February 10th, 2008
Stripping Roses

Souvenir de la Malmaison buds
2008–02-10. A couple of weeks after stripping off the old leaves, new buds form.

In Austin winters are sometimes so mild that we can have roses blooming all year long. December is often a very good month for roses. January less so. By February the roses are gearing up for a big spring show. I always try to have my roses pruned, fed and mulched before Valentine’s day, especially during a particularly mild winter as this one has been.

The problem in Austin is that it doesn’t get cold enough for many of the roses to drop their leaves and go dormant.
Souvenir de la Malmaison leaves
Last year’s leaves are ratty and prone to disease.
Souvenir de la Malmaison leaves
The new buds are forming but the old leaves haven’t fallen off.

Therefore, I follow a process suggested by rosarian Ray Reddell (I can’t find the link online anymore). I strip last year’s leaves off the roses, wait a couple of weeks to see where the new buds are forming, and then prune accordingly.

Souvenir de la Malmaison new growth
Stripping off the old leaves forces growth on the new leaves into overdrive.

As usual, I’m behind. For example, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ is already putting out new buds. I spent part of this weekend stripping off the old leaves, pruning, and to re-tying the new canes to the trellis. I also did ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, and ‘Heritage’. The ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Red Cascade’ roses lost their leaves naturally but still require pruning. ‘Ducher’ is always bushy and full this time of year and doesn’t need stripping.

Of course, the biggest gamble is timing. A hard freeze is still possible for another month in Austin. Is winter really over for 2008 or is worse yet to come? And will it come just as the roses are putting out their tender new growth? Although I’m sure we’ll have a few more freezes, I’m betting that the we’ve seen the worst of winter this year.

by M Sinclair Stevens

9 Responses to post “Stripping Roses”

  1. From Steve Mudge (Fort Worth):

    It won’t hurt my feelings if the worst of winter has past already! Well, there are a few advantages of the cold–the long freezes knock back the flea populations and keep others in check, fruit trees get their proper chilling, and it keeps me inside to fix things in the house. But still, it sure is nice to walk around in a t-shirt in February!

    Isn’t it! It’s been hot down here in Austin this last week. The violas look all droopy and I’ve been watering like crazy. I see buds on many trees already. And the wasps are back. I just can’t believe it’s going to get cold again; so it probably will. — mss

  2. From Janet (Oxfordshire, UK):

    That’s JUST the advice I needed. But I need to wait a bit, given where I live.

    I’m surprised that it’s not cold enough in England for the leaves to fall off naturally. — mss

  3. From Brianna (Austin):

    Intro comment:

    Hi, I live in Austin, too, and I just started my own gardening blog: Seeds.

    I’m a newbie, and I’ve inherited several roses, so I appreciated the advice in this post.

    Your site is lovely, and very informative.

    Thanks, And it’s great to have you among the Austin Garden bloggers. I look forward to reading your blog. I suppose Pam/Digging has already encouraged you to join Blotanical and come meet us at the Spring Fling. — mss

  4. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    That first rose bud looks so new and green and fresh. I wonder if stripping roses in the middle of summer when they appear to be “shot” from disease and all would work in my temperate garden? Maybe I’ll experiment with that?

    You should try it. I usually do it in late August again when the roses are coming out of their summer blahs. (About the time nightime lows are dropping below 70F.) — mss

  5. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    This is always a difficult time of year; is winter really over or not? Yesterday I would have said it is over as we have had almost a full week of lovely spring weather. But today we’re back to winter again with max. temp. of only 4 C during the day and nightfrosts of around minus 5. I wonder how all the blooms will react to the frost. Most of my roses have formed new leaves and shoots but with nightfrost like that the new growth will be damaged. Luckily they are strong plants and will survive. BTW We have Madame Alfred Carriere in common, such a lovely rose.

    Stripping of all those old leaves sounds like quite a bit of work but it seems to be working very well for your roses!

    The plants here don’t go dormant in the winter and the moment they get a little warm weather they throw caution to the wind and start budding out. Likely as not, we’ll get slammed with another big freeze before spring truly arrives. Every year’s a gamble. It would be dull otherwise. — mss

  6. From Jan, Always Growing:

    Thanks for the tips on roses. I am just starting to grow them, and this comes at just the right time for me.

    I should add the caution not to pull so hard as to strip off any of the cane. In fact, some people advise using scissors to cut the leaf off. That’s too much work for me. If a leaf doesn’t come off easily, I leave it on. — mss

  7. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Your rosebud looks lovely, and the advice may well be good, but I never strip my roses and probably wouldn’t have any if that’s what I had to do to keep them. It just sounds like too much work to me.

    It’s V-day, so I’m pruning my roses hard today. My arms are covered in scratches! I need a tough old shirt to wear while pruning them, but that would be too hot. (whine, whine, but actually I’m happy to be out there)

  8. From Kim (NE Ohio):

    Interesting… I noticed that there are quite a few leaves still left on my ‘Dortmund’ rose, surprisingly enough. I will have to keep this post in mind in a few months, in case they start to look ratty and I’m tempted to strip them off. I wouldn’t have known whether that was okay to do had I not read your post.

  9. From Lucy Abene:

    I did not prepare my rose bushes for winter,
    and it is now May 2nt and their are no leaves
    on them. My carpet roses are already showing

    Does this mean my yellow rose bushes are dead,
    or is too soon to see leaves.
    I live in the Chicago area