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Pruning time for hybrid roses and other plants

By By Steve Strong/Lauderdale County Agent
Feb. 13, 2002
Somewhere between mid-February and the first week of March is the best time to prune hybrid tea rose bushes. These are the roses with a big, knobby graft union on the main trunk near the soil line, and are the type that bloom throughout the growing season.
It is important to distinguish between hybrid teas and other kinds of roses, because several varieties like the thorn-less climbing floribunda "Lady Banks" have already set flower buds to bloom next month. Pruning them now would cut off all the spring blooms, and may delay or even prevent blooming this year.
For the one-shot spring bloomers, wait until they are finished with flowering before cutting back as hard as necessary. For hybrid teas and other "ever-bloomers," pruning in late winter helps to stimulate new flower growth and gets rid of old diseased wood.
When pruning back tea roses, dead or diseased growth is the first thing to be pruned away. Branches with discolored canker spots should be cut back to a spot where the stem is solid and disease-free.
Cutting back to new healthy wood may mean pruning as low as 15 to 18 inches high, and sometimes even shorter if dieback was a problem last year. Make sure to use sharp pruning shears and cut at slight angle about 45 degrees.
Choose to keep only about five to seven main canes that will form the base for all other branching during the growing season. Keeping too many main branches will put a heavy load on the root system, and may take away energy that forms the flower buds.
The main branches in the center of the plant may be left a little taller than the outside canes, so that sunlight can penetrate to the inside of the canopy. Full sunlight and good air circulation is vital for healthy rose growth, especially for hybrid teas that have a constant problem with black spot fungus during the growing season.
Other plants can also benefit from pruning at the same time as roses, like crepe myrtles and fruit trees. Crepe myrtles bloom on new wood that grows out between spring and summer, so cutting back anytime between February and May will still leave time for flower buds to form.
Crepe myrtles can be tricky to prune, mainly because many gardeners make the mistake of pruning back to the same spot on the trunks as last year. This type of incorrect pruning (called "crepe murder" by Felder Rushing) causes new growth to occur all in the same place, forming an unsightly "witch's broom" growth habit.
It is easier to train a young crepe myrtle with correct pruning than to revamp an older one with witch's broom growth. The only way to fix that problem is to start over by cutting below the broom, and begin with a new growth site. New branches can be selectively pruned out as they begin to form a cluster, leaving only just a few stems to form the next set of flowering branches.
The county Extension office has publications on pruning roses, crepe myrtles and other landscape plants. There is also plenty of free information available on fruit tree pruning and fertilizing. Stop by for a visit at the fifth floor of the Raymond Davis Annex across from the county courthouse.
Now is an excellent time to cut back nandina, and other evergreen shrubs that do not flower in the spring. Leave the azaleas and snowball bushes alone until they finish blooming, then cut back as necessary.