the brick borders of this 6-ft diameter bed. He's probably 4-1/2 feet tall. It just occurs to me that he makes me look brilliant. Now you know the truth!


  1. I know I'm not very good about how to prune my roses, luckily they are all pretty resilient. Any time you can figure out how to make caring for plants easier as well as more manageable is great.

  2. Great pruning job, Sherry! I feel it is so satisfying when you understand your roses better, so that you know how they want to be pruned. It is amazing how much the bed with the 'Hermosa' roses has filled in in just 1 1/2 years. It looks so lush and beautiful now.
    Your Le Vesuve is sooo... lovely! He is truly worth having the centerpiece spot in your front yard.

  3. We miss you for a whole week, hope to see you on the tour around Tampa!

  4. Your roses look great with and without flowers. I know what you mean about deadheading those cluster roses. I have done the same things you have but now just go ahead and clip at the base of the cluster and they grow back quickly and it doesn't seem to effect the shape later. I have found these green worms burrowing in the blooms and eating the petals. Have any idea what that is? I need to look it up. I see them and the worm comes out and I squish the little booger! Ugh! Still waiting on my Le Vesuve to come...I have lots of bare area along my back fence that is waiting for roses to fill them in and make it pretty!

  5. Nice tips on trimming the Polyanthas! And sorry about the thrip infestation.

  6. Oh no. I didn't know about thrips. Sure hope I don't have to learn. Enjoyed hearing about your pruning techniques. I'm trying to learn these things too and it really helps to hear what works for you.

  7. Meghan- Those green things are the oak caterpillars. They ruined my spring rose flush and lots of other things I like in the garden. This was the first year I noticed them and there were thousands of them. They seem to have turned into yellow moths now.

    Sherry- are those chilli thrips? Please tell me they aren't back yet.

  8. No, Amber, these are flower thrips, thankfully.

  9. It's a good thing my roses are forgiving because I'm definitely not an expert trimmer. Your bushes look so lush, and I like the way you have name plates in front of them. I think I'll steal that idea from you since I have a hard time remembering some of their long French names. I had thrips once...on newly purchased roses. Fortunately, they haven't returned, but I'll remember what you said about sealing them up.