The first blast of Winter I in this great El Nino year seems to be over. The lull in rain storms from the end of January through most of February reinforces something my son was told in college: our seasons will be splitting into two. We will have two winters and two summers. This was over 20 years ago and here we sit hoping for more rain to fill California’s reservoirs.
So as we await Winter II we have been actively pruning our roses. If you haven’t started yet, get going and prune. It is not too late. Remember to prune for the open bowl shape to allow for light and air to circulate as much as possible. Little pink buds begin to appear all over your pruned branches. I prefer to pinch out all the lower buds, especially those growing on the inside of the “bowl.” This allows for more growth and energy going to form larger and stronger stems on the outside of the branches. First blooms should also be larger as a result. Growth on the inside may cross the root ball and will likely grow to touch another branch which would create an opportunity for fungal growth.
Rains will come in various energetic bursts. Keep raking out all the leaves and debris at the base of the roses. It is okay in my book to spray the ground again with Neem oil or some copper sulfate solution to control winter growth of bacteria and rusts. March is usually the time we add alfalfa meal in a ring around the root base of each rose to give it some soil enrichment. Usually 1/2 cup to 2 cups per rose is fine. Work it into the soil with a small rake and then water it in. There is no need to fertilize until the rose finishes its first bloom.
Also, I believe in adding 1/2 cup pf Epsom salts per rose around the root base monthly from March to October. This enriches the rose with magnesium and helps heavily petaled roses hold up their heads. Magnesium to a plant is like oxygen to people. It helps plants to “breathe,” exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen.
I am a fanatic about weeding. I find it so important to remove weeds from the roses as they will suck nutritional resources of food and water that the roses need. Now is the best time to weed your garden because for every weed you don’t remove in March there will be ten to one hundred more by July. So weed, Weed, WEED.
Finally, it is time to spread mulch around your garden. A two-inch layer of redwood or fir bark mulch spread around your plants will retain moisture in the ground longer and keep weeds from getting into the ground. In the past, I have gotten the Vineyard mixture from Sonoma Mulch. They were shut down by the county because something toxic from them was leeching into the water system. I have been told that American Soil Company in San Rafael and Martin Brothers in Mill Valley will deliver mulch to your home if you need more than a few sacks that you could carry from a nursery.
Remember that roses want a slightly acidic soil of 6.5 so the mulch should be compatibly acidic. Ask the company for the mixture best suited for roses. When you apply it, leave room around the root ball of the rose to be exposed to light and air. Do not apply on top of the root ball. Your rose will suffocate and die. Very sad to lose a rose this way.
So pinch as much as you can, weed, apply alfalfa meal and Epsom salts and mulch. Wear sun block or a rain suit. Rain will reappear soon and go until May. The miracle of Spring will reward you with heavenly roses. It never ceases to be a thrill to behold Spring roses.
By Vivien Bronshvag, Consulting Rosarian
Edited for the website by Nanette Londeree, February 2020