When a rose gardener's fingers itch to work with the roses, it is a sign that it is almost time for finger pruning.
Unlike the serious business of winter pruning to rejuvenate and neaten the roses, finger pruning is how gardeners can 'manipulate' hybrid tea roses to flower for longer during October, which is the first and biggest flowering flush of the new rose season.
Finger pruning is done just before the flower buds form, when one can feel the bud developing in the tip of the new shoots. This is usually done in the second half of September, depending on the growth and the weather.
How to finger prune
Quite simply, it involves counting the number of flower bearing shoots and pinching off a third to a quarter of these. Pinch out the tip by using the thumb and pointing finger and snapping the shoot sideways.
This staggers the flowering, because the un-pinched buds will flower as normal while the pinched stems will only flower two to three weeks later.
It is interesting to see how the rose bush reacts to finger pruning. When three to five stems on a bush are pinched by snapping off the tip or the upper two to three leaves, the result is an incredible lengthening of the un-pinched stems within days.
The purplish leaves of the pinched stems turn green within a week and the stems become mature long before the un-pinched stems. The roots respond to this with increased vigour.
When the un-pinched stems come into bloom they may be picked with long stems because the pinched stems have sprouted new shoots and can absorb the sudden extra sap pressure when the other leaves are removed.
Roses have flushes of flowers, with periods in-between when the new buds are forming. With finger pruning, the non-flowering period of 42 days is shortened to three weeks or even less.
Soft or hard?
We differentiate between a soft pinch and a hard pinch. A soft pinch removes the very tip of still undeveloped folded-up leaves. A hard pinch breaks off the upper 3 or 4 leaves.
A soft pinch will result in one new stem forming while a hard pinch produces two or three new stems.
Soft and hard pinching may be carried out on one bush. Since the main purpose of finger pruning is to create green leaves quicker one will obviously pinch stems that are thinner, too close together or are bent, crooked or have damaged leaves.
Help for unhappy roses
Roses that are not growing well and have started making flower buds on unnaturally short stems will benefit from finger pruning too.
Pinch off every shoot or remove every bud, because the formation of flowers uses up lot of energy. This builds up more leaves with a stronger downward sap flow. This strengthens the roots allowing them to penetrate further resulting in the pushing out of basal shoots and stronger re-sprouting at the top. The difference can be seen within three weeks.
Hybrid tea roses are the traditional garden cut rose, prized for their long stems, and beautifully shaped buds and blooms. Most last well in the vase.
I encourage gardeners to consider the newer Eco chic hybrid teas that have been developed for better performance, better flowering, and disease resistant leaves.
'Savage Jooste Centenary' has unmissable vivid red blooms that appear to glow because of the creamy, golden tones on the reverse of the petals. The rose grows neatly to shoulder height, producing three to four blooms per stem from the base upwards.
'Ultra-Violetta' is an ultra-tall rose growing well above head height, with blooms in shades of violet, blue, lilac and purple. The pickable, long stemmed blooms are lightly fragrant. Plant it at the back of a sunny bed, as a tall, flowering hedge, or in any narrow space that needs colour and beauty.
'Winter Sun' has classically shaped pale-yellow blooms, like a winter sun. It is a strong growing low maintenance rose for today's no-fuss gardens.
'Garden Princess' has delicate pink blooms with a strong perfume, huge pickable blooms and tough disease resistant leaves. A good all-round garden rose that also does well in pots.
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