Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pruning and Transplanting

By now you may be thinking that I'm reading a book, painting another picture, or just anything to avoid the roses....  Though the rain in Northern California has kept most folks indoors, I've been muddying my knees at the temple of the roses....

Yes, progress on the pruning is slow, and time is passing very quickly. At least I have a few excuses, including the scenes above which were photographed two weeks ago on a friday, when Chris Pederson and I went to the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden in the Old City Cemetery. We'd been offered four plants of Perle d'Or, the beautiful old Polyantha rose, a sort of buff-yellow colored Cecile Brunner. In the early days of the planting of this exquisite rose garden in a mid-nineteenth century cemetery, lots of unknown roses were brought in from old historic sites in California's Gold Country. Quite a few turned out to be Perle d'Or. So, the volunteers, who maintain the garden, needed to get rid of a few of these to make way for other found roses that need to be preserved.

Chris is the head gardener at Mableton, an 1870s mansion in Santa Rosa, and I have been working with him for the past few years to redesign and replant many sections of that old garden. We planned out the new front entry garden two years ago, and I suggested Perle d'Or as one of the most generous old roses I know, in just the right color for the newly painted, newly restored old house. A young own-root plant of Perle d'Or can take 10 years to reach 5 or 6 feet in height, which is just the size I envisaged for the walkway borders. The 15 year old specimens at the Sacramento garden were immense; certainly the largest plants I've ever seen of this great rose. We measured one just before pruning and digging it; it registered 14 feet across and 8 feet tall! These four beauties will provide a look of maturity to the entrance to this grand old house.

It has been years since I've moved very large old plants, and though it went as I expected, it took much longer...perhaps my age has made a difference. Each plant took an hour for the two of us to prune back and dig out. We began by sizing up the plants, looking for the youngest of the major canes which would form the new branch basis for the roses. About 2/3 of each plant was removed, and the remaining canes pruned down to about 3 feet tall. Then began the process of digging and digging. Starting at the drip line of the plants we worked down looking for roots. Some plants had few large roots above about 2 feet deep in the soil. Once we uncovered those main roots, we excavated beneath them, followed them out to the drip line, and cut. This allowed the plants to rock more freely, and for us to work digging bars beneath the crowns in search of yet larger roots. Each main root was retained, though some were shortened to just a few feet in length. Once the plants came free, what remained was a healthy balance between root mass and branches.

Volunteers at the rose garden, including Anita Clevenger and Barbara Oliva cheered us on and took lots of photos. Anita's are posted on her Facebook site for all to see. It was quite a process, and if you are considering moving a large rose plant, you may want to take a look!

Above are the four Perle d'Ors newly planted by Chris the following day (I was in too great an agony of muscle fatigue to help him!) And perhaps when spring arrives and the borders are completed, and the Perle d'Ors are in glorious bloom, I'll share another photo on the blog.

Do you think I'll have the pruning done by May?.....


  1. This is a very useful article. I have noted all the tips and would be applying it myself. It would be really great if a comprehensive article like this is posted on Climbing Roses. In fact these are the climbers which are the most difficult to prune and take care of. An expert view is highly sought after on rose climbers.

  2. Excellent job with the Perle d'Or plants!
    BTW, an hour for pruning & digging per plant isn't that bad in my book. I had to move an 8yrs old 'Evangeline' late last fall and pruning back and digging her up took me well over two hours ...

    greetings from Austria