Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pruning and training of lanky roses

The Bourbon rose 'Louise Odier' and the Austin rose 'Gertrude Jekyll' are some of the most fragrant roses in the world. They produce an abundance of very beautiful flowers. Their beauty combined with their heady fragrance place them on top of the wish list of many gardeners.

These 2 roses are interesting because they can be grown in colder zones due to their hardiness (USDA zone 5 for Loise Odier and Zones 4/5 for Gertrude Jekyll) and still become quite big roses. In warmer zones they also perform well (Even though GJ might benefit from getting some afternoon shade not to fry the delicate flowers in hot sun). Both roses do not have very good disease resistance against blackspot and powdery mildew and benefit from preventive spraying with systemic fungicides.

Many who grow these 2 roses end up being disappointed. Both shoot long 8-10 feet tall canes every season, that make these roses very awkward and lanky growers. The secret to growing these roses well is to know they are very adaptable to different styles of pruning and training.

Both can be grown as bush roses (3-5 feet tall and wide) or low climbers (About 7-8 feet tall). I will illustrate how different pruning and training of these roses make them perform better and how you can choose to grow them. Before I begin, let me get some terminology straight:

LATERALS: Shoots coming from existing canes, older canes sometimes called "Old Wood".

BASALS: Shoots or new canes coming from the bud-union or crown on bare-root roses... hopefully planted 3-4 inches below soil-level in cold climates) or new basals from the roots on own-root plants. Sometimes a new basal shoot will come from a point very low on some of the older canes.

Louise Odier pruned to be grown as a bush/shrub rose:

With hard pruning LO can be grown as 3-4 feet tall bush. Grown as 5-6 feet tall bush LO usually begins to need some support like a rose-stake. I cut the basals to 2-3 feet after they have flowered. Those canes will make new laterals (2-3 feet long and flower later in the fall). In the spring I prune these laterals to 2-6 inches so I get a rounded shape to the bush.

Louise Odier bush 3. season spring flush:

Same Louise Odier bush 3. season fall flush (Notice I pruned the bush hard after the spring flush and that the rose is blooming on the new laterals, and have shot some long basals that I will prune to 2-3 feet next spring):

This hard pruning reduces the size of the bush to the size and shape of the bush I want. I also get more laterals and flowers. Also it does not become leggy and ugly ... In 5 years it will become an awesome rosebush! Avoid pruning all the canes to the same length ; the bush will look like a "broom-stick". Pruning the canes in length from 1-3 feet will make the bush produce roses from top to bottom and not become a leggy and unproductive ... a 'jolly green giant'. Those who grow this rose knows it sometimes throws long 6-8 feet long canes ... If I see one of these I prune it to about 2-3 feet in august not allowing it to flower. It will produce about 3 new long laterals in the fall that will flower late. These will be pruned in the spring and give a rich spring flush.

Same Louise Odier Bush 4.season spring flush (many hundreds of buds and flowers):

Louise Odier trained and pruned to be grown as low climber:

The long canes also means LO can be grown as a low climber or pillar rose (against fences or walls in colder zones; 6 and lower or even on arches in warmer zones; 6 and higher).

Instead of pruning the long basals I train them by bending and twisting them in -S-shapes to a wall support. The bending horizontal parts will shoot many flowering laterals! In the Spring I prune most of these to about 3 bud-eyes length.

Louise Odier as a low climber against a wall, trained on a wall support. (pictured in the spring, so you can see how I trained the canes):

Same rose early summer just beginning to bloom - notice buds from from the ground and up. ( After flowering I prune back the laterals to 5 bud-eyes, that will shoot new laterals in the fall and bloom. Some of the laterals will be 3-4 feet I bend these in S-shaped and tie them to the support or some of the older canes to build up a dense framework):

Louise Odier could also be trained in a fan shape along a fence (See Gertrude Jekyll) , by training the long basals horizontally.

Gertrude Jekyll pruned to be grown as a bush/shrub roses:

Gertrude Jekyll ... SIGH! ... people either hate it or love it. I understand why!! No other rose can become lanky/leggy and ugly if not pruned hard or trained correctly!

Grown as a bush I would not allow it to grow taller than 4-5 feet! It will become leggy and ugly and not produce as many flowers as it can. Also: If not pruned hard after the impressive spring flush, repeat will be very poor! In my experience it takes about 3 seasons before the rose really begins repeating reliably. Many impatient rose growers (Yes they do exist) have given up on the rose before that, calling it an Awkward grower and a stingy bloomer.

I have a line of 8 GJs along the path to one of my doors. (The fragrance is unbelievable!! Out of this world!!) :

If people want to grow GJ as a bush and grow it well, hard pruning is very important ...both in the spring and after the first flush! If I want to grow it as a bush I prune the canes to 1-3 feet and the laterals to 1-3 bud-eyes in the spring. After the first flush I prune it hard again! Some of the new basals will flower and I prune these hard too after they have flowered! If a 5-6 foot basal was pruned to 2-3 feet me the new laterals will have reached 5 feet before fall! This makes GJ a very awkward grower! So if you want to grow it well as a bush and you want it to repeat ,hard pruning is essential!

Same pruning applies to Comte De Chambord/Mme Boll one of the parents to GJ:

By growing a rose well I mean the amount of flowers it produces ... A well grown specimen of GJ is sight for sore eyes ... well-grown meaning correctly pruned or trained! How often have you not seen leggy ugly GJs? With correct pruning a 4+ season old GJ is an amazing rose! Correctly pruned the amount of flowers is stunning! GJ as a bush (Scan from DA handbook of roses):

Gertrude Jekyll pruned and trained to be grown as a low climber:

The long basals and laterals produced also makes it possible to grow it shaped as fan, by training the long basals and laterals horizontally a very good option! GJ trained fan shaped along a fence:(Scan from DA handbook of roses):

GJ Jekyll can also be grown as a pillar rose or supported by cylindrical or various other supports, even on arches in zones 6 and higher. The secret is good training: bend or train as many as the basals and long laterals as horizontally as possible. Twirl and twist the flexible (and very, very thorny canes!!!) and secure them by tying the canes to the support or older canes. Grown as low climbers Gjs can be extraordinary beautiful and productive! GJ as low climber (Scan from DA handbook of roses):

When training a climber remember that just allowing them to grow upright and not training them, so they produce the twisted horizontal framework of canes that produces flowers, will only give ugly results. A rose that only produces flowers at the tip of the long canes on top, instead of producing flowers from the ground to the top.

So if more people had the patience and just knew how to prune and train Louise Odier and Gertrude Jekyll correctly, I bet they would be more valued for what they can become. I love these beautiful roses, with their strong intoxicating old rose fragrance, that makes me high on life.


nikkipolani said...

Thanks so much, Niels, for reposting your pruning guide. This is MOST helpful. I was originally advised to try wrapping Reine Victoria's canes around a tuteur, but the canes were too stiff (at least for my too skinny tuteur). So I will give your methods a try. Thanks again.

tina said...

Ok, I have a question on pruning. It is my hope to build a pergola across my garage door. I already have the rose in place. That is the problem as it is a monster. It is merely two years old and about 15 feet long with many many canes. The pergola is not built but the rose doesn't care and is taking over the world. I untangled all the canes and tied it to a 15 foot support to the eaves. My question, is there something I can do to prepare it for growing laterally across the garage while it is in transit? Should I prune hard or let it go? This is a strong climber but all the new shoots concern me. I think I would like just a few then let new growth take over (not good on terminology). Also, I blog to learn so if too long or you would rather answer in an email, any advice with this guy is appreciated. I do have a post prepared but not posted; which will show a picture. Just curious on pruning, rose pruning is not my thing. Thanks!

kd said...


Thanks so much for sharing your pruning strategies. It was really useful to read about how you prune your roses -- it increased my understanding of how the growing/flowering/pruning "processes" fit together and I think that after rereading your post several times, I'll feel reasonably confident about pruning my mystery rose "hard" next spring.


Rosy said...

I agree with you regarding GJ,but strangely enough, my LO is a shortie! It's prolific in its flowering, and our climate here is famous for making roses grow taller than they normally are, not my LO. Nothing wrong with being short, just that I wouldn't mind it being a bit taller so it doesn't look so short standing next to some other giants. Maybe I got a runt or a dwarf, haha! I'm hopeful it'll get a bit taller this year.Oh! Yes, their intoxicating fragrance, no doubt about it for sure!

Andrea said...

That was a great and informative post. While I know the gist of roses, I don't work with them enough to know any extensive, solid information. I have three roses in our new Home we're moving into and know the general care. BUt with my inlaws, they have unruley roses that need a fair bit of training. Thanks much for that!

Deereddirtramblings said...

Niels, that was an extremely informative and educational post with info needed by most of us who love roses. I've found that many of the David Austin roses want to be climbers in my climate. Graham Thomas is another great example. Thanks again.~~Dee

Pomona Belvedere said...

This was so helpful. I have been afraid to hard-prune roses but with the beautiful example of your pathway of GJ, I am inspired to reread this closely and try, when fall finally gets here.

Niels Plougmann said...

Nikkipolani: You are welcome. Many have asked me to repost, my GW article. The Bourbon Reine Victoria is great grow as shrub.

Tina: LOL - I would have waited to plant the rose! But since that is not an option. I would give it some temporary support (Some tall bamboo stakes perhaps) and tie the canes to these. Prune it to a manageable size OR guide the long canes in the opposite direction if there is room. Then you can swing them back when the pergola is in place. Sorry I live so far away I could build you that pergola!

Krys: pruning really is a process of trial and error. Finding out what works for certain roses is the key.

Rosy: Maybe you got a dud? How old is your LO? It really is a very vigorous rose that can grow quite tall as you can see mine does if I allow them to.

Andrea: Do you know the names of the roses you and your inlaws grow? Then I can give some advice about how to prune them.

Dee: You are right - many Austins grow way taller in USA due to the greater sun intensity. They require more space than here, and need to be grown as climbers, or large solitary arching shrubs to look the best.

Pomona: I hope you will prune the canes of your GJ in different length 1-2 feet in the spring, and prune it quite hard again after it has flowered. Very few roses are as fragrant as GJ and I love mine. They will soon flower again for about 5 weeks.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Niels, very interesting post. In northern Illinois where most roses begin each spring with an inch or less of cane, it's psychologically hard to cut them back after the first flush when there is less than 3-feet grown out. Next year I am determined to try it. By late July and early Aug those long octopus canes are intolerable.

Mary said...

Thanks for the post - I am in the Hudson Valley, NY and have a leggy GJ-can't part with it-love the scent and the thorns DO discourage the deer! It is 5-6 years old and I was not sure if the tall lanky shoots (which spring up from below the dirt level) are suckers or standard growth.We have had a strange winter here, very warm which has promoted growth, very dry, so growth is wilting, and now looking at possible snow! So, maybe I will give a healthy pruning and hope for the best. As I am also in a rocky region, I will also enhance the soil this week.

Great blog - will keep watching.