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Beware of thorns! It's time to prune your roses!

Master gardener Ciscoe Morris says we need to prune now or flowering could be delayed. Here are his thorny tips! #newdaynw

SEATTLE — Ciscoe says: 

If you haven't pruned your roses yet, it's not too late, but do it soon or flowering could be delayed. Pruning your rose results in improved air circulation and greater sunlight exposure, both which aid in reduced disease problems. Equally important, pruning encourages more and higher quality blooms. 

Pruning tips

The goal when pruning tea and similar type roses is to develop an urn shaped plant. 

Begin by removing any dead canes. Then remove any sucker growth that come from below the graft union. If possible, dig down to where the sucker originates and twist it off the roots. If you cut it off at ground level, you'll simply get two of the troublemaker's for the price of one. 

Prune all the healthy canes back by at least two thirds (I usually cut them down to about 6 inches from the ground.) Cut to an outward facing bud, or if your rose has already begun to grow, cut to an outward facing newly forming branch. The new branch will grow in the direction the bud is pointing and you don't want it to grow into the middle of the plant and cause crowding. Don't believe the old adage that you should only keep 4 to 6 canes. 

Roses store energy in their stems and the more canes you keep, the stronger the growth will be. If two canes are crowding each other remove the weaker of the two, but keep as many healthy canes as possible. 

Finally, remove any old leaves that remain on the bush, and rake up any fallen ones. Remove them from the garden ASAP. The old leaves carry blackspot, rust, and mildew. Ridding them from your garden will help prevent disease problems later in spring.

Grandma Maude's advice 

There are all sorts of newly developed disease free roses out there now (check out the book "Growing Roses in the Pacific Northwest" for descriptions of disease free roses), but if you're like me and can't resist growing a few of those spectacular, but highly susceptible heirloom roses, try the method my grandma Maude taught me when I was a kid to help prevent disease problems in her rose garden. 

After we finished the spring pruning, and as soon as new growth reached about a foot tall, it was my job to go out and remove all of the new leaves within 11 inches from the ground.

Maude knew that black spot spores fall to the ground in winter, and then reinfect the plant when they are splashed onto the lower leaves by spring rain. If there are no leaves near the ground, it prevents the disease from gaining a foothold. It isn't a panacea. Susceptible roses eventually require sprays as the summer wears on, but the onslaught of the disease is significantly delayed.

Rose thorn disease

By the way, don your rose pruning gloves before pruning roses. If you get pricked by a thorn that happens to be infected with a rare fungus, you could come down with a disease called sporotrichosis, commonly known as "rose thorn disease." Symptoms usually begin as a firm, nearly painless pink to nearly purple bump on the skin. Left untreated, however, it can lead to a serious and painful condition requiring a hospital stay for treatment. 

This isn't something to panic over. In the U.S. only about 200 to 250 cases occur a year, but I recently met someone who was hospitalized with the infection, and he asked me to warn folks to take common sense precautions. Wear high quality thorn resistant rose gloves and thick clothing anytime you prune, transplant, or work around roses. If you suspect you might have the infection, see a doctor immediately. Don't be afraid to work around and enjoy your roses; just do it wisely.

Segment Producer Suzie Wiley. Watch New Day Northwest at 11 a.m. weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.

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