Homegrown: Rose bushes

I have a question about rose bushes. What should I use to seal the end of a branch that I just cut back? I’ve heard of a lot of things to seal them with and have tried a lot of them but have never really found a tried and true method.

I spray, but there is always one critter that gets in. I don’t want all my work going down the drain especially now that I’ve got them looking healthy.

— Kathy

This little borer enters the soft pithy end of the cane and usually kills the cane down as far as it tunnels down.

The sad part about it is that the damage is unintentional.

These little wasps or bees are not eating the rose, they’re just digging out an egg chamber.

In fact, several of these guys are actually beneficial as they parasitize plant pests such as aphids.

The best way to avoid their damage is to prevent them from tunneling into the cane in the first place. Placing a physical barrier on the cut end will keep them out of your rose.

They can only get in through the soft pithy center; they can’t bore in through the side of the cane.

The way I like to prevent cane borer in roses is to paint the freshly cut ends with a standard black pruning paint. It’s waterproof, and one good coating should last you the entire season.

Regular white glue works fine as a barrier, but it doesn’t last. It breaks down in the sun and moisture and must be reapplied, which is a painful job since the rose has grown out by then. I try to avoid reaching down into that dense, thorny plant whenever I can.

There are waterproof glues out there that might get around this problem.

Some people like using the old-fashioned flat thumbtacks just stuck into the end of the cane. That will work, but I guess it’s a bit fussier than I want.

I’ve also heard of people using nail polish to paint the ends of the canes. It will last outdoors, but the solvents in it will kill plant tissue back a bit and delay healing of the wound.

However, if you want your roses to match your toenails ...!

The one complaint I’ve heard about using the pruning paint is that it just seems to magically be attracted to fingers and clothes (think of the tar baby from Br’er Rabbit).

It’s helpful to wear a pair of those disposable latex gloves and some old clothes when you’re doing this.

My weeping pine has reddish berries. Are these cones forming? It also has a powder dust it gives off whenever it gets bumped. I have never seen anything like it.

— Janice

Sounds to me like you have a weeping Norway spruce. It’s a distinctive plant that forms a narrow, upright tree with strongly weeping branches.

The branches descend vertically and have a slight outward curve at the tips. To some, the plant reminds them of something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

The red berries you’re seeing are actually the young female cones. The female cones on a Norway spruce (as well as some other conifers) are a bright pinkish purple and quite showy in the early spring. They turn green and eventually brown as they mature the rest of the year.

The dust that is coming off the tree is pollen from the male cones.

Conifers often bear two types of cones: male and female.

The female cones are the bigger cones we all think about.

The male cones are usually much smaller and less conspicuous. Their function is to shed pollen early in the spring to fertilize the female cones. Once that’s done, they dry up and fall off the tree.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, 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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