Roses are like people. They can manage with very little. But with a few simple acts of kindness, they will richly reward you next summer with more blooms, strong growth and resistance to disease. Here are five simple acts of kindness to show your roses you care.
- Sharpen your secateurs
I am really bad at looking after my secateurs. All summer long I have been abusing them. They are sticky from cutting sappy stems. They have been dropped on the ground most days; I think I must have dropped them on some flagstones, because they now have a slightly bent beak. They have been getting steadily more blunt, and it is now time to do some maintenance.
If secateurs become blunt, you will crush the rose stem, rather than making a clean cut. This leaves the shrub more vulnerable to disease.
There are all sorts of stones available for sharpening secateurs, but we have this tiny magic wand! Accio Wand.
The part of the secateurs that needs to be sharp is the curved inside edge of the fat blade (If you think of the secateurs as being a beak, as I do, this is the upper beak, but the edge of it).
Sweep the stone (magic wand) along the whole length of the blade. You can see it getting shiny as you sharpen it.
Then turn over your secateurs and sharpen the other side of the same cutting edge. Your stone (magic wand) wants to be flatter against the blade on this side. Do nice long sweeps across the whole blade.
If you have any squeaks in your secateurs you can oil the hinge a little bit too. Mine were squeak-free and moving smoothly, so I missed out this step.
Now you can use your secateurs!
2. Cut a bloom or two for your kitchen table
You are likely to have the odd bloom still on your shrub rose. Are you enjoying it outside? If the answer is ‘yes’, then leave it alone! If the answer is ‘no’, then bring it inside! This is a little act of kindness for you too.
3. Prune any whippy stems
You may not have any long whippy stems on your rose bush. But if you do, it’s a good idea to tidy them up a bit now. If there are storms in winter, this will protect your rose (and you) from wind damage.
To prune a rose, cut the stem just above a leaf. If there are no leaves because your rose has shed its leaves for winter, you might be able to see a little red pimple. This will become a new shoot in spring. If you cut just above this pimple, the stem will look nice and tidy. If you cut a long way from a pimple, the wood between the cut and the pimple will die back and go shrivelled and black.
But don’t panic! It is not the end of the world if you don’t do this! Roses are very forgiving.
Can you see the tiny red pimple to the right of the blade? Ideally I would cut even closer to the pimple, but I was wrestling left-handed with my secateurs and trying to take a photo at the same time!
4. Pick up fallen leaves
At this time of year, my roses are partially clothed. They have shed most of the leaves below the waist. They are clinging on to those at the growing tip of their stems.
If I leave the dead leaves on the ground, there is a higher risk that they will harbour fungal black spot spores. This sounds worse than it is. Black spot just looks unsightly, but doesn’t really cause much damage to the rose bush.
But here is a simple act of kindness. Just clear away the dead leaves. It is like changing the bed linen. It is just that little touch to make your rose feel special.
WARNING: Use protective clothing and goggles/glasses when crawling around under roses! They bite!
5. Trim back herbaceous perennials
Roses like to feel the air under their skirts in winter. They don’t like scratchy tights. If their neighbours, the herbaceous perennials, have stopped flowering for the year, then give them a tidy too. As you cut them back, you will probably find some cheeky little weeds that have seeded themselves and gone unnoticed in the summer. Hoik them out too.
If the perennials haven’t finished flowering, like Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ below, this job can wait for another month. Just get rid of any plant material that is obviously dying back. I have cut back the Alchemilla mollis in front of this rose, because it starts to look like a damp rag after the first frost. It will re-sprout with new leaves in March.
Now that your roses are all scrubbed and tubbed and ready for bed, the next thing to do will be to tuck them up in a nice thick duvet of mulch.
Mulch can be any organic material. Compost, well-rotted manure or bark chippings are perfect. Mulch is useful for four reasons:
- It slowly rots down to provide nutrients
- It improves the structure of your soil
- It suppresses weeds
- It keeps in moisture
I mulch my roses once we have had some good winter rain to thoroughly soak the soil. We have had a couple of rainy days, and I’m holding out for more.
When the ground is nicely saturated, I will order a bulk bag of well-rotted manure and will liberally spread it around my roses. A thick layer of 5-10cm is ideal.
Muck-spreading is my absolute favourite winter job in the garden, and I will be sure to write a post about it. Stand by too, for a post about home-made compost. Oh, My Cup Runneth Over!
If you can’t be bothered with any of this, don’t worry. Roses are tough old boots, and can manage on neglect. But if you do show them a few small acts of kindness, they will reward you richly next summer.
Do you perform any other acts of kindness for your roses (or other shrubs) at this time of year? Or do yours thrive on neglect?
The Mindful Gardener aims to bring you simple acts of kindness throughout the winter.
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