Aggressive Russian sage, and roses that ‘chuckle’

We have three Russian sage plants that our landscaper put in about five years ago. Thriving and beautiful, they put out a great many suckers that are hard and messy to pull up. I used to trim the originals back in the fall, then thought maybe I was causing them to spread, so left them scraggly looking all last winter, only to find them spreading again. Is there some way to keep them “in their place?”

— Ole

You’re not alone with this complaint. Russian sage seems to be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde plant. Most people I’ve talked to don’t seem to have problems with the suckering, but a few of you have plants that are a bit too aggressive for their own good. As you’ve noticed, whether you cut them back or not really has no bearing on whether or not they sucker.

I don’t have an easy answer. One situation that seems to prevent this problem is to plant them in a dry, xeric area with a drip emitter or two near the plant. This tends to limit the plant to the irrigated area. It doesn’t always work, but most plants in this sort of situation seem to behave themselves.

Another way to keep them inbounds is to plant inside of a “sleeve” that prevents these underground runners from spreading. Use a plastic nursery pot and cut the bottom out. I’d use a good-sized one, say, 14 to 20 inches in diameter. Bury it to the brim and place the Russian sage in the middle. This restricts the roots so the plant doesn’t get as vigorous but it will contain those runners.

You don’t want to start spraying herbicides to control the suckers. The effective ones have systemic activity and they’ll end up damaging or killing the mother plant. Using contact-type weed killers isn’t much of an option either. They won’t hurt the mother plant, but you have to continue to spray as long as you have the plant and besides, these herbicides don’t work all that well on a semi-woody plant like Russian sage.

The only other option is to continue what you’ve been doing — dig out the suckers. Most people eventually dig the plant out and eliminate it all together. Wish I could give you an easier answer, but I hope this helps.

I have three “Chuckles” rose bushes I bought last year. They seem to be doing well and blooming in abundance. I read that this variety can be a bush or a climber. I’d prefer bushes and have tried to prune the long creeping branches, but it seems they only regrow the same outside branches and don’t fill out in the middle. Can I prune them so they grow into bushes?

— Alicia

“Chuckles” rose tends to be more of a spreading, sprawling grower. I had five in a grouping in our backyard. They can look gawky when they’re young, but they’re absolutely gorgeous once they fill out. When I’d had mine nine years, I cut them back hard (to 12 or 18 inches) because I hadn’t touched them since they were planted and there was some dead growth. They were a bit gangly the first year or two, but they filled out and stole the show when they bloomed. I consider them a semi-ground cover with a height of 2 feet and a spread of about 5 feet.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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