Summer days are here, albeit masquerading as ‘fall’ every other day. Roses are in full bloom, in gardens, in parks, along sidewalks. In my own garden, I have some fabulous blooms. The licorice smell of the yellow ‘Sunsprite’ always brings a smile to my face while the beautiful multi-color blooms of the ‘Chihuly’ add a sense of awe. As I walk along my rose bed, I often reach out to remove the spent blooms. Doing so enables me to cheat nature and trick the plant to produce more blooms.
It is really simple botany – a plant produces flower that turns to fruit and sets seed (rose hips, in case of roses). That is how the plant’s seasonal reproductive cycle gets completed. However, when the fading flowers are pinched off before it sets fruit, the plant puts all its energy into producing more flowers.
Most roses respond well to deadheading. For hybrid tea roses, I always prune the stem down to the first five-leaf set. For cluster roses like floribundas, I try to pinch off the stem of the spent flower only. Finally, when all the buds in the cluster have bloomed, I trim their stem down to the node from where the subsequent bloom stem begins growth. While trimming I make sure that I cut at a 45° angle, just slightly above the node. This ensures that it does not accumulate moisture. Throughout the process, I always use a sharp hand pruner and clean the blades between cuts with Lysol wipes to prevent spreading fungal infections like mildew and black spot.
Deadheading spent flowers has several added benefits as well. It prevents pests and fungal diseases since decaying flowers can provide shelter to unwanted bugs. It also improves air circulation. A note of caution – stop deadheading as you go into fall (September-October in the Pacific Northwest). Let the plant set fruit and seed, so it can harden its canes, shut down and prepare for winter. Otherwise, frost will kill any tender new growth.