March Rose Gardening

March Rose Gardening
It is March! In Michigan, that is usually our first chance to get outside and to get our rose gardens ready for spring. If we are planning to plant new roses this spring, we need to get outside and decide where we want to plant them. When I used to order numerous new bare root plants, I usually ordered them for planting during the last week of March. Early planting, with heavy mulch or soil mounds, gives the new plants time to get their roots established before the warm growing weather arrives in mid to late April.
If you want to mail order bare-root plants this spring, you need to get your orders in soon. Remember, Jackson & Perkins is no longer in business. Edmunds Roses is probably one of the largest U.S. rose retailers still in the bare-root rose business. With the decrease in the value of our dollar, Canadian nurseries will be more expensive to buy from than in the past.
If you plan to buy dormant roses from local garden centers or box stores, the selection of varieties will probably be lower than ever, and you need to buy early to minimize damage to those plants from drying out, or from too warm store temperatures. Greenhouse started potted roses are more expensive, and may not be available until mid-May.
Local rose gardeners, especially those who exhibit roses, often replace established rose varieties with newer roses they want to try out. The result is that they often have surplus roses that they make available at low prices. The Blok surplus roses are usually listed in our March & April newsletters as “Contribution Roses” and are available for a contribution to the Grand Valley Rose Society on a first come, first served basis.
The actual rose garden work we can do in March depends a lot on the weather. In years when we had mild temperatures and little snow in March, we have built and prepared whole rose beds in February. In others years, when the snow lingered, we needed to wait for a snow melt to start getting things ready for planting. The earliest I have ever planted bare-root roses is in mid-February. That happened some years ago when Silverado and another rose I can’t remember, first became available from a California nursery, which only shipped in February.
Fortunately, the soil was not frozen, and we just had to remove the snow layer, dig the hole, plant the rose, and recover with soil and snow. Not a lot of fun, but it shows what a dedicated rosarian will go through just to get the latest “hot” rose.
Though I no longer build whole rose beds in March, I still get out there when weather permits, to dig and renovate rose spots that I did not renovate last fall after transplanting our surplus rose bushes. Wheelbarrows are handy for mixing. I dig out the old garden soil, mix it with organic mulch, and lime if necessary, and pile it back in the hole. Early renovation allows the soil mix to settle, for more secure planting later on.
March is a good time to cut back winter blackened canes on plants that were not covered by cones. When the frosted canes are exposed to the warmer weather of early spring, they turn an unsightly black. Removing the black ends of the canes, improves the appearance of the rose beds, and also saves pruning and removal time later.
March is also a good time to do general clean up, including the shredding of canes left over from last fall’s rose pruning. If we have other pleasant days after the other cleanup work is finished, I usually use those times to start pruning the miniature roses. In our garden, most miniatures don’t have winter cover, and pruning can begin when the opportunity presents itself.
Removing Winter Cover
When is the time to remove winter protection from roses? Because the April Newsletter probably will not be out until almost mid-April, I am addressing that topic in this, our March Newsletter.
Rosarians differ quite a bit in when they remove winter protection, especially in regard to the removal of rose cones. Some, like the Bloks, often have them off as early as the 1st week of April. Others leave them on until nearly the 1st week of May. Still others remove in mid-April, but keep them at the ready, so that they can replace them when a night frost threatens.
Generally speaking, I do not remove cones until April, but in unusually warm spells, I have removed cones as early as March 30, but usually it is a week or so later.
I tend to remove cones a week or so before I remove soil mounds because on warm sunny days the air under cones heats more rapidly than the soil of a soil mound. Cone heated air may cause more rapid development of growth under a cone. This may expose the plants to more frost or sun damage when the cones are removed later.
Weather reports are not always reliable, but if, after April 1, the forecast predicts frost free, or nearly frost free days and nights for the next 8 days, I usually remove the rose cones. Once removed, the cones are immediately stored in our attic, and do not leave the attic again until the following November.
Soil and mulch mounds can wait a bit longer than cones. The old rule “Remove soil mounds when the golden forsythia blooms“ is still a good rule for removing soil mounds..

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