HG: Homegrown Column March 07, 2009

Can I trim my roses back at this time of year? I did not get to it in the late fall, and they are about 8 feet tall. Also, can I start planting seeds or is it still too early?
Thanks.
— Molly


Actually, you’re better off having not pruned your roses yet.

You see, roses are sort of stupid plants and if you prune them too early they’ll respond by shooting out soft succulent growth too early in the spring that can often be damaged or killed by late frosts.

The time to prune roses can vary a little from year to year depending on the weather, but it’s usually sometime during the first week of April.

When it comes time to prune, the first order of business is to remove any dead or damaged canes.

Once you’ve done that, your goal is to form the plant into the shape of an upsidedown cone, think of an ice cream cone with an empty center.

Select anywhere from five to 11 canes to form the framework of the plant. These canes should be well spaced around the plant, growing outward from the center in all directions.

You don’t want any of the canes crossing or touching another cane. In this case, one of the canes needs to go.

With a rose as big as yours, you’ll also want to think about rotating out larger, woodier canes in favor of younger, more vigorous ones. This will keep the plant a bit shorter and more vigorous with denser foliage and more prolific flowers.

After you’ve selected the canes to keep, cut out all the others. Don’t leave any stubs, cut them off pretty flush. Then cut back the remaining canes to 12 to 24 inches from the ground.

I like to cut them back to about 12 inches. It keeps the plant a little more compact. But some people get a little queasy cutting their plant back that far.

The last thing to do is to paint all the cut ends with pruning paint to prevent cane borers from getting into your plant.

I hope this all makes sense to you. It’s hard to explain in just words.

The answer to your second question is “it depends.”

I divide vegetables into two groups: cool season plants and warm season plants.
The cool season plants are things such as the leaf crops (lettuce, spinach, chard, greens), root crops (potatoes, onions, carrots, radishes, turnips), cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower,
cabbage, brussels sprouts) and peas.

It’s time NOW to plant these guys. These plants generally don’t do well in hot weather.
Many people are disappointed with their broccoli or lettuce when it sends up flowers and turns bitter. This happens because the plant was planted too late.

Warm weather triggers these guys to bloom. Starting them early allows the plant time to grow and mature before it gets hot.

When I used to have a garden (yes, I’m getting fat and lazy in my old age), I seeded most of these plants around Feb. 1. You don’t have to be that early, but don’t wait until April to put them in.

And you don’t have to worry about frost. These guys are surprisingly hardy. I’ve had little 2-inch lettuce and spinach seedlings survive 15 degrees just fine.

For warm season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, melon, cucumbers, beans and corn, you should wait until we’re past danger of frost to plant.

These guys won’t tolerate any frost and just love our hot summers. Figure on putting them in anytime from the end of April through May.


I have several bird feeders in my yard. I’ve noticed the seed castings surrounding the feeders have built-up over a period of time and smothered the nearby live ground cover. Should the castings be periodically removed? Are they a danger to the tree that the feeder resides in? Do you have any ideas (rudimentary designs) that may prevent the spread of these castings into neighboring flower beds and lawn?
— Chris


Yes, those shells and other debris should be removed on a regular basis. They can build up into a thick enough layer to interfere with plant growth, plus they can start to ferment, which produces compounds that are toxic to plants.

Depending on how big the feeders are, you should figure on cleaning it up anywhere from once a month to a couple times a year.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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